These days, it seems everyone is feeling rather moist about the hot chef du jour, Andre Chiang. But I dare say not even this fêted restaurateur could boast the recent spectacle of a lunchtime dining room made up entirely of thirtysomething women – every one a clone of Japan’s Princess Masako with carefully styled hair, flawless make-up, pastel-coloured cardigan, string of pearls and perfect table manners.
The venue was the innocently named Enoteca L’Operetta, a white-on-white Italian restaurant on the edge of Boat Quay where the walls are lined with Warholesque prints of The Beatles, pretty piles of fake roses and, bizarrely, a row of death masks. How does the food stack up, you ask? Rather judiciously, as it turns out.
The 33-year-old Seita Nakahara parlays his 11 years’ experience of cooking Italian fare (seven in Florence, Sicily and Turin; four in Tokyo) into a well-executed menu that combines distinctive Italian ingredients with refined Japanese sensibilities. The latter never overwhelms the former, but the combination of the two – especially in the dainty desserts – is delightful.
Indeed, the repertoire of comforting classics – including a comprehensive selection of thin-crusted pizzas – throws up few surprises. But it’s all done with such restraint and reverence for good produce you can’t help but come away with admiration. The real artistry began with a necklace of finely sliced beef tongue speckled with capers and a wasabi dressing. The lid of a red Staub pot lifted to reveal fat discs of seared Hokkaido scallops whose juicy sweetness was nicely foiled by the rich swirl of butter. Housemade cappellini were tangled in a light tomato sauce laced with prawns and a touch of chilli heat.
Everything is prettily served on large plates and bowls, so it will come as a bit of a shock later to realise that you’d just paid $38 for what looked and felt like a starter portion of spaghetti topped with bottarga and tiny nuggets of broccoli. Taste-wise however, it was textbook perfect – the brininess of the roe matched the undertow of lemon, but at these prices, you are left wondering if everyone in the dining room is on an expense account. Daven Wu