1 St Andrews Road
#05-03 National Gallery Singapore
Tel: 8787 0977
Open for lunch and dinner Tues to Sun: 12pm to 2.30pm; 6.30pm to 10.30pm
HOW many Italians does it take to change a lightbulb? Three — one to change it, one to tell him he’s doing it wrong, and a third to make pasta for everyone to eat after they’re done squabbling.
Beppe De Vito is a little like the third Italian. The guy who just likes to feed people, or in his case, open restaurants. Whatever you say about the food in his ilLido restaurants, you can’t say he’s not prolific. When it comes to dining concepts, he’s the consummate spin doctor, always ready to tack on an Italian backstory onto every new outlet he opens.
That’s how he probably holds a local record for creating three totally different concepts – opulent Italian pasta-with-bravado; produce-driven fine dining; and Italian steakhouse – in the space of five years, all in the same location.
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And that’s how we have Gemma – which used to be Art, which used to be Aura – and now exudes a same-same but different vibe when you step in.
Art is now upstairs and finding its feet. Gemma is as-yet untested, with a new head chef Daniele Sperindio, to drive this Italian ode to meat. But there’s no mistaking who’s the boss – the fast-talking and fast-walking chef De Vito who literally splits himself between both eateries.
It’s a bit of a shaky start when we’re served an opening bite of tapioca cracker way past its crisp date, not doing justice to the fresher, onion-flecked wagyu tartare filling.
But it gets better when they start serving food that’s meant to be aged, like plump cured salmon and velvety duck prosciutto.
Tea-smoked King Ora salmon (S$28) presents itself in petite slivers of firm, silky flesh with the healthy orange glow of well-rested fish. Not too salty, and paired with sheep milk panna acida that’s like a slightly chalky ricotta, moistened with bright basil oil.
Challans duck prosciutto (S$28) pips the salmon as our favourite – precious slices of not too salty ‘ham’ from a tiny duck breast that apparently gets a loving vinegar wipe down every day. Crumbly black olive soil amps up the earthiness of the duck, while dots of thick cassis jam add the right touch of sweetness.
The in house bread is made of Puglia semolina and served toasted with alpine butter dusted with pistachio powder. It’s served one slice at a time, and must be rather precious given the rush to clear your bread plate when you finish, as if the servers are penalised by the crumbs you leave behind. But if you open your mouth, they’ll happily (we think) toast another for you.
Not that you’ll have much room for it if you’re going for the pasta, which is highly recommended – particularly the homemade tagliolini with smoked sardine and bottarga (S$32) where the strong brininess of the chopped sardines and grated mullet roe cancel each other out thanks to a good squeeze of amalfi lemon and capers, leaving behind a citrusy umami with a creamy backdrop.
We didn’t order the Caesar salad but we’re told it’s prepared tableside; still, we get our share of showmanship when our t-bone arrives. Supposedly, it only qualifies to be a fiorentina if the hunk of meat is big enough to stand on its own without assistance. Ours is a junior-sized 500gm (S$25/100gm) which flops on its side, so it’s just called a grain-fed, 30-day dry-aged steak. Still it’s a S$125 floppy steak – but it is served in style, carved up for you at the table, with wet towels so you can gnaw on the bone. That’s where the fattier and tender bits are, while the rest of the steak is lean, but not dry.
A good drizzle of olive oil over the sliced meat makes sure of that, while bagna cauda and a bone marrow sauce complete the show. A tender roasted romanesco decorated with feta cheese, spinach and pine nuts balances out the protein surge.
Dessert is a pistachio marzipan souffle (S$24), given an Italian connection with the addition of boozy grappa custard drizzled into its steaming hot, pillowy insides.
It’s not groundbreaking stuff, but like everything else on the menu, it’s done with care and some flair and totally fits in with Chef De Vito’s desire to feed you well, whether you know how to change a lightbulb or not.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: The Business Times pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review’s publication.