Sunday, June 21, 2009

STI: Light flavours at The Lighthouse

June 21, 2009

Light flavours at The Lighthouse

Reopened restaurant serves up Italian fare that could be more flavourful but the view is perfect and the decor chic

By Wong Ah Yoke

After an absence of six years, The Lighthouse has returned to the top of The Fullerton Hotel - but as an Italian restaurant.

The original Lighthouse, which opened in 2000 together with the hotel, was a French restaurant by the Les Amis Group. That closed in 2003 and the eighth-floor space, which housed an actual lighthouse in the 18th century, was taken over by the Saint Pierre Group and turned into an Italian restaurant called San Marco.

That, too, ceased operations in March this year and The Lighthouse was brought back this month. It is still an Italian restaurant but is now run by the hotel.

The tiny space, which seats 52, has been given a new look and boasts a contemporary colour scheme based on brown and orange tones.

Besides a stunning view of Marina Bay, the other highlight is a panel of entwined rings at the far end of the room. The rings are a stylised rendition of the number eight to signify the eighth floor and is no doubt a nod to the Chinese belief in the number's connection to good fortune.

What is also new is that the rooftop is now open to diners to enjoy the view of the bay with a drink in hand before or after dinner. It is accessible through a flight of stairs from the restaurant and is pleasantly cool after sunset when a light breeze blows in from the sea. On a sunny day, however, it is scorching hot.

The restaurant's kitchen is helmed by Italian chef Diego Martinelli, who comes from a stint at the Bulgari Hotel in Bali and specialises in traditional Italian dishes with modern presentations.

One of these is a wagyu beef carpaccio ($26) where the paper-thin slices of beef are laid out into a neat square, giving it a modern geometric symmetry. What also updates the dish are crispy bits of onion sprinkled on top.

The flavours, however, fail to excite the palate. The dressing of basil and anchovies is a tad timid, leaving the parmesan cheese shavings to do most of the work.

The chef probably wants to let the natural flavours of the main ingredients take centre stage but in this and a few other instances, they fail him.

Another example is the strozzapreti pasta with sea urchin, prawns, clams and tuna bottarga ($35). Though I cannot seem to find any sea urchin, the rest of the seafood tastes fine. But their delicate sweet juices can barely flavour the pasta rolls.

You will enjoy it if you like very light tastes but otherwise, the pasta will be more pleasing if it comes in a more robust sauce.

The Isolana-style risotto ($28), however, is good as it is. The rice is cooked with pork sausages and flavoured with cinnamon and rosemary. It smells lovely, is tasty and the sausage meat has a nice bite.

You can also try the butter squash tortelloni ($36). The pasta squares come in a cheese and thyme fondue which is rich and velvety. Pieces of crispy pancetta strewn on top add dimension to the flavours.

Among the main courses, I like the grilled pork cheek ($36) where the meat is first braised and then grilled lightly for a smokey flavour. Served with pumpkin puree and green apple compote, the tender meat does not feel heavy at all.

Desserts include the common tiramisu and cannoli, but there is also the unusual Emilia Romagna tagliolini and almond pie ($16). The chef says it is actually an old Italian recipe but this is probably the first restaurant here to serve it.

It is pasta baked into a sweet pie with the strands on the surface slightly crispy and those underneath chewy. It is a strange dessert, but the almond flavour is pleasing and I probably would have liked it more if my jaws were not tired out by the chewing.

Overall, the cooking is decent but nothing actually wows. Perhaps it is just a matter of adjusting to local palates and in due time, The Lighthouse can become a gastronomic beacon.


Level 8, The Fullerton Hotel Singapore, 1 Fullerton Square, tel: 6877-8933

Open: Noon to 2.30pm (Mondays to Fridays), 6.30 to 10.30pm daily

Food: *** 1/2

Service: ****

Ambience: ****

Price: Budget about $100 a person

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