When Sheraton Towers hotel opened in Scotts Road in 1988, it also introduced its upmarket Italian restaurant to Singaporeans.
Fine Italian food was a novelty at the time and Domvs quickly became one of the hottest restaurants in town. It did not hurt that it also boasted a hunky young chef fresh from Italy, Gabriel Fratini.
He left Domvs to set up his own restaurants, Fratini La Trattoria in Neil Road and Fratini Il Ristorante in Ngee Ann City, but closed them when he left Singapore in the 1990s.
Fast forward to today and chef Fratini has come full circle. He returned to Singapore about three years ago and ran a restaurant in Greenwood Avenue. He sold that earlier this year and, this month, opened Domvs By Gabriel Fratini - returning to where he first worked in Singapore.
But things have changed. He is more than 20 years older and, this time, he is his own boss and a tenant instead of an employee of the hotel. And the new Domvs is not the stiff, formal restaurant it was before. The starched table cloths are gone, replaced by rustic wooden tables.
DOMVS BY GABRIEL FRATINI
Sheraton Towers Singapore, 39 Scotts Road, tel: 6839-5622, open: noon to 2pm, 6 to 10pm daily
Food: 4 stars
Service: 4 stars
Ambience: 3 stars
Price: $58 for lunch, $128 for dinner
Gone, too, is the menu. Instead, the restaurant offers omakase meals, the preferred model of fine-dining restaurants these days. The Japanese term means "I'll leave it up to you", and chef Fratini decides what to cook from what he gets from his suppliers as well as his morning visits to the market.
He offers a $58 lunch menu comprising two appetisers, a pasta, a main course and dessert. For dinner, you get four appetisers, two pastas, two main courses and dessert for $128.
Nine courses for dinner may sound like a lot, but the servings are small. You will not leave the restaurant hungry though.
For my dinner last week, I get a quartet of well-paced and balanced appetisers of seafood and meat. They comprise scallops with sea urchin, crab and bottarga in a passionfruit sauce; duck breast topped with foie gras with a masala wine sauce; a lightly grilled red prawn served side by side with vongole in white wine sauce; and a rustic winter dish of stewed pork with red cabbage and mashed pumpkin.
The pasta courses are ricotta cheese ravioli with shavings of black truffle from Italy; and cappellini with crab bisque and a baby lobster.
For main courses, there is a seafood and a meat dish - pan-fried seabass with cannellini beans, cherry tomato and lemon zest; and a choice of two meats: lamb with mustard sauce or beef in its own sauce.
Dessert comes on a platter, with sweet salmon mousse, lemon tart, rum baba and tiramisu.
The dishes are straightforward and classic. The seafood, especially, is given a light touch to allow the natural flavours to shine - and shine they do. The red prawn, for example, is sweet and the clams plump and juicy.
My favourite dishes, however, are the pasta ones, especially the cappellini, which is infused with delicious bisque. And the lobster, though small, boasts sweet and firm meat. I would have asked for more, except that chef Fratini has stated beforehand that he does not accede to any such request.
"There are other dishes coming, so you will have to come back if you want more," he says, only half-jokingly.
The ravioli is not bad, but at a pre-opening tasting last month, the chef had served a giant raviolo that was much better. It was filled with ricotta cheese and veal - and the two-in-one experience overshadows the simpler ravioli.
But that is how omakase works. A favourite dish you eat at a meal may not be served when you return - unless you make a request for it when you call to make a reservation.
I prefer to be surprised by the chef, however, and discover what other dishes he has up his sleeve. Chef Fratini's cooking may not always blow you away, but it does not disappoint either.
He charts his own direction, unaffected by trends. You do not see foam anywhere and he delivers simple but solid dishes.
And that is not a bad thing at all.
The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.
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