At close to the tail end of 2016, I managed to squeeze in a short trip to Udine in the Northeastern part of Italian. Here, the cuisine style is simple and hearty, with an emphasis on venison as well as the Udine Ribolla Gialla, a fine sparkling wine that everyone here knows and appreciates, but which rarely makes it on to the radar of outsiders. At La Subida, I had the most amazing venison ragù pasta.
Back in Singapore, the only Italian restaurant that I can think of that does something similar is Basilico in Regent Hotel. This ristorante needs no introduction. With not only a seasonal menu that offers the most premium Italian produce, but also one that switches cooking style according to the different regions, it is the ideal place to get exposed to Italian Cuisine 101. This month, diners will be in for a tantalising treat as they try the newly unveiled Winter & Spring Menu.
First on the “Winter” appetiser is the Haddock Fillet wrapped in Smoked Pancetta served with Sautéed Brussels Sprouts, Red Onions and Celeriac Purée. The fresh white fish was almost as fat as cod’s while the aged and smoked ham round off the dish with a salted accent before being balanced out by the green celeriac paste. Well executed and a brilliant Start!
We had not one but two pastas. Both unique creations stood out and capture the essence of the respective season. From “Spring” the symbiotic Purple Potato Gnocchi with Sea Bass Ragù, Broad Beans and Green Peas was pleasing to the eyes. Looking like a plate of stir fried Hakka abacus seeds, I almost forgot I was having Italian.
The purple potato flavour with mochi-like texture of the gnocchi did bear resemblance to the Chinese delicacy, except the Mui-Choy pork bits had been replaced by greens and a delicately stewed sea bass sauce. This is one dish that would appeal to both fish and non-fish lovers.
If this pasta is Yin, then ironically the next one, the “Winter” pasta, the Persimmon Carnaroli Risotto with Mascarpone Cheese and Pan-seared Foie Gras would be rightfully Yang. Prima Facie, this bright coloured composition topped with a caramelised goose liver in brown sheen was in every way potent, in contrast to the subtler gnocchi. The flavour profiles were strong, revolving around fruity and fatty, fatty and fruity. I am not exactly a fan of fresh persimmons but I did not find them repulsive with the risotto at all but instead pleasantly married.
As we moved on from the two intriguing pastas, the “Spring” Main Course of Grilled Lobster, Octopus, Prawns and Steamed Spring Zucchini Flowers filled with Salmon and Dill, dressed in Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Lemon Zest and Fine Herbs seemed to be the most decadent thing we have had on the night.
Served on a 15 inch plate, probably bigger than most family size pan pizzas, you wonder where to start. Perhaps I thought I would, from the smaller pieces of octopus then the prawns before saving the best lobster for the last.
Without a fault on the octopus and crustaceans which are grilled to perfection, the steamed spring zucchini flowers were definitely the ones that lend character to this otherwise dull dish. I have had zucchini flowers before, yet it never once crossed my mind I could have one done like a ravioli, with a surprisingly delicious herbal salmon filling.
As I worked on my last bits, I headed up to the cheese section for more cheeses before the new dessert menu.
I was pretty impressed by the two dessert platters here, as usual. The “Winter” Red Ruby Grapefruit Sorbet was refreshing and as real as any grapefruit derivatives can get. The Tangerine Almond Tart was equally formidable, with the right intensity of zest sitting on perfectly crafted shells.
Likewise the “Spring” Lychee Sorbet with Raspberry Crisp and Pineapple Jelly with Fennel Confit were lovely. Talking about well-balanced, they all hit the right sweet spot.
Almost like any standard meal at Basilico, I would make extra rounds for the desserts (and cheeses). After all they are all thrown in.
Daily Semi Buffet Dinner ($88+++), Winter & Spring Menu from January 2017
The above article is written by Guest Writer @ramenking2017. You can find him on instagram where he shares his love for food and travel.