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True-blue Italian home cooking
3 Temasek Boulevard #02-472/473/474, Suntec City Mall
Opening hours: Mon to Fri, 10am - 10pm Sat, Sun, and public holidays, 11am - 10pm
IT'S hard to tell from the first look whether Bottura is a restaurant, supermarket or takeaway ice-cream counter. It's actually all three rolled into one space, united by owner Luca Bottura's mission to serve Italian food made from scratch.
That's why his debut restaurant's pizzas, pastas, and gelato are all made in-house, using traditional recipes from his family back in Bologna, Italy.
His mother (also a shareholder in the business) even flies over every now and then to do quality checks, and he also imports produce himself so he has full control of his food quality, says 32-year-old Mr Bottura. Even the coffee is made using a traditional Italian machine from the 1960s that operates entirely with manual levers instead of buttons, and had to be imported directly from an Italian factory, he adds.
It's all key to keeping everything as authentic as possible so customers feel like they are eating in a restaurant in Italy itself, says Mr Bottura, who used to work in finance before deciding to quit and start his own restaurant. "We don't buy any processed food, so basically the only things we buy here in Singapore are fresh fruits and vegetables. All the rest are raw produce that I bring directly from Italy."
Bottura is located at Suntec City Mall, and serves a range of Italian cuisine that mostly comes from Bologna which, according to Mr Bottura, is not very common in Singapore. Their menu includes a lasagne polenta with traditional ragu and bechamel sauce (S$18), a rock melon, parma ham and mozzarella pizza (S$24), and a parma ham, house-made stracchino cheese and rocket piadina (an Italian flatbread, S$14). Their gelato costs from S$5 for one scoop to S$10 for three.
Another important aspect of his business is affordability, says Mr Bottura. He recalls how he had trouble finding an affordable Italian restaurant in a shopping mall back when he first came to Singapore in May 2013, so he came up with the idea of opening his own place.
The best part is, if you enjoy your dinner at Bottura, you can even bring it home with you since Mr Bottura has also set up a retail section right next to the store's entrance. There, he sells a range of exclusive products, including some Italian wines, different types of limoncello, olive oils from different regions, balsamic vinegars, as well as some flavoured salts and sugars.
What isn't on the retail list however, is their handmade pasta, but Mr Bottura good-naturedly promises that any requests to purchase them will definitely be catered to whenever possible, and reveals that he might even hold cooking classes in the future to impart the finer points of plating up his traditional Italian dishes.
Says Mr Bottura: "I believe that everyone should be able to enjoy Italian food every day if they want, like I do, instead of waiting for a special occasion like they do now. And I hope customers will be inspired by our cuisine so they can make it themselves as well, because at the end of the day what we want to share is Italian home cooking."
Touch of Japan
3 Temasek Boulevard #03-307, Suntec City Mall
Opening hours: 11am to 11pm daily
AFTER spending the last few years hiding behind a hoarding as it underwent a major facelift, Suntec City Mall is revealing its new range of dining and shopping options one section at a time. The latest and most significant to be unveiled is its previously inaccessible Sky Garden between Towers One and Five, which now houses a cluster of new eateries.
A handy open-air escalator now leads you directly to the garden, where Eat At Seven awaits - a collection of seven different Japanese eateries spanning an indoor and outdoor area of 14,000 square feet. Each one specialises in different types of cuisine, including sushi, ramen, izakaya and roast meats.
But it's not a food court-style place where you can sit anywhere and order from all the different sections.
"Eat At Seven is a concept that puts together some well-known brands from Japan," says its founder Andrew Tan, 54.
"These are restaurants that require up to a three-hour queue to get into, and we're working closely with them."
Mr Tan represents a group called Global Retail Partners - a joint venture between Nippon Airways (ANA Trading), Komars Group and Tomo F&B Pte Ltd (which Mr Tan owns). They partner with the individual brand owners to help manage these seven eateries by providing back-end support such as accounting, human resources and marketing.
All the front-end processes however, will be run by the original brand owners from Japan, who will even be sending their own chefs to run the kitchens. "We created this company to manage all these brands, but the original owners are stakeholders too. That's very important as it helps maintain good food quality because the chefs would put in a lot more attention," explains Mr Tan.
The first of the seven outlets to open is a warayaki and charcoal grill izakaya named ENBU, where the food is cooked using a traditional method over straw and charcoal. Some dishes include a smoked salmon with homemade cheese tofu (S$12), chicken warayaki with special spring onion sauce (S$12) and roasted tenderloin warayaki (S$22),
Next up will be a still-unnamed restaurant set up by a maguro (tuna) and sashimi wholesaler which also runs a restaurant at the Miura Misaki harbour in Japan, Nigiro Cafe that specialises in Japanese-Italian cuisine, and NikuNHi which specialises in roast beef and meat. The remaining three outlets will most likely be announced some time next week.
Says Mr Tan: "What we're creating is a back alley, just like the ones in Japan. So when you walk through the 'back lane', you can see each restaurant specialising in their food and choose what you want to eat. In Singapore, most of our restaurants serve everything from tempura to sushi to different dons, but we don't want to do that. Every one of our restaurants will be specialised, just like it is in Japan."
13 Stamford Road, #B1-20/27 Capitol Piazza
Opening hours: 11am - 10.30pm daily (including public holidays)
WHAT do you get when you marry a full-service restaurant with a food court? The answer may well lie in the BreadTalk Group's latest dining concept, aptly named Palette.
Located in the recently opened Capitol Piazza, Palette is a 12,000 sq ft space that serves over 400 dishes by 10 different brands from around the region, in what looks like a food court setting except with the comfort and convenience of a restaurant.
Choices include local cuisine such as the pork rib soup (S$9.50) from Balestier Bak Kut Teh, North-West Indian cuisine at Delhi 6, Indonesian and Indo-Peranakan dishes from Indochili and even barbecue chicken wings (S$12 for six, S$21 for 12) and rojak (S$8) from Huat Huat BBQ. In addition, they have also brought in new exclusive brands such as Johor Bahru's Ah Koong Restaurant, which serves noodles and handmade fishcakes and fishballs, and Hok Kee Authentic Hong Kong Noodle & Congee - a wonton and beef noodle specialist that has been around for 60 years.
Jenson Ong, CEO of the Food Atrium Division at the BreadTalk Group which runs Food Republic, Food Opera and Palette says: "Food courts are always so packed, you have to rush through your meal, while restaurants usually only serve one particular cuisine. Which is why at Palette, we want to provide customers a choice of different types of food in a single location, and it's served to them in a comfortable environment."
It's a good option for groups who want somewhere nice to eat, because it also has a wide enough variety to cater to each person's individual palate, adds Mr Ong. From the stall owners' perspective, this "higher-end version of a food court" will give them exposure to a different market and an opportunity to take their food to a higher level.
One example is Yong Xin Fried Hokkien Prawn Noodle, which has 10 outlets across Singapore and is known for its signature Fried Hokkien Prawn Mee (S$6 at Palette). Their outlet at Palette provides customers the option of upgrading their meal to a Fried Hokkien Crayfish Mee (S$15) instead, which is somewhat more "luxurious", he says.
Although this concept requires more manpower - an increasingly scarce resource in Singapore, Mr Ong is confident that it will be the way of the future for our food courts simply because more people prefer to dine in a more comfortable and relaxed environment these days.
He says: "Over the years, our lifestyles have changed and so have our expectations. People need a place to relax after a long day at work, and for now that place is only available at restaurants, which can be quite expensive. But Palette has multiple choices of comfort food, and we are affordable, so I think we fill that gap in the market."
Fine fare, fine art
333 Orchard Road, #04-16 Mandarin Gallery
Opening hours: 10am - 10pm daily
TWO years after setting up his first successful restaurant, Hashida Sushi, Japanese chef Kenjiro Hashida has launched his second establishment - a "fine fare meets fine art" concept called Hashida Garo. Garo means gallery in Japanese, and that's exactly what Chef Kenjiro is going for. Unlike at Hashida Sushi, where the food is kept strictly traditional and specialised, Hashida Garo will be an "opportunity to present (his) culinary ideas and to some extent, other elements of the Japanese dining culture".
In addition, this garo will also function as a space to showcase visual art as well. As an artist himself, Chef Kenjiro used to also have difficulty finding affordable spaces to display his artwork, which is why he decided to offer his restaurant's walls to budding artists at no cost.
He explains: "Hashida Garo is very personal to me and every aspect of the restaurant will be very much a personal expression . . . From the decor to the menu items, I sought to impart an originality and depart from what had been done before."
The speciality of Hashida Garo will be the desserts, such as his range of different flavoured macarons from a bamboo charcoal matcha macaron at S$3.50++ per piece, to a foie gras macaron at S$12++ per piece. However, an all-day dining menu of savoury food will also be available, featuring breakfast sets such as the Unagi Ippon at S$19.80, a two-tier bento lunch at S$48++, and an "extravagance lunch set" with Miyazaki Wagyu at S$90++. On top of opening the restaurant and art gallery - which is currently in its soft-launch stage and will officially be open in August - Chef Kenjiro has also started a retail store right next door selling some selected Japanese products and food produce, such as folding fans, chopsticks, condiments, sakes and even fresh Japanese fruit. The store will also carry some of his own creations such as his Merlion Monaka (S$5++) - a crisp mochi wafer sandwich filled with bean-paste and kaya, created specially to commemorate Singapore's 50th birthday.
Says the chef: "I hope this sweet will gain so much popularity that Japanese visitors to Singapore may one day want to bring this Merlion Monaka back to their friends and family as an omiyage (souvenir from a trip) from Singapore!"
Shop for pizza
13 Stamford Road, #B2-52 Capitol Piazza
Opening hours: 10.30am - 10.30pm daily
LOVE the pizza at Spizza? Now you can make it on your own at home, using the same flour, oils, and some pre-packaged sauces available for purchase at the recently opened Spizza Mercato (above) at Capitol Piazza.
This new concept by The Senso Group, which also runs Senso Ristorante & Bar and La Nonna, combines the group's pizzeria brand Spizza with a retail component selling gourmet Italian products - some of which are used in their own dishes.
Says Olivier Dyens, CEO of The Senso Group: "In the current, concentrated Singapore F&B market, we felt the need to create a concept to differentiate us from others while still being suitable for a mall space. So we decided on an all-day dining restaurant with a retail section seamlessly incorporated that would allow customers the convenience to dine and do their food shopping in the same place."
He believes that multi-faceted F&B concepts such as his are currently in demand as they add value for customers and allow the restaurant to reach out to a wider audience. That's why when the concept for Spizza Mercato was first created in 2013, it was done so with the potential for international franchising in mind.
At its retail space, Spizza Mercato carries a selection of the brand's signature pastas such as homemade squid ink taglierini, fettuccine, ravioli, gnocchi and sauces such as carbonara and pomodoro. They also sell kitchenware and tools such as a cheese grater by Microplane (S$25.90) or ravioli cutter by Ibili (S$15.90), as well as liqueurs such as Bepi Tosolini Limoncello (S$58) and Sambuca (S$60), plus over 80 different wines.
Foodwise, some dishes exclusive to Spizza Mercato are the panzerotti (mini-pizza folded into a calzone puff), torta (small deep-dish pizza) and some stuffed pastas such as the pasta ripiena that comes in variations such as a red tomato mezzelune stuffed with smoked duck in mamma rosa sauce. According to Mr Dyens, the most important factor considered during selection of retail products is the brand and quality. He says: "As Spizza Mercato is based on the bustling marketplaces in Italy, we focus our offerings on gourmet items like those which can commonly be found in an Italian market . . . We wanted to offer our guests the cooking tools, ingredients, as well as our range of homemade sauces and pastas so that they can enjoy equally good Italian fare in the comfort of their homes."