Sunday, May 31, 2009

BTO: All set to shine once more

Business Times - 30 May 2009

All set to shine once more

The Lighthouse
The Fullerton Hotel Singapore
1 Fullerton Square
Tel 6877-8933


AFTER a brief black-out, The Lighthouse looks set to shine brightly over the river again as the Fullerton Hotel completes its 'takeover' of restaurants in its premises.


After years of leasing out its main restaurants (apart from Town), The Fullerton took its first step towards F&B independence by taking over the operations of Jade from the Tung Lok group when its lease expired at the end of 2007. It put in its own Chinese chef, kept the name and hoped to keep the crowds that made Jade one of the most popular names in the Tung Lok stable.


The test was, of course, whether it could do it - and so far it seems to be doing a credible job - and if it could, it would be a matter of time before it took over San Marco, the Italian offshoot of the Saint Pierre Group.


That time came about in March, when San Marco finally closed to make way for the hotel's new concept which was unveiled on Thursday.


The hotel certainly isn't taking its new gastronomic challenge lightly, giving the premises a completely new design aesthetic. Primed to capture as much natural light as possible, the dining room is painted in contemporary light hues, with each table guaranteed a stunning view of the river (assuming diners are not sitting with their back to it).


It also looks like a fengshui master with a keen designer eye has left his mark on a wall feature covered with rows of entwined circles - an auspicious interplay of the number '8' (the restaurant is on the 8th floor) and the circle representing a beacon of light. Even the 'O' in 'Lighthouse' takes on the same elegant logo, as does the folded menus.


Rather than pluck a chef from the pool already available here, the hotel has brought in a promising young Italian chef de cuisine, Diego Martinelli. Despite his youth, the 27-year-old native of balsamico country Modena has chalked up 11 years of working experience, starting out as a commis chef at the Four Seasons Hotel in London's Park Lane and moving up the ranks till his last post as restaurant chef in its Cairo property's Italian restaurant.

For the last two years, he was chef de cuisine at the Bulgari Bali's Italian eatery and now, he's set to conquer finicky Singaporean palates with his own approach to classic Italian cooking.

Chef Martinelli doesn't tinker with the basics, playing around instead with a modern presentation. Classic carpaccio, for example, is shaped in a square and uses wagyu beef and delicate garnishes like crisp-dried onion slices and petal-shaped tomato skin. His signature dish is a sunshiny palette comprising the warm colours of hand-made tortellini stuffed with butternut squash with rich melted cheese sauce and bacon bits.


If you're feeling adventurous, check out the lavender-hued Isolana-style risotto - a poor man's dish from the Veneto region - where the rice is cooked in red wine, vegetable stock and pork sausage meat, heavily scented with fresh rosemary while a dusting of cinnamon adds a bit of sweetness to counter the wine's acidity. If you can get past the curious colour scheme, it's actually quite tasty.


Chef Martinell's emphasis on fresh flavours is a big plus - a nicely grilled wagyu steak with simple accompaniments like crunchy asparagus and celeriac puree hit the spot for fuss-free simplicity.


While nothing hits the 'wow' meter as yet, one expects that this intense young man will soon find his footing, and if he plays his cards right, people will go to the Lighthouse for more than just the view.

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