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A better story should be next on Monti's menu
82 Collyer Quay, Fullerton Pavilion
Tel: 6535 0724
Open daily: 12pm to 1am (Mon to Thurs); 12pm to 4am (Fri, Sat and eve of public holiday); 11am to 1am.
IF you didn't know who took over the space vacated by Catalunya - the once hot Spanish restaurant that made its floating pavilion space off Clifford Pier the talk of the town - then you haven't met Monti.
We were first introduced to Monti via cryptic e-mail and physical correspondence - a come-hither message "Monti is waiting for you", with a blurry image of a debonair suited gent, tie fashionably askew and a rather ridiculous tale about how he came to Singapore to visit an ex-war (which war?) buddy and fell so in love with the city that he just had to open a restaurant serving "Italian food, quality music and sexy drinks".
While the story sounds like it was hurriedly crafted by an over-worked copywriter given just a few key words like "Italian", "sexy" and "tourist" to work with, we don't envy Monti the challenge he faces.
It's a tough gig, trying to rewrite the success of Catalunya, which rode on the coat-tails of the Spanish food mania, where anyone with a connection to star chef Ferran Adria's elBulli was admired and immediately hired.
But Ferran Adria has dropped off the celebrity radar and there's no hot trend for Monti to latch onto. With its dated look - heavy dark wood ceiling overlooking a dim bar that you walk through to get to the dining section, it exudes none of the excitement of a brand new eatery, but the aura of an ageing lounge entertainer who couldn't pay his electricity bills.
The place looks better when there's still natural light outside, so you can enjoy a view of the river and the feeling of being on a cruise ship overlooking the rippling water. As we're there for dinner, we still get to enjoy our appetisers of "superfood" salad (S$24) and Pastina (S$18) - the Italian version of chicken broth, loaded with rice-shaped risoni pasta and rich egg stirred through the hot soup.
If the chef can just soften the super-vinegary impact you get on first bite, the crunchy, chewy, nutty bowl of seeds and grains is an enjoyable serving of health food that's filling as well.
You get a motherlode of textures as you chomp down on sunflower and pumpkin seeds, crisp walnuts, hazelnuts, borlotti beans, corn and cucumber in a simple olive oil dressing that's a nice clean start to the meal.
Monti, we have to say, is a very generous guy. Portions are ample and you can easily get stuffed on the salad or the comforting pastina - which comes to the table piping hot with so much pasta that it gets a little monotonous after the first few enthusiastic slurps.
The chef makes his own pasta, and the tagliatelle (S$42) tossed in a buttery sauce with a large portion of mixed mushrooms and shaved black truffle is comforting and the pasta itself is cooked al dente so there's no chance of it getting stodgy after a while. It's executed well and by and large, there are good intentions coming out of the kitchen, but it's early days yet so they still need to find their feet.
The first thing that needs to be done is to stop assuming that diners are vampires and have to eat in the dark. The moment the sun sets, we're trying to eat from the light of our cellphones as Mr Lounge Entertainer can't seem to find the light switch. Little lamps - usually used to provide romantic lighting, not the ONLY lighting - are brought out to the tables. If you think that's not enough you can ask for another little lamp.
Our very pleasant server - who impresses us with her knowledge of the dishes - mentions something about them doing something about the lighting so maybe the next time you say "let there be light", they will have more to offer.
Meantime, we're trying to eat (and see) our grilled Iberico pork (S$38), cut into very thin slices which are moist and tasty but salty and sliced too thin. We'd rather have it whole and cut it up ourselves. If you're a fan of polenta, there is a creamy mound of it with a vaguely odd fragrance, served with sauteed chanterelle mushrooms.
The lobster-textured-like monkfish wrapped in bacon (S$52) has little going for it apart from the bacon, which doesn't say much for it or the ratatouille it's served with.
The best thing on the menu is dessert - a lovely olive oil ice cream with honey mascarpone and torn bits of parsley sponge (S$18). It really does taste garden fresh with its clean, sweet and refreshing flavour combination.
We're not sure what Monti's trying to achieve here, but while we empathise with his efforts to create a new playground for Singaporeans, we think he needs to come up with a better story.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: BT pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.