Trattoria L’Operetta

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You know, it’s said they have the best pizza in Singapore.

I recollected my memories of Peperoni, that one red-walled, kid-friendly placed we used to frequent every couple of weeks for the paper tables and crusty, cheesy goodness of fresh pizza. How would this compare? My memories were insufficient, and in the end, i didn’t even order pizza. What’s wrong with you Alex. Prithee, reader, hear me out. There was a man at the front, tossing the crusts from board to plate, wafts of steam rising from the pockets between bounteous toppings. And yet, I noticed there was something a little off.

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Atop, we have the classic Margherita. Below, their version of an oyster omelette, coupled with thousand island dressing.

‘Soggy’, remarked my mother. Soggy! Lord! And so my friends, that is how I ended up not bothering with the slicing and biting. I just couldn’t. The omelette was decent, but I noticed that they repeated dish components without a healthy conscience. The same dressing was used for the fried calamari, which you should be grateful isn’t pictured, as it was a disastrous mess of separating, soggy batter and putrid little rubber rings approximately a millimetre wide. The poor squids, without their decent spa treatment. The flavours hung like stale fog in my mouth.

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Top to bottom: scallop starter, squid ink spaghettini starter, penne arrabbiata.

The first two are part of a menu degustation which my father predictably ordered, given his larger-than-life appetite. The starter was underwhelming in flavour, but I sing praise for the squid ink follow-up. The clumpy cheese choked the minuscule bites of scallop to death, whilst the pasta was delicate and aromatic.

Now for that penne, some of which I stole from my sister. In my opinion, it beat everything else. Without a doubt. Up there. The al dente pasta boasted homemade earthiness, ridges catching all that rich, sweet and sharp sauce, imbued with a calmly spice, simmering with chunks of reduced tomato and herb. That penne was perfect, though if anything, they should reduce the amount of sauce to perfectly complement the penne’s loveliness.

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Their fresh ‘fish of the day’, which was the sort of portion you would look at and go ‘hmph, alright, $25 it is then. But never again.’ Why? I could cry trying to recount this painful experience once more. Because. This beautiful fish arrived almost an entire hour after everything else was served. My mood was sunken, my eyes watery, my hands ready to rise in exasperation to the Gods. Not even those rustic grill marks could compensate for the cardinal sin. The grilled vegetables were sweet and caramelised, but doused in too much olive oil. The fish was flavourful, though humbug plain if it weren’t served with two types of salt and tomato paste, which was also too oily.

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You can tell the first is a steak, but I should like you to zoom in on the second shot. Behold the duck breast with fruit reduction sauce and caramelised root vegetables, alongside the same (you see the repetition?) clump of al dente meditarranean-style mixed black rice. May I say this was twice as good as my fish. Flushed and tender, good sear along the side, with the sprightly, slightly gummy sauce basking in the bonhomous nature of the burgundy bed it inhabited. This and the penne were the star dishes that night.

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Sea salt caramel and almond ice cream from the Ice Cream Gallery afterwards, starring my sister’s lovely pins. I think it beats the earl grey and fig flavour, which possessed no roundness or depth. This.

This.

Rating: 2.9/5

Trattoria L’Operetta

224 Tanjong Katong Road

House at Dempsey

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May I be pleased to declare that I am no longer a House virgin. May I also be pleased to declare that I actually needed help finding the stairs which led down to the restaurant. I need serious help in the directions department.

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truffle taro fries

Skinny, hard, prickly things, but aromatic nonetheless. These sans truffle oil would have been paltry little shoestrings.

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pork ribs with caramelised pineapple and crispy shallot rings

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After flipping through the fragile newspaper-style menu, I decided on the caramelised pork ribs. When they came, I thought they might have swallowed me. Since I was at a birthday celebration, there were at least 4 other people who ordered something different, and the hulking pork salsas looked fit to take on any one in hands-on combat. The couple of enormous brown hammers were fastened into an incongruously elegant position, like elephants in tutus. But it wasn’t in the least bit awkward. This was mine, and my mouth was growing with more sticky heat and sweetness by the minute. I needed to neutralise the wonderful acidity by stealing one of my friend’s fondant carrots, which had a slight give and yielded a softly sweet crunch. The rib meat was not butter tender (and the middle was quite dry), but my knife enjoyed lolling around in the syrupy, sappy sauce, poking around at all the caramelised strips. I always believed the best parts are the stringy, almost rubbery, paper-thin layers you peel way from the surface of the bone, as compared to the meat itself. I’m not odd at all.

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roast chicken with mash and fondant carrots

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turmeric-roasted barramundi with sweet date sauce and chorizo

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I would comment on the other two, but it would have been quite rude to poke around at everyone’s food. Have I mentioned I’m no longer a House virgin?

Rating: 3.9/5

House at Dempsey

8D Dempsey

Rare

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Here’s an introduction not by me, but by one of my favourite people in the world. In other words, the dashing guy you see right above (: :

Nothing will ever beat meals cooked at home. There’s just something about food cooked by individuals for others in the comfort of their own home that gives it an edge over the most exquisite fare in top restaurants. It’s the warmth that breathes through a messy but lovingly made dish, the loud laughter echoing across the table and the comforting presence of close friends. Maybe it’s love.

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I’m actually not sure what compelled me to ask for rare cuts. I would’ve gone straight for the bleu stage, but my parents were there and they would’ve sliced my fingers off. Living on the edge calls for some necessary sacrifice. Sometimes. The goo of that red meaty interior, the pairing of a rustic baguette, the cool crunch of beans bathed and massaged with a tender vinaigrette. Stick your knife in the wobbly belly of a slice, poke a few greens, layer it all on a bite of boule. Tossed together on the honesty of a white plate, made perfect over hours of talking and drunken merriment. That was easily the best part. An easy flow of musical conversation, booming voices and laughter to weigh down the aimless night air. It was all too spectacular, and all too comforting.

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Last course: fromage platter. I put some blue on baguette (fanciful alliteration made all too appropriate here), and allowed the rich velvet to combine harmoniously with the fresh bread in my mouth. Crunch and cream. A galaxy of flavour. I could carry on talking about the humble and dazzling dishes, but I’m sure the pictures speak for themselves, and I’m not inclined to treat it all as a normal cafe or restaurant review. Needless to say, the experience of it all, with the company and ambience, overwhelms a breakdown of dish by dish statistics. They are no longer necessary in the golden entirety of such nights.

And it’s during nights like these when you can lay back with full satisfaction, heavy, blushing, dizzy with happiness. Because the best company on Earth is absolutely irreplaceable.

Basilico

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‘Hey girls, guess what. You get a treat from me. Your mother. And you know what, we’re going to go have a lovely dinner tonight. Preferably without breaking the bank, yes?’

My mother’s honest words. We were considering all the decent, cheap options around town, when she herself suggested Basilico. Isn’t that quite expensive, I murmured. Not like I’ve ever been there, but ‘Basilico’ was clearly a more-posh-than-average Italian name with slight snake-related connotations. Or serpent or amphibian. Oh hell, it was an excuse to wear my Calvin Klein leather-topped sleeveless mini dress anyway. And so we headed for the Regent Hotel, aka the golden-knobbed house my country can show off to tourists. I was excited. We all were (I think).

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On a Saturday night, we were offered the choice of an antipasti and dessert buffet plus the choice of one main course from their a la carte menu. I couldn’t complain. Good God, it’s expensive, I thought, when the waiter said the buffet alone was a pocket-burner ($65, to be exact). Still. The rose-tinted, rustic yet sophisticated aura and scents made me dizzy with glee. I had to take it in slowly. Buffet and course choice it was. Saturday nights make me more adventurous and willing, I should think. I remained quite politic as I walked around the spread, eyeing the fresh fruit, cheese and wine. I must’ve stumbled on something from the dazzling aesthetics alone. I ended up with a plate of cold and crunchy asparagus salad, smoked salmon and caviar, eggplant, provocative vine tomatoes, a little mozzarella and mussel salad. Most things were pleasantly chilled, and the flavours of creamy mozzarella and exploding tomatoes savagely invaded my palate, in the best way possible. The eggplant could have done with a touch more salt, and some empty mussel shells were sandy.

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Behold the kids pizza funghi.

Yes you heard that right. Kids. I was frightened by the monstrous slab which lay in front of my 6-year old sister. It was the fastest to come, and the most gargantuan. It was an animal, bigger than the slight consumer herself. ‘We’ll help’ , the rest of us announced, to compensate for the silent shock. The edges were thick, flour-crusted and fluffy, the body laden with a great deal of stringy cheese and clumps of nice and innocent Champignon slivers. The marinara base was appropriate in both taste and amount in proportion to the rest of the pizza, though the Champignons could have used more seasoning. That aside, I enjoyed the texture of the whole thing, the entirety of a single bite, even if I was just picking at bits on her plate. I’m a disgraceful, disgraceful picker.

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grilled queen scallops with mushy peas, roasted tomatoes and chanterelles

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Scallops for my main course. Six mini ones, at that. Branded with a beautiful sear on both sides, squished together with some brilliant, sweet mushy peas and a heavy drizzle of olive oil. The peas put me in heaven, and I could have had those alone. I willingly smashed them into the charred sides of scallop and warm burst of tomato juice, alongside the fruity, forest-flavoured chanterelles. What a great melding of juxtaposed flavours. The scallops, albeit juicy little things, weren’t sweet enough for my taste. Good, just not great.

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kids spaghetti marinara
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paper-wrapped sea bass

I appreciate the textural effort put into all the dishes served. My other sister had the spaghetti with marinara sauce, which was perfectly al dente, and my mother had the sea bass. The knife cuts were smooth, the delicacy enticing. The fish itself I did not find sufficiently flavourful, but the aroma and presentation almost fully made up for that.

I’m re-unearthing the wonders of honest Italian food. But if you wish to come here, be prepared for a wait. Especially if you’re ordering anything other than pizza on the menu. Just. Small warnings.

Rating: 4.3/5

Basilico Italian Restaurant
1 Cuscaden Road
Singapore 249715
Tel: +65 6725 3232

Fat Cow

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That’s the thing about personalised invitation cards. The epitome of real effort. My grandfather is still cool enough to do this sort of thing, even if, you know, he doesn’t quite know the name of the young woman beside me. Or such an example is common enough. You can’t expect the elderly to be superhuman too. Oh, but I do love him so. Charming and comely old man. Singapore’s No. 1 bowler back in the day, and with such a flying passion!

Anyways, no, this isn’t a Heston Blumenthal clone, or any cuisine of the sort. Japanese-inspired steakhouse right here.

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Japanese leek with ponzu jelly and sesame dressing
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sliced bream with black truffle

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That salad was a crisp concoction made by the Tangy Japanese Gods.

I was pretty scared to touch the carpaccio, which looked about 0.001mm thin and as delicate as my dad’s hairline. But I did anyway. It was still frightening on the tongue, as it close to evaporated once it hit the buds. Moist, a little bland, but the truffle made it boom with musk and sophistication.

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The fried zucchini flower was a light break during the rage of courses that night. The batter was airy but separated a little too easily from the flower, and its thickness merged with the flower made it seem almost incongruous. But a joy all the same.

It’s easy to talk about meat, but the steamboat here was magical. Each chopstick slip of the red, raw stuff was a ticket to the most tender slivers of melt-on-your-tongue premium beef. Boiled in a soup which starts off tasteless but ends off sweet, reduced and wondrous. I can almost feel the bubbles tickling my throat. Dip it in the pastel orange-clad shabu shabu sauce, maybe a little more in the soup, add a hint of rice and off you go and enter another mental state altogether.

Repeat.

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Porridge. I saw it on the menu and passed it as some filler idea. But then again, if it’s on this menu, it’s got to good, right?

Right. And I was.  No really I swear. It’s the best savoury porridge you will try in your lifetime. There’s writing your will and then there’s coming here to have just one bowl of this. As they say here, it truly is shiok. Nourishing, warm, glutinous. The consistency of a wilted lemon curd, with soft, popping granules throughout, and healthy dollops of tender mushroom, shallots, garlic and chives. I need to stop here because my mouth is watering. Also, because I’m rather angry at myself for having the smallest stomach in the world, so by this time during the meal I could finish a paltry fraction of that small bowl.

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I don’t like mochi on its own, but the little translucent cuboids here were paired with a sticky, gooey gula melaka to reinforce its glutinous texture. The matcha and peanut dippings helped a fair bit, too. My favourite was that yuzu, which reminded me of white angels for some reason. I receive strange and non-sequitur connections whenever I’m faced with beautiful or delicious plates of food.

Rating: 4.8/5

Fat Cow

1 Orchard Boulevard #01-01/02

Camden Medical Centre

6735 0308