SINGAPORE - A romantic scenario in movies often involves the hero booking an entire restaurant - sometimes with a violinist thrown in - to woo the leading lady. In real life, however, not many people can afford a gesture like that.
But at Braci, the month-old Italian restaurant by the ilLido Group, it is not impossible. That's because the Boat Quay restaurant seats only 16 people and, with a five-course omakase menu priced at $100 a person, that makes a total bill of just $1,600. Even if you throw in a bottle of prosecco, you do not need to be a tycoon to realise that dream.
Of course, you would not be quite alone, as chef-owner Beppe de Vito and his team will be looking on from the open kitchen, which takes up about half the restaurant space. But you get to watch them at work, too, which can occupy the lulls in conversation.
One wonders, though, how much de Vito is making after paying his staff and the rental of the fifth-floor space. Hopefully, diners would order lots of wine and adjourn to the rooftop bar above the restaurant to imbibe more alcohol while enjoying stunning night views of Raffles Place and the Singapore River.
As for me, I am happy to stay downstairs where the food is.
52 Boat Quay, 05-02, tel: 6866-1933, open: 6 to 11pm (Mondays to Saturdays). Closed on Sundays
Food: 3.5/5 stars
Service: 3.5/5 stars
Ambience: 3/5 stars
Price: From $100 a person, without drinks
I have tried the omakase menu at an invited pre-opening tasting, so when I return for dinner on my own account, I decide to go for the a la carte options instead.
Degustation menus are good for first-timers who can try a bit of everything before they decide on their favourites. Besides the $100 menu, there is also a $150 one with eight courses. But I prefer to order a la carte. I don't need tiny portions of many dishes, give me big servings of what I like instead.
The cooking here won't blow your mind, especially if you compare it with meals that cost double the price. But for what you pay, it's good enough.
What I like, too, are the stories that de Vito tells about some of the ingredients used.
For example, the olive oil he serves with the bread comes from his own grove back home in Puglia, Italy, tended to by his father and brother.
Even the bread is flown in from Italy, where families would toast it over the fire. At Braci, it is grilled over charcoal until really dark to get a similar result. But though it brought back memories of home for him, it was just bread to me.
Charcoal grilling is the dominant cooking method here for the main dishes - in a Josper oven and over a small table-top grill, with the chef himself fanning the smouldering embers.
I order the Duck Breast ($38) and enjoy the tender, dry-aged fillet doused in an intensely flavoured jus to keep it moist.
Fresh figs and asparagus balance the flavours well and a nice surprise comes in the form of two paper- thin slices of rolled-up duck skin. They are not as crisp as Peking duck skin, but are aromatic and quite enjoyable.
The Seabass ($38) also gets its skin crisped over the grill and it contrasts beautifully with its tender flesh. A saffron sauce enhances rather than overpowers the fish's delicate flavour. The dish also comes with eggplant Parmigiana, a dish I can happily eat on its own.
But my favourite dish is the Fettuccine ($32), which is not surprising as pasta is often the highlight at the ilLido stable of restaurants.
Here, the pasta is topped with ribbons of razor clams that are lightly grilled over charcoal and flavoured with tarragon and vermouth. There is a dusting of clam powder and just a hint of Sichuan pepper, while beads of salmon roe crown the dish.
The clams disappear into the pasta once you toss it, but they assert themselves in the mouth with their springy texture and sweet taste.
There are dishes that do not involve the grill, among them the Tuna Millefeuille ($28) - a cold starter that has interesting flavours from alternating layers of raw tuna, mushrooms and truffle shavings.
On its own, it tastes light and slightly tart from a refreshing vinaigrette. But a dollop of anchovy sauce on the side adds a dose of fishy saltiness for those who fancy heavier flavours.
For dessert, Pumpkin Pie ($18) is the one to order if you do not like things too sweet. It is a whole slice of stewed pumpkin covered in liquorice sabayon and frozen yogurt, with the liquorice used so gently that there is no danger of anyone being offended by its medicinal taste. There is no pie, but I'm not complaining.
What I will complain about is the erratic air-conditioning, which alternates between cool and uncomfortably warm. At first, I fancy it is the heat from the grill - until I start sweating again during dessert when the cooking has stopped.
That would certainly put a damper on any attempts at romance. Even a violinist may not get you in the mood when sweat is beading on your forehead.
•Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke
•The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.