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SINGAPORE — From the outside, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that Osteria BBR, at the corner of Raffles Hotel overlooking the intersection of Bras Basah Road and Beach Road, is the kind of restaurant that demands you be on your best, hoity-toity behaviour. I reckon it’s due to the mise en scene—a bright, airy, and modern interior, paired with a colossal bronze centrepiece in the centre that wraps around the open kitchen. Servers in navy blue suits fleet about clad in white Adidas sneakers, which makes me think Osteria is formal, yes, but not to the point of taking itself too seriously.
The BBR, in its moniker, references the historic Bar and Billiard Room where, in 1902, a tiger that escaped from a local circus was shot under its compound. Osteria has taken pains to retain some semblance of BBR’s colourful history—chiefly through the restoration of tiles that adorn the dining hall floor. Here, Chef Francesco Soletti takes the helm of culinary commander-in-chief, tasked with the unenviable responsibility of bringing pride to the Alain Ducasse name, drawing on his Italian heritage to present a produce-driven menu of Italian classics.
To some degree, the menu here has whiffs of fine dining though I was repeatedly assured that it is not that kind of restaurant. It’s hard not to draw such conclusions when a fish dish comes served in a shiny crystal bowl with two slices of marinated mackerel hugging a roasted zucchini in between. It doesn’t help that it’s also intensely savoury with the creamy red chicory (that’s radicchio, for us commoners), lending an opposing umami creaminess to a presentation that’s quite a challenge to the typical palate.
Thank God then for the Mazara del Vallo red prawn tartare that swoops in to rescue the start of this lunch from overwhelming stuffiness, and in grand fashion no less, with its overflowing waves of seafood brininess. The opaque golden fine jelly these prawns sit on is made by passing seafood broth several times until it runs clear enough to be worthy of its name. These prawns are also a bite to behold, bursting with intensely savoury overtones, further accentuated by a beautifully salty Kristal caviar that binds everything together like a period after a haiku.
Elsewhere, the marinated sea bream is impressively light—perhaps a bit too delicate after such a flavour-forward seafood presentation. But maybe that was the plan, after all, to alternate between heavy and light flavours so that our palate is always kept guessing. Though at this point, mine was screaming, “Make up your damn mind, sis”.
It’s the only explanation for the plate of John Stone 28-day dry-aged beef carpaccio that follows—rustic and perennially complex flavours of an excellent dry-aged John Stone carpaccio, here served with nutty pistachio cream and sweet Italian buffalo ricotta. It ticks all the right boxes of culinary excellence—sweet, earthy, savoury—and might just restore your faith in a renewed revival of a classic carpaccio.
Elsewhere the lobster Eliche di Gragnano stands out for being such a fun dish to eat. Whereas the plates preceding have been the kind that would make you feel like you might need a Le Cordon Bleu diploma to appreciate, this pasta number with its fat chunks of lobster meat would bring your confidence back up to ordinary diner levels. This might sound strange, but what I immensely love about this pasta is that it’s served beautifully warm. And those huge spiral Gragnano makes for such a great vessel to hold in all that beautiful roasted eggplant sauce.
Dessert comes by way of a homemade strawberry sorbet that could afford to dial back on the sweetness and amp up the acidic element. The signature baba fared much better—soft, bouncy, sweet, and elevated with a generous dash of limoncello and a swirl of whipped cream. Like everything else today, this was a challenge for one’s gastronomical senses. While alcohol mostly makes anything a party, here, a tad too generous of a portion masks the excellent pastry beneath all that liqueur. I would gladly take this on its own with just the whipped cream and call it a good lunch.
Raffles Hotel Singapore, 1 Beach Road, S189673
Lunch: Thu to Mon, 12nn-2.30pm
Dinner: Thu to Mon, 6pm-9.45pm