Romantic Italian Restaurants For Date Night
Monti offers elegantly light versions of Italian classics while Foo'd serves creative plates at decent prices in a grand setting. Both eateries boast pretty romantic vibes. (A version of this story first appeared in Issue 1372, Jan 31, 2017.)
82 Collyer Quay, Fullerton Pavilion, S049327. Tel: 6535-0724. Open daily except Sun. Mon-Thurs noon-1am; Fri-Sat noon-4am. Last orders 2.30pm & 10.30pm. www.monti.sg
IN A NUTSHELL: The scenic waterfront pod that used to house Catalunya has been transformed into a smart Italian restaurant-bar-lounge (although these days, they’re called “lifestyle destinations”) by the One Rochester Group. The people behind establishments like 1-Altitude have been aggressively expanding lately with new eateries such as The Garage at the Botanic Gardens.
WHAT’S COOKING: Refined Mediterranean fare by way of Italian chef Luigi Calcagno. The native of Rome, who co-owns Italian restaurant Zibiru in Seminyak, Bali, takes hearty Italian classics and imbues them with a surprising lightness. Chef is now based here permanently. His food is not particular to any one Italian region; he chooses to take broader strokes across his country’s culinary treasure trove. At the bar, creative cocktails are a great way to ease into an evening. Just watching the sky turn to dusk as you sip from your highball is reason enough to spend some moolah here.
THE LOOK: The décor is sleeker than its predecessor Catalunya. The vibe is decidedly grown-up, with velvet furnishings, polished countertops and marble accents. Although the best seats are those set closest to the floor-to-ceiling windows, there really aren’t any bad seats since the dining room’s circular shape provides a view of the twinkling bay no matter where you lay your tush.
To us, the yardstick by which Italian restaurants are measured is its pasta. And happily, Monti doesn’t disappoint. All made from scratch in a show kitchen, the pastas — such as these little discs stuffed with braised osso bucco (veal shank) — are pretty damn delicious. The filling and bone marrow sauce in which they are lusciously slicked, give it a rich, meaty flavour. Yet it is delicate and bright, thanks to the smooth, supple texture of the pasta and a flurry of lemon zest and chopped parsley.
Signor Monti ($52)
There are moments when bacon calls for singed crispness and others when it must be cooked just so that it is tender to the bite. This dish calls for the latter, and the kitchen rises to the occasion effortlessly. There is textural charm to the deftly cooked pancetta (Italy’s answer to bacon) hugging a roll of sweet, meaty monkfish. The ratatouille — comprising diced zucchini, eggplant, carrots and peppers — served alongside it adds vibrancy and freshness.
If If you must eat healthily at a swanky joint like this, you could do worse than this nut and seed salad. It is chock-full of sunflower, sesame, chia and pumpkin seeds, along with walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, green peas, corn, lentils, cherry tomatoes and a whole load of other crunchy ingredients, lightly tossed in extra virgin olive oil and just the right amount of salt. Your jaw muscles will definitely get a workout.
Rosmarino e Caffe ($18)
If you ask us, coffee and rosemary sound as right a pairing as Donald and Melania Trump. But shockingly, it absolutely works in this lush dessert. The flavor of coffee whispers through the rich cream, while candied rosemary leaves give off just a hint of herby toastiness. This is exactly how panna cotta should be: thickly creamy, wobbly and infused with the right balance of sweetness.
BOTTOM LINE: Elegant modern Italian food that won’t leave you feeling heavy at the end of the meal — just as well since you’ll need the energy to stay on for drinks and some shimmying late into the evening. A bit pricey for the portions served, but not unreasonable given the location and atmosphere. $$$ - $$$$
2. Foo'd by Davide Oldani
#01-01 Victoria Theatre & Concert Hall, 11 Empress Place, S179558. Tel: 6385-5588. Open daily except Sun, noon-3pm; 6pm-11pm. Last orders 1.30pm & 9pm. www.foodbydo.com
IN A NUTSHELL: His may not be a familiar name outside of his native Italy, but at home, Davide Oldani is a bit of a big deal. As the Wall Street Journal reported, “Oldani boasts as many sponsors as a Formula One driver”. Samsung supplied the equipment for the R&D section of his new kitchen, Mercedes gives him a new car to drive every year, and Giorgio Armani flew Oldani to Paris to cook for his guests at his One Night Only party at the Palais de Tokyo. Oldani is best known for his one-Michelin-starred Ristorante D’O just outside of Milan, and has an eponymous café at Milan’s Malpensa Airport. Barely a week before opening this Singapore outpost, he opened the first Foo’d by Davide Oldani in one of Manila’s Shangri-La hotels.
WHAT’S COOKING: Oldani’s cooking style is described as “Cucina Pop”, which “simultaneously means ‘for everyone’ and ‘belonging to everyone’”, says the press release. In other words, it is fine-dining made accessible. The kitchen here is helmed by executive chef Simone Depalmas, who last worked at the now defunct Sardinian restaurant Sopra and Alkaff Mansion. He spent two months training in Oldani’s kitchen in Milan. Meanwhile, Oldani himself will visit the kitchen in Singapore only “whenever he can”.
THE LOOK: Innovation is an important element of the Oldani dining experience — from the mixture of hot and cold, and unexpected ingredient pairings (hello, mango and uni), to the cutlery and glassware he designs to address problems that most diners haven’t actually noticed. For instance, our waiter points out that the rims of our drinking glasses are set higher than the other on the sipping side so a clear view of our dining companion is maintained when we raise our glasses to our lips. Oldani also created the passepartout — a combination of knife, fork and spoon designed so diners can pick up all the ingredients of a dish at once.
What’s most distinctive about Foo'd is its sprawling dining room at the stately Victoria Theatre. It’s anchored by grand Corinthian columns and beautiful marble floors. The room is large enough that the tables are set well apart so there’s little chance of eavesdropping on anyone else’s conversation.
THE FOOD: Foo’d serves only set menus. Lunch costs $45 for three courses and $52 for four courses, while dinner offers five courses from $138. The following dishes are from our four-course lunch.
Caramelised Onion, 20-month aged Grana Padano
The restaurant’s signature dish is a play on apple tarte tartin, except in place of an apple is a fleshy onion, first steamed and then baked into a disc of puff pastry so that it emerges intensely caramelised. The tart is topped with gelato made from 20-month aged Grana Padano cheese. The deep savouriness of the gelato helps to temper the incredibly sweet tart, but it still tastes a lot more like dessert than a starter.
Sardinian Fregola, Uni Cream, Mango, Roasted Cashews
Toasted fregola, the al dente, nutty, pellet-shaped pasta of Sardinia, is swathed in a lovely earthy sea urchin sauce. But the bits of mango are like staccato notes amid a dulcet melody — they jolt the flavours out of harmony with their unnecessary sweetness.
Risotto, Sourdough Breadcrumbs, Umbrian Truffle
To maintain the purity of the aged carnaroli rice from Piedmont, the kitchen flavours this risotto with just salted water rather than stock. What results is the highlight of our meal — lush, delicately flavoured grains of rice, layered with the delicious tang and texture of butter-toasted sourdough crumbs, earthy slivers of black truffle and a piquant hit of balsamic vinegar.
Lemon Curd, Meringue, Lettuce Ice Cream, Cocoa Crumble
One wonders why, out of all the amazing ingredients our good earth has to offer, anyone would choose to make ice cream out of lettuce. Granted, it’s not terrible — it tastes (surprise!) like crisp, fresh lettuce served with a mound of middling lemon curd and a couple of meringues — but can anyone honestly say, when faced with a selection of desserts, the one with the lettuce ice cream is what they’d choose?
BOTTOM LINE: An interesting entry-level fine-dining experience. Go with an open mind and the food might impress with its unexpected twists and turns. If nothing else, the setting here is tastefully swish. $$ - $$$