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Hit-and-miss dining at Lavo
Lavo Italian Restaurant and Rooftop Bar
Level 57, Marina Bay Sands Hotel Tower 1, 10 Bayfront Avenue
Open daily: 5pm to 2am
LAVO. Marina Bay Sands.
Top New York City nightclub and restaurant right here on the rooftop of Singapore's glitziest casino resort, baby.
Why are we even here? We should have known that "I heard you have big meatballs" doesn't exactly make you a welcome customer in this heavily-decorated, heavily-hyped temple of conspicuous consumption and gilded artifice atop the hotel tower.
Donald Trump would have approved. Lavo is deafeningly loud, brash and in-your-face, filled with people from a higher fashion echelon that I haven't reached yet. I mean I have my fancy pants on but this is a whole different ball game.
It's a Friday night and I'm running late, so I call to change the reservation time, sending an equally fashion-challenged dining companion ahead to make sure the restaurant doesn't give up the table.
But the companion is stopped at the entrance by a beefy bouncer-type with the demeanour of a guard patrolling the US-Mexican border. No way is he letting in an 'undesirable' - someone who's an hour late ("we called to change the time and a lady said it was fine") nor is he going to seat anyone until the entire dining party is present. There is no invitation to sit at the bar to wait, instead there is an huffy "I'll see what I can do", followed by loud muttering to his phalanx of LBD-clad hostesses about diners being late.
By the time I arrive, my fancy pants do not merit even a glance in my direction as Mr Condescending simply tells a hostess to take us to our table, which sits among other empty tables in a very, very large restaurant that has plenty of space to fill.
A survey of our fellow diners tells us nobody is there to take the food seriously, since there is no way a pizza or porterhouse steak can hide in some of those bodies sheathed in second-skin outfits. Instead of nibbling on nightclub-compliant chi-chi fare, we're chowing down on hefty portions of family-restaurant style, American-Italian cooking - imagine an unholy liaison between Jamie's Italian and Denny's.
The servers themselves are thankfully down-to-earth, an unpretentious lot serving some heavy-going cooking that will fill you up but is not going to win any prizes.
Our Charred Octopus (S$32) arrives suspiciously fast, barely a few minutes after our orders are taken, like a mollusc-in-waiting that's suddenly called into action. The tentacle is cool rather than warm, sprinkled with black olive dust and over-vinegared dressing. It's already starting to dry out - once supple flesh taking on a somewhat stringy and powdery texture.
The hot garlic bread that should have come before the octopus as part of the complimentary antipasti is the highlight of the meal. The piping hot coil of pull-apart dough is dripping melted garlic butter everywhere, perfectly enjoyable with cubes of parmesan, sweet pickled cauliflower, and olives.
While it's rare for a chef to boast about his ability to pack mincemeat together into a cohesive whole, Lavo's entire culinary reputation depends on "The Meatball" (S$38).
It's a heaving, 1lb (450g) sphere of ground wagyu, veal, sausage, onion and breadcrumbs, simmered in a thick, unctuous river of tomato sauce, and topped with an ice cream scoop of ricotta cheese. The cheese soon melts into the sauce, softening the acidity with a mellow creaminess.
Maybe it's a cultural thing, but there are too many things to eat in Singapore to get excited over a meatball.
Crispy Chicken "Dominick" (S$48) piques the interest a little, although at this price, the chicken should jolly well have a royal lineage, not just a first name. But this twice-cooked bird - cooked sous-vide before being flash-fried to crisp up slightly - is rather good, bathed in a demi-glace lightened with balsamic vinegar.
We also try the Penne Alla Vodka (S$41) which must have had a good glug of Stoli dropped into the pasta to justify the price. There is no protein in the tomato-cream sauce apart from bits of hard bacon. And because it shares the same flavour profile as the meatball, it's overkill two times over.
For dessert, we bypass the 20 Layer Chocolate Cake but we're still overwhelmed by the NY Cheesecake Sundae (S$16) - a massive composition of baby cheesecake squares balancing on marinated strawberries, giant scoop of strawberry ice cream and fun-to-eat, chocolate-lined, tiny ice cream cones. You're so inundated by this barrage of components you forget that, taken individually, each is rather underwhelming.
Still, we pick the cheesecake sundae over the Olive Oil Cake, which is just sweet and stodgy with little taste of lemon, served with a scoop of gelato that almost, but not quite, tastes like something. It's like an existential ice cream that's still discovering its identity.
Yes, we know we don't fit in with the crowd at Lavo - rich, well-dressed, party-lovers fitted with technologically-advanced ear drums that help them hear each other over the deafening boom-boom music. We leave them to it as we head back to our own quiet, unfashionable world, turning back to Mr Condescending only to say, "Hasta la vista, baby."
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