RESTAURANT REVIEW

Good rustic Italian cooking at Grissini

Polpo (above) is a fat and tender octopus tentacle and the Linguine All Astice (left) is served with half a fresh and meaty Boston lobster.
Polpo (above) is a fat and tender octopus tentacle. PHOTOS: GRAND COPTHORNE WATERFRONT
Polpo (above) is a fat and tender octopus tentacle and the Linguine All Astice (left) is served with half a fresh and meaty Boston lobster.
The Linguine All Astice (above) is served with half a fresh and meaty Boston lobster.
Polpo (above) is a fat and tender octopus tentacle and the Linguine All Astice (left) is served with half a fresh and meaty Boston lobster.
GRISSINI.

Grissini features a Josper oven with a selection of seafood and meats in a relatively informal setting

It may not seem to make sense to close an Italian restaurant to open, well, another Italian restaurant.

But that is what the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel has just done.

Earlier this year, it closed Pontini, an upmarket Italian restaurant it has kept running for more than 10 years, as part of the hotel's reconfiguration of its food and beverage outlets.

This month, it opened Grissini, a more rustic eatery focusing on southern Italian cooking.

Even though both are Italian, the two restaurants are very different and I think the change is a good one.

  • GRISSINI

  • Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel, 392 Havelock Road, tel: 6233-1100

    Open: Noon to 2.30pm (Monday to Saturday), 6.30 to 11pm (daily). Sunday brunch from 12.30 to 3.30pm

    Food: 4 stars

    Service: 3 stars

    Ambience: 3 stars

    Price: Budget about $100 a person

Pontini, with its starched linen and elegant setting, had never sat well with the hotel's location in Havelock Road, where it is surrounded by four-star hotels.

Grissini, however, has an ambience closer to that of a trattoria, albeit a contemporary one, with its palette of soothing browns.

Another positive change is to move the restaurant from the second floor, where Pontini was hidden among the hotel's function rooms, to the lobby level.

All the hotel's food outlets are now grouped together next to the reception area, with Grissini separated from a new buffet restaurant, Food Capital, by a bar called Tempo that services both eateries.

Running the Grissini kitchen is Italian chef Antonio Cocozza, who is from Naples, but has lived in Singapore for years. He used to run his own restaurant, Don Antonio Pizza Bar, in Jalan Klapa.

It is not surprising, therefore, that pizzas take pride of place on the Grissini menu. There are seven to choose from and I pick a less common "white" pizza called Salsiccia & Broccolini ($20 for small).

A white pizza comes without tomato sauce, which in this case is replaced with a cream sauce that is topped with pork sausage, sauteed garlic broccolini, mozzarella and shaved parmesan.

I like the savoury flavours as well as the contrast between the salty, juicy sausage meat and the healthy greenness of the slightly bitter vegetable. The pizza dough is excellent, being not too doughy and yet not too thin. It is tasty on its own even without the toppings and I end up eating every bit of the crust.

Since my pizza does not have tomato sauce, I pick a pasta with the fruit.

The Linguine All Astice ($36), served with Boston lobster, datterino tomatoes, frascati white wine and Sicilian extra virgin olive oil should prove popular with Singaporeans. It is not outstanding, but the flavours of garlic, fresh tomatoes and white wine are familiar and easy to like. It is a good-value dish too, with half a fresh and meaty lobster in it.

What Grissini has that Pontini did not is a Josper oven, the charcoal- fired oven that is increasingly seen in restaurant kitchens here.

Chef Cocozza puts it to good use, with the menu offering a selection of meats and seafood grilled in it.

Southern Italian cuisine features more seafood than the north and the two seafood dishes I've tried at Grissini are good.

Polpo ($36) is a fat and tender octopus tentacle grilled in the Josper and it gets infused with the appetising aroma of charcoal smoke. A drizzle of olive oil is used to dress it and that's all it requires.

But the dish also comes with delicious roasted ratte potatoes and a little salad of baby rocket leaves, taggiasca olives and datterino tomatoes - which provide the palate with a variety of flavours.

Pesce Spada ($38) is a swordfish steak that turns out perfect. The smokiness plays down the oiliness of the fish without masking its flavour. Squeeze a few drops of lemon juice on it if you like, but it tastes fine even if you don't.

I have room for only one meat dish and the Bistecca Alla Griglia ($78) stands out. It is a 250g chunk of prime wagyu ribeye with grade 8 marbling that is tender and flavourful. It is not overly fat, which is good for such a big piece of meat because you do not want to feel sick afterwards.

For dessert, the restaurant offers an intriguing choice of gelato flavours ($8 a scoop).

I try two - Black Truffle Oil And Olives and Balsamic Vinegar - and both taste really odd. But the one with the truffle oil grows on me and I end up enjoying the savoury- sweet mix. The balsamic gelato, however, stays weird to the end.

Grissini, with its relaxed setting, works whether it's for a business lunch, a gathering of friends or a family dinner.

The good but unpretentious cooking helps too.

• Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke

•The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 03, 2016, with the headline 'Good rustic Italian cooking'. Print Edition | Subscribe