In Singapore, Davide Oldani might not carry quite the same cachet as his contemporaries Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Joel Robuchon, Gordon Ramsay or Wolfgang Puck.
In Italy, however, the 49-year-old chef is a celebrated culinary authority who counts high-profile names such as Giorgio Armani and Andrea Bocelli as regulars at his one-Michelin-starred restaurant, D’O. There, I’m told, the waitlist for the 40-seater establishment can be as long as six months.
With such impeccable provenance, it was with great anticipation that I approached a tasting session at Foo’d Singapore, Oldani’s latest global outpost at Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall (another Foo’d outlet opened concurrently at Manila’s Shangri-La at The Fort). I was not disappointed.
The concept in this 128-seater, like that in D’O, is what Oldani terms “pop cuisine", where the emphasis is on high quality offerings at accessible prices – S$45++ for a three-course lunch all the way to S$168++ for a seven-course dinner, without drinks. For now, there is no a la carte menu, just set meals. Being sited where it is, there is also the option of pre-theatre sets, where concertgoers can grab a quick bite before the curtain rises.
The kitchen is helmed by executive chef Simone Depalmas, assisted by D’O alumnus Alberto Marcolongo. Depalmas presents a pan-Italian selection of dishes, with some comforting favourites for variety. Occasionally, he pushes the boundary by incorporating atypical ingredients into classic recipes.
Take, for instance, the Sardinian Fregola dish. Fregola – tiny spheres of semolina cooked risotto style and typically whipped up by matriachs for big family feasts – is here enlivened by cubes of fresh mango, a smattering of roasted cashews and a dollop of Japanese uni cream for an umami finish. To break the rules, you must first master them, goes the slogan of a luxury watch brand. That Depalmas is a native Sardinian must have helped in his mastery – and subsequent rule-breaking – of this dish.
The Caramelised Onion Tart – an Oldani signature – manages to leave a lasting impression, thanks to the way it elevates the humble onion from root vegetable to culinary wonder. Steamed onion halves are baked into a crisp, caramelised puff pastry base, and then topped with a cold gelato made from 20-month-aged Grana Padano Riserva, a cow’s milk hard cheese comparable to Parmigiano Reggiano. The full flavours of this cheese are brought further to the fore with a lacing of hot Grana Padano Riserva cream.
The combination of hot and cold is a nice, if unexpected touch, prompting my dining companion to wonder if it is a dessert or starter. The answer is both.