Wednesday, June 10, 2009

STI: Italian revival

June 7, 2009

Italian revival

Saraceno Ristorante offers a delicious mix of both traditional and unusual Italian fare

By Wong Ah Yoke

The Tanjong Pagar area seems to be a magnet for Italian restaurants. If you remember, that was where Da Paolo first opened in the late 1980s and the restaurant helped to ignite Singaporeans' passion for pasta and tiramisu.

Since then, others have followed: Pasta Brava, Buko Nero and, more recently, Oso and Otto.

Within the last three months alone, two others have joined the list. Capricci, which I reviewed in this column three weeks ago, took over the premises of Oso after it moved to nearby Bukit Pasoh.

Three months ago, another Italian restaurant, Saraceno, took up the space left vacant for more than five years after L'Aigle d'Or restaurant in Berjaya Duxton Hotel closed.

Little has been changed in the layout of the dining room, although the original glitter of chrome furniture and table lamps have been replaced by a duller brown colour scheme throughout.

And while L'Aigle d'Or was a fine-dining French restaurant, Saraceno aims for a less lofty status with its Italian menu comprising a mix of the common and the less familiar.

Among the usual suspects are antipasti items such as beef carpaccio ($16.80), linguine alle vongole ($20.80) and tiramisu ($9.80). But there are also traditional fare that are less familiar here.

Among them is a very nice involtini di melanzane ($15.80), eggplant filled with mozzarella cheese and baked in a tomato and parmesan sauce. I love eggplant, especially when it is cooked till soft and mushy, and the version here has the thin slices virtually melting away as your teeth sink through them into the chewy mozzarella inside.

And on the palate, the tomato and parmesan provide the perfect tart and salty flavours to perk up the sweet eggplant and mild mozzarella.

A more uncommon dish is the lasagnette pasta with king prawns, courgettes, butter, sage and parmesan ($20.80).

The pasta is a smaller version of lasagna sheets but is still larger than most pasta shapes. What is very unusual is that for this dish, the pasta sheets are fried over high heat with the other ingredients. This gives them an enticing aroma not found in normal boiled or baked pasta.

The only problem in this otherwise winning dish is the overly generous amount of butter used in the frying, which results in everything sitting in a puddle of oil.

If you like large pasta shapes, the paccheri alla Amatriciana ($19.80) is pretty decent too. The large tubular pasta is tossed with smoked bacon, tomatoes, onions and parmesan, and the result is pleasant, if not very exciting.

Among the main courses, I am rooting for the lamb cutlet ($32.80), which is served with sauteed courgettes in fresh mint and blue cheese. The lamb is tender and I like that both the mint and blue cheese are used subtly enough not to intrude.

There is also a spicy kick in the sauce which I could have sworn comes from chilli, but the chef says the heat is from mustard. Whatever it is, it will surely appeal to chilli fiends.

My dining companion's pan-fried fillet of cod with ragout of mussels, clams, prawns and cherry tomatoes ($32.80) is less successful, however. The cod is overcooked although the shellfish ragout is decent.

His starter of fish soup ($9.80) also fails to impress. The broth is too dilute and desperately needs to be reduced further.

Among the desserts is one that is perfect for a hot June day. It is intriguingly called ravioli di ananas ($9.80), which is pineapple ravioli. Thin slices of pineapple are filled with lemon sorbet and frozen solid before they are served with stewed strawberries and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

The pieces look like bright yellow ravioli and taste very refreshing with the combination of citrus and pineapple tartness. They are also very cold, so I would suggest them for lunch rather than dinner.


83 Duxton Road, tel: 6438-9638

Open: Noon to 2.30pm, 6.30 to 10.30pm from Mondays to Saturdays. Closed on Sundays

Food: *** 1/2

Service: *** 1/2

Ambience: *** 1/2

Price: Budget about $70 a person, without drinks

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