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A lot of upside going for Osteria Art
55 Market Street, #01-01
Tel: 6877 6933
Open for lunch and dinner Mon to Fri: 12pm to 2.30pm; 6pm to 11pm. Dinner only on Sat: 6pm to 11pm. Closed on Sundays.
MALE dealmakers who miss the macho days of the power lunch where you could talk hard business without your server interrupting you to describe the provenance of each dish or sing "Happy Birthday" to another table, rejoice. There's a new place smack in the financial district that harks back to the era of the gentlemen's club - where men were men, women were from the typing pool, and cocktails were made by bartenders, not mixologists.
Fortunately, Osteria Art isn't the kind of place to assert one's masculinity, latent misogyny or disdain for pretty pastels. Yes, serial restaurateur Beppe De Vito's latest venture is "very man, lor" - to put it colloquially - but in a metrosexual way. The sombre woods, heavy furniture and dim lighting of an old-school gents' club is re-interpreted with brass fittings, rich red leather banquettes and macho-looking bar that Don Draper would approve of. To amp up the testosterone levels, every cocktail is named after a Ferrari model. Your Bellini or Negroni will look as it is supposed to look, without dry ice smoke or fruit on a stick. And women - regardless of typing speed - are welcome.
With the surrounding area dominated by sandwich and salad bars or hipster outposts, Osteria Art is a smart and welcome boost to the CBD's F&B scene. A place for grown-ups to eat is becoming a rare sight in trend-driven Singapore, and De Vito has articulated the need for such a place within walking distance for corporate suits - both men and women - to sit down and talk shop (or not) without being distracted by fussy platings or chefs' cooking philosophies.
Perhaps for that reason, Osteria Art's food is straightforward and not a chef's showcase. The food is classic Italian, served at very realistic prices, with appetisers and pastas comfortably under the US$30 mark unless you opt for truffle in your pasta which hits US$32. But take it from us and wait for white truffle season, because the black truffles here aren't worth getting excited about. The mains also stay mostly under US$40 with the most expensive being a suckling pig porchetta at US$98 which is meant for two but easily serves three.
A mainly Italian (or at least non-Singaporean accented) staff lends a continental flair to Osteria Art, almost to the point where you can close your eyes and imagine you're dining in a bustling chic eatery in Milan. On the other hand, our server, a gruff-voiced mature gent, would not be out of place in an Italian eatery in New Jersey run by The Sopranos. When we linger over the meat courses even after ordering a pasta, he almost admonishes us for considering the lamb rack. "The pasta has meat, that's a main course. You want two main courses?" he barks at us in a tone that says, "Whatsamatter with you, do you really think you can eat pasta and a meat? What do you think you are - a man?"
We love him. He's a shot of reality amidst the glossy catwalk of well-coiffed boys and girls that glide across the restaurant.
While De Vito has nailed it concept and ambience-wise, the food could use a boost to go from serviceable to stellar. There are flashes of inspiration, though, such as an amazing snack of cheesy bombolinis - addictive hot and chewy savoury puffs - and a beautiful freshly-baked crusty loaf that shatters when you break it, yielding a fluffy mass of soft bread within.
The bread comes in handy when you're mopping up the sauce from the Goose Liver Veneziana (S$28) - pan-fried foie gras sitting on a bed of caramelised onion jam cosying up to silken potato puree, with plump raisins shooting little bursts of sweet tanginess into the mix. It's one of the better performers in the menu, along with the papardelle pasta in a rich braised pork cheek and red wine sauce (S$26), with plenty of tomatoes and cream that make it hefty but not cloyingly so. In fact, pastas are probably the strongest section of the menu.
The S$32 set lunch offers decent value, if not superlatives: so-so starter of chopped raw tuna topped with dry crumbly egg yolk and shower of shaved black truffle; simple pan-fried snapper or braised lamb shank and an enjoyable fluffy apple cake in a caramel sauce.
A porcini mushroom flan with truffle leek veloute (S$22) has us scratching our heads as to the point of this dubious steamed puree of mushrooms that is musky and raw-tasting, showered in taste-and-scent-less truffle shavings and surrounded in a leek cream. A hot mushroom capuccino might be boring but would be more palatable than bland upon weird.
A creamy fresh burrata with 25-year-old balsamico (S$23) and grilled diced vegetables is a fail-safe choice, while al dente spaghetti tossed in a tomato cream sauce which could use more nduja (spicy Italian meat paste) and tender (but tasteless) octopus chunks (S$28) passes muster. A thick and dry middle of an otherwise impressive-looking suckling pig porchetta (S$98) has us eating around it to enjoy the almost-crisp skin and fatty bits, while wondering if they could hire a Chinese chef to roast the pig for them.
Desserts are pretty but we wish the kitchen would stop doing the calorie counting for us. We'd rather have something more substantial than a lightweight Moscato jelly with strawberries (S$12), and a whole slice of lemon olive oil cake than the little cake balls hiding under the cover of berries and "snow" (S$12). And we'd prefer a profiterole we can get our teeth into, with a sturdy choux pastry shell instead of the dainty crust filled with airy coffee-chocolate mousse (S$15). Real men still eat cake, surely?
But it's still just Osteria Art's first week and the brisk crowd of diners is clearly stressing the kitchen out, although it's also a clear sign of demand for a place like this. Those who power lunch will find a happy equation of business-like ambience (although it gets quite noisy at times and service is slow) and acceptable food that doesn't detract from the conversation. Give the kitchen a couple of weeks to settle down and raise its game, and we're sure the food will improve. As the money types like to say, Osteria Art has a lot of upside going for it.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good