Sopra Cucina & Bar
10 Claymore Road #01-02
Open Mon to Wed from 11am to 12am; Thurs to Sat from 11am to 2am. Closed on Sun
IDEALISM is a great quality for a chef to have. You grew up with your grandmother's cooking, lived in a rich terroir and worked with ingredients so fresh and lovingly nurtured by farmers who probably even knew the names of their cows. You can't imagine cooking any other way even when you move to a foreign land for the first time - where people have no concept of agriculture, much less been introduced to a chicken.
The chefs at Sopra - which aims to be true to its Sardinian roots with its large, lovingly decked-out space just off Orchard Road - set out with good intentions. They've come to Singapore armed with an arsenal of ingredients native to this Northern Italian region in the form of pecorino cheese, honey, "music sheet" bread and traditional pasta such as the gnocchi-like malloreddus or chewy fregola. They're also adamant that everything be authentic and not adapted to local tastebuds.
While laudable, this unfamiliarity with the local palate, an over-ambitious menu and lacklustre ingredient quality conspire to make their efforts lost in translation.
Top marks go to them for effort - a lot of work must have gone into converting a former Peranakan restaurant at the old Hotel Negara (now Pan Pacific Orchard) into a welcoming space inspired by post world-war Italy with its old-school rustic tiles and antiques. The menu, too, is a culinary encyclopaedia that's near-impossible to choose from, which is where the $98 tasting menu comes in - conveniently curated so you can sample a good cross-section of the menu.
A much-vaunted basket of home-made bread did not impress with its dry, airy-textured focaccia. Nor did the pizza, which walks the fuzzy line between thin-crust and its chewier Neapolitan cousin - ending up in a leaden and tough middle ground.
A penchant for gamey flavours will also split diners into two camps: one with a cleaner, streamlined palate, and the other which prefers stronger, in-your-face cooking. Rather than conventional chicken stock, a heavier lamb stock is prevalent in both the consommé with fregola pasta and the Sardinian bread soup. The former is a strong, gutsy broth with a pleasant chewiness from the cous cous-like semolina pasta which grows on you. But we can't wrap our head around the bread soup which is a little like eating soppy bread and tomato water. On the other hand, the Sardinian crisp bread wrapped around melted pecorino and drizzled with honey is a great twist on the grilled cheese sandwich.
Other than the usual linguini or lasagna, Sopra widens your pasta education with a tasty Malloreddus alla Campidanese - little shell-shaped nuggets bathed in an earthy pork and tomato ragout. An Italian sway kow filled with a mild mixture of potatoes and mint also piques the interest. But the fregola with seafood is a letdown - the little pearls smothered in a fishy cream sauce with off-tasting scallops.
Lamb appears again in the main courses, this time stewed with olives and served with potato purée - a heavy-going mixture. In turn, the roast suckling pig shows some promise with a decent crispy skin but gives way to tough and dry meat. That said, the fish of the day - simply cooked with herbs, potatoes and tomato and filleted at your table - is competent and enjoyable.
Desserts don't quite hit the mark, though, with a so-so cannoli stuffed with a sweet cream that could do with a crisper pastry shell, while the rum baba is just that - cake shot through with enough alcohol to sterilize your taste buds at first bite.
Even so, Sopra still has an upside. The vast menu means that some dishes will work better than the others so getting a good meal here is still a luck-of-draw affair. Being fully authentic is one thing - proper execution might take a while.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
77.5: Good to very good