SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - "So, which new restaurant did you go to this week?"
"Food? No, I meant which restaurant you went to, not what you ate."
"You trying to be funny? Just tell me the name of the restaurant!"
"No, really, that's the name. FOO'D."
"What kind of restaurant calls itself Food? Who's the chef?"
"I'm not sure. He has a Michelin star. In a tiny restaurant outside of Milan. He has an eight-month waiting list apparently."
"Oh, is that so? What does he cook?"
"Uhm .... Food?"
We can imagine annoying a few people with word games after a visit to FOO'D by Davide Oldani, but it would be less funny if the well, food, did not pass muster. We're happy to report that a recent lunch there has piqued our curiosity about just who this apostrophe-loving chef is.
FOO'D by Davide Oldani
11 Empress Place, #01-01 Victoria Theatre & Concert Hall
Tel: 6385 5588
Open for lunch and dinner Mon to Sat: 12pm to 3pm; 6pm to 11pm.
He is the owner of D'O, a 40-seater outpost in the little village of Cornaredo, just outside Milan, that is supposed to be a hard ticket to get, even though it has "only" one star. In our larger village of Singapore - which has seen more than its fair share of three-Michelin chef franchises - the arrival of yet another Michelin star chef raises barely an eyebrow.
The setting, however, is an attractive one. The folks at the recently revamped Victoria Theatre managed to carve out some space on the side for a 128-seater restaurant, creating a simple but elegant dining stage where the main stars are the majestic columns and ornate cornices of the old theatre.
Chef Oldani lends his name rather than personal presence, but his kitchen team is surprisingly strong, pushing out a menu that is more free-style than Italian, with just enough out-of-the-box elements to keep things interesting. We don't normally expect much from set lunches (priced from S$45 to S$52) but the attention to detail and meticulous execution leaves us rather impressed. Don't expect punchy, strong flavours - the food is more for those who favour subtlety and nuances. That is, this is not for the robust, hearty food-loving set.
There is an interesting vegetarian presence on the menu, for those still in their New Year resolution phase. Check out Frisella with fruit and vegetables - a deconstructed, open-faced veggie sandwich of foccacia bread softened with lemon juice and fennel. The acidity breaks the monotony of grilled carrots, zucchini, tomato and tangy plum, while a mouth-puckering ball of vinegar granite jolts your taste buds.
A small patty of salted cod is meaty and creamy, calling out for some bread which refuses to listen, so we end up scooping this briny terrine on its own, with an excuse of a wafer-thin cracker wedged into it.
Lobster soup isn't as we expect it - the thickened bouillon that is poured into our bowl at the table reminds us of both intense seafood broth and hor fun gravy.
The little pieces of pineapple and chewy nuggets of dough that sit with the miserly pieces of lobster are fun, though. Meanwhile, dairy-free thick mushroom soup is a little more familiar, generous with assorted mushrooms and shavings of black truffle.
Roast chicken is a 72-degree sous vide thigh with flash-seared skin that is tasty and tender if slightly dry - a lower temperature would suit the Asian preference for a baby-soft texture. But it's still enjoyable in a sauce of centrifuged carrots (kind of like modernist carrot juice) and tomatoes.
Meanwhile, a vegetarian cianfotta is a medley of pumpkin, cauliflower, oyster mushrooms and carrots, topped by a piece of aluminium foil that we initially think is placed there to keep the carrots warm, until we're told it's edible silver paper. The surprise hit of the meal comes with a humdrum description of "toasted seeds, coffee powder, blueberries, bottarga and year-old aged rice" but is a chewer's delight - creamy, cheesy risotto with a yielding bite, with the added crunch of toasted black and white sesame seeds. A melted blueberry adds a surprise sweet twist.
Dessert of tangy lemon curd, meringue drops and a refreshing lettuce ice cream that's full fat rich with a mild vegetal aftertaste is a winner. More so than the zuccotto - a pasty thick caramel mousse coated in cocoa powder, with apricot slivers and stale seeds.
Throughout the meal, we keep stabbing our palates with this "spork" utensil designed by chef Oldani, which our server proudly describes as a spoon, fork and knife rolled into one utensil. We wonder: surely there's enough room on the table for all types of cutlery? We're in a restaurant, not an East Coast Park barbecue.
Inventions aside, there's enough thought and effort going on here for us to want to explore more of what chef Oldani has to offer via his Singapore-based chefs. It may be just FOO'D, but it deserves a second Loo'k.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good