Saturday, 30 August, 2014

Published April 21, 2014
Fusing three major cuisines
Una corrals the flavours of Italian, French and Spanish dishes hot off the pan, albeit not very successfully, says JAIME EE
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Home-style cooking: Dishes from the region of Una include scallops la plancha with veal cheeks or rose wine jelly while the slow-cooked Iberico pork belly (above) is from Madrid

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1 Rochester Park

Tel: 6773-0070; Open daily 6pm to 11pm

IT can't be easy opening a new European restaurant in Singapore. With every other chef opening a French, Italian or Spanish place, what can you do that hasn't already been done before?

Perhaps going by the notion that if one is good more is better, Una packs all three - Italian, French and Spanish - into a neat little package at the restaurant formerly known as One Rochester.

The name is still the same, only the language has been changed to Italian, a nod to chef Jean-Philippe Patruno's mixed heritage - his father is Italian, his mother is Spanish and he grew up in France. However, he made his name cooking Spanish food in London's hugely popular Barrafina before he was persuaded to helm the also hugely popular Bomba in Singapore - until its owners decided to close all their restaurants in town.

He's certainly got a nice new playground now at Rochester Park, with its green setting and away-from-it-all vibe. The owners have done a nice job dressing up the al fresco section with its inviting fairy lights and garden-party setting. Add the upcoming tapas bar upstairs and you've ticked off all the boxes on the "fashionable contemporary restaurant" checklist.

The food is deliberately pared down with an emphasis on simple la plancha (cooked in the pan), slow-cooking and braised meats that's more home-style than sophisticated. Still the concept of fusing the three countries seems more semantic than anything - why not just call it Mediterranean and save a few extra words?

But if you're into details, the menu indicates helpfully which region the dishes originate from. For example, the squid plancha is from Barcelona, the slow-cooked octopus from Provence and the slow-cooked Iberico pork belly is from Madrid. There are also a few dishes from the region of Una, such as scallops la plancha with veal cheeks or rose wine jelly. We haven't been able to identify exactly where Una is and there may be no such place unless it's a newly discovered territory that shares the same co-ordinates as the restaurant.

In reality, the food is pretty much a hodgepodge with an underlying message that says it's kind of Spanish but not completely so. The cooking passes muster but is inconsistent, either let down by the quality of the ingredients or an imbalance of cooking time, seasoning and harmony of flavours.

The squid la plancha ($15 for starter portion and $26 as main) starts off promisingly with its appetising pan-seared edges, thick squid ink sauce and garlic mayonnaise on the side and addictive savoury cookie-like crumbs scattered around it. Everything is perfect except for the rubbery flesh which gets tiring to chew after the first few morsels.

That said, the day's special fish soup ($34) is slurped to the last drop with its thick bisque-like flavour that tastes almost comfortingly like the old-fashioned canned variety - it's not an insult, mind you, as it's the familiarity that hits the spot. Prettified with chunky toasted bread and shaved Parmesan, this should be a permanent addition to the menu.

The slow-cooked octopus with its dusting of paprika and blobs of red pepper puree ($21/$31) could do with a little longer cooking time to reach a more tender texture - otherwise it has a smooth partner in the red pepper puree although the tomato fondue tends to muscle in too aggressively.

Incidentally, chef Patruno is pretty generous with his servings, so the starter portions are more than enough for the moderate eater, and it also means you can order a few more dishes for variety.

The squid ink rice or arroz negro ($28/$38) - said to be a bestseller at Bomba - makes an appearance here and in the first few bites we can almost see why with the unctuous midnight coloured squid ink sauce hanging on tight to each and every grain of rice mixed with tender squid bits. The bonus is the shatteringly crisp-battered squid fritters on top. But continue eating and a peppery saltiness starts to override any natural briny flavour you initially taste.

For the mains, baby lamb rack with ratatouille ($38/$48) comes both medium rare as requested, and overcooked on the same plate, although the hearty ratatouille and the meat is a sure-win combination. But something's really wrong with the slow-cooked pork belly ($32/$42) which goes bone dry and stringy when you move beyond the layer of skin and fat.

The day's special rice pudding dessert can also use an infusion of texture and character instead of the flat, mushy grains soaked in milk with plump raisins that arrive neither warm nor cold, and minus the plump chewy grains we prefer. The stubby hot churros work better though ($16/$29), as they're served piping hot and crisp on the outside and only a little mushy inside. Dunked in chocolate sauce with ice cream on the side, it's hard to say no to this.

Overall, the team tries hard - eager to please and always soliciting feedback, which means things will improve as they settle in. But fixating on three major cuisines may be a little more complicated than necessary. Rather than being a chef of all regions, perhaps chef Patruno could work towards being the master of one - his own.

Rating: 6.5


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