It is not often that you find a restaurant that offers good food, beautiful ambience and professional service – and at reasonable prices to boot.
Osteria Art, which opened in Raffles Place last month, has them all.
The latest restaurant under the ilLido Group is in an odd space at the entrance of an office block in Market Street. It is not on the street level, but up a short flight of stairs to what looks like a mezzanine level with a lower than usual ceiling.
But owner Beppe De Vito has transformed the awkward space into a classically beautiful bar and dining room. What is most stunning is a row of hexagonal wall lamps on both sides of the osteria that glow like jewels, drawing your attention from the low ceiling and mesmerising you with how they change when viewed from different angles.
Heavy leather-bound chairs lend a masculine feel to the place but that is softened by a large floral arrangement in the centre of the dining room. The result is a space equally suitable for a power lunch or a romantic dinner.
Service from a staff of young expatriates and veteran locals is worthy of a fine-dining restaurant. But the prices are, however, pretty down to earth. And the menu, designed by De Vito, sticks pretty much to Italian classics without too much experimentation, other than a lightening of some recipes and more contemporary plating.
After all, an osteria is a place in Italy for simple food and drinks. But simple as it may be, the food at Osteria Art is generally very good.
A Crab & Tarragon Frittata ($23) turns out smooth and satisfying, with sweet crabmeat embedded in a bowl of egg custard. And I like how the Calamari With Basil And Squid Ink Sauce ($18) has thick but tender strips of squid.
The golden batter covering the squid has a touch of chilli and its rich texture reminds me a little of salted egg yolk sauce. However, the squid ink sauce is too mild to make an impact and does not add much to the dish.
The pastas are the stars here. I have tried five and like them all.
The Linguine With Clams And Pesto ($28) has added richness and depth from the pesto, and the clams are sweet and juicy.
The Tagliolini With Crab And Pachino Tomatoes ($28) offers lumps of sweet crabmeat and the tomatoes provide a refreshing tartness.
The Spaghetti With Octopus & Nduja ($28) has tender pieces of octopus and I like how the pasta in the Parmigiano Cheese Ravioli With Tomato & Basil ($25) is so soft that the ravioli burst like cheeseballs in the mouth.
55 Market Street 01-01, tel: 6877-6933 Open: Noon to 2.30pm (Monday to Friday), 6 to 10.30pm (Monday to Saturday). Closed on Sunday Food: **** Service: **** Ambience: ***½ Price: Budget about $80 a person, without drinks
But my favourite, which I eat both times I visit the osteria, is the Pappardelle With Pork Cheek & Red Wine ($26). That the pasta sheets are cooked to perfect doneness goes without saying but the combination of pieces of melt-in-the-mouth pork cheek and crispy bacon strips brings such rich pleasures in every bite.
The main dishes taste a tad ordinary after that, though the seafood dishes are well executed. The Black Cod Caciucco With Scampi ($32), for example, offers a smooth piece of fish and sweet pieces of scampi in a flavourful reduced fish broth.
And the Red Snapper With Smoked Peppers ($32) boasts a piece of skilfully pan fried fish that is on the cusp of crispiness outside but smooth and moist inside.
I like the Suckling Pig Porchetta ($98 for two persons), too, for its crisp crackling and juicy meat. But the chunk of pork neck that is stuffed into the piglet is a tad tough. Pork neck is a succulent cut that is best savoured in thin slices.
The disappointing dish is the Veal Ossobuco With Gremolata And Potato Puree ($38). Instead of serving the ossobuco as a whole shank, the meat is sliced into thin medallions and there aren’t any of those gelatinous bits clinging to it that I like. The meat is too soft and, paired with the potato puree, provides little contrast in textures in the mouth.
I eat so much pasta each time that I have little room for dessert. So after two visits, I have tried only one – Olive Oil Cake With Amalfi Lemon Sorbet ($12). It is a soft cake that is light and not too sweet, with a refreshing flavour of olives. And the sorbet is a good way to end a heavy meal.
Osteria Art is one of the loveliest mid-priced restaurants to open in a while, following a spate of trendy small shophouse eateries that go more for hipster cred than beauty. It proves that you can provide class without charging the earth – something that most diners would agree is a good thing.
Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke
SundayLife! paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.
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