Within a kilometre stretch of Scotts Road, there are 5 Michelin restaurants. In this concentration of the finest dining in Singapore, one Italian restaurant stands out and maintained its standard for over 10 years.
The stretch of Scotts Road between Goodwood Park and Newton Hawker Centre (where the Crazy Rich Asians dined) is a stretch of beautiful colonial bungalows that we locals called black-and-whites. And in a refitted veranda of one of these black-and-whites bungalow is Buona Terra.
Buona Terra means ‘Good Earth’ in Italian, an ode to the Italian love affair with food and dining. Chef Denis Lucchi serves contemporary Italian cuisine shaped by the personal experience cooking and eating with his Nonna, and the kitchens of many Michelin-star restaurants in Europe.
2022 marks Chef Lucci’s 10th year at the helm of Buona Terra, the restaurant went through an extensive refurbishment of the interior and a new menu to showcase the best of seasonal ingredients currently available. The interior is simple that fully utilised the rustic and tranquil surrounding of the history-steeped, colonial beauty of the main black-and-white bungalow
The restaurant, which picked up a Michelin star in 2019 and only offers set menus for lunch and dinner, and the Buona Terra Chef Experience offers Chef Lucchi’s full interpretation of Northern Italian cuisine over five courses (3 appetisers, a pasta and a secondi) during its Main Act.
It starts with a ‘gourmet larder’ assembled from all the places in Italy where Chef Denis knows the best producers and their foodstuffs are located. These prized artisanal ingredients and the Italian recipes Chef Denis grew up with are the jump-off points for culinary artistry and adventure.
Because of these, Chef Denis creates reinterpretations with more complex and intense flavours than the traditional dish, presenting them individually in contrast to the typically shared platters.
As always, the degustation dinner started off with a heartwarming spread of homemade onion focaccia, sourdough, dinner roll and grissini accompanied by extra virgin olive oil and artisanal Beppino Occelli butter.
Tart, Melon, Cuttlefish, Celery
The Italian version of our kueh pie tee – the jicama filing has been replaced with juliennes of celery, sashimi grade cuttlefish on a bed of rock melon cubes and seasoned with a refreshing olive oil and cider vinegar.
Baccalà mantecato is a classic Venetian appetiser made with dried salted cod; here it was reinvented as a potato cannoli and filled with the dried cod made into a mousse in a homemade dehydrated potato tube.
Chef Lucci loves tomatoes so much that he made his own. Just Tomato featuring cold Spanish-style tomato gazpacho encased in hardened red coloured “white” chocolate orb. A server encourages us to eat it in one go, “It explodes when you bite into it,” she explained. It gushed with both sweet and savoury goodness and it’s the ultimate tomato bonbon, if you like tomato that is.
Squid Ink Tart, Avocado, Crab, Tomato
Squid Ink Tart featuring house-made squid ink-infused pie tee casing filled with shredded Kegani crab and avocado mousse with a topping of clear tomato water gelee. Recently tomato water has become the new favourite among the fine dining maestros. This is the clear liquid carefully harvested from juicy, heirloom tomatoes that one cannot get from commercially farmed tomato from Cameron Highlands.
Yellowtail Carpaccio, Citrus, Sea Asparagus, Horseradish Snow
For the first course establishing the tone to the Main Act is the Carpaccio, a serving of beefy pieces of velvety smooth yellowtail carpaccio garnished with sea asparagus, and horseradish snow.
Smooth yellowtail carpaccio is folded around a quartet of bright citruses, then snowed on by frozen horseradish in a dramatic fashion; you would certainly wish to use your smartphone to record the finishings of the nitro-freeze piquant horseradish snow right before your eyes, reminiscing the snowy hill caps of the Swiss Alps.
Chef Lucci included intense contrasting flavours with the smart use Calabrian mandarin orange, confit of Buddha’s hand, citrus eggs, briny Salicornia (sea asparagus) and Amalfi lemon puree. Delicious to taste and beautiful to look, the senses were all treated to a wonderful start of the journey through Northern Italy.
Mozambique Scampi, Puntarelle, Black Garlic, Anchovies Sauce
I really enjoyed this next course unimaginatively called Scampi (“langoustine”) a lot – a bincho-grilled Mozambique scampi served alongside punteralle, preserved Amalfi lemon skin and black garlic puree artistically drawn on the plate as a circle to fence up the baugna cauda anchovy sauce.
The finishing silky rich winter “baugna cauda” anchovy sauce brings the elements together in perfect harmony, a spin of the Northern Italian winter season standard. Bagna cauda (anchovy garlic sauce) is a flavoursome, Italian dipping sauce for vegetables and bread that is served warm and a classic from the Piedmont region.
Turbot, Black Trumpet. Truffle, Celery Root, Lovage
A wonderful slice of a perfectly poached turbot artistically layered with black trumpet mushrooms and nutty black truffle, and then glazed with lardo. It was finished with a delicious and creamy celery root sauce with lovage extract, circled by a round of mysterious sauce that seemed like a denser version of the bagna carda from the previous course. I was not a fan of the turbot, but the truffle and mushroom made the difference and I finished up all the sauce.
I am always confused by the differences between the halibut, flounder and turbot, and they are used interchangeable in the Chinese culinary world. In a nutshell, all turbots are flounders, but not all flounders are turbots. Halibuts are all edible flatfish. Turbots in the marketplace are a specific species called Greenland Halibut. The worldwide supply of wild-caught turbot is very limited – around 5,000 tonnes per year. Good farmed turbot of excellent quality is just as pricey.
Fusili, Baby Squid, Cuttlefish, Capsicum, Ink Sauce
The include pasta dish was a fusili with lightly poached baby squid and sliced undercooked (in a good way) cuttlefish with bits of sun dried capsicum with a slight drizzling of ink sauce. This was the first time I had a pasta dish with so little sauce, a bit too little to go around.
Home Made Tagliatelle, White Truffle
For an additional add-on, you may enjoy the tagliatelle. The highlight of this pasta dish was the Alba white truffle. Worth multiple its weight in gold, the white truffle gave out a distinctive fragrance when the glass dome was unveiled. The waitress made sure she waved the dome around the table for maximum dispersion of the unique aroma.
You do not need anything complicated to enjoy the white truffle, just a simple tagliatelle carbonara would suffice. The quality of the truffle degrades very quickly, so it is best enjoyed freshly grated onto the warm pasta. And delicious it was.
Stuffed Quail, Salsify, Coffee, Chanterelle Mushrooms
The entrée was a beautifully roasted quail served a quenelle of salsify mash, salsify chips, grilled chanterelle mushrooms and drizzled with a coffee-infused au jus reduction. The stuffed quail was moist and tasty with the luxurious taste of truffle salsa.
The confit leg (drumstick) of the quail was smoked with rosemary in a separate box before serving. The overall dish was well balanced although there were so many components that seemingly did not work together. In the end, the outstanding quail held everything together.
A5 Wagyu, Parsnip, Spring Onion
The other entrée, Manzo or beef in Italian, came with an additional cost was a tender smoked tiny slither of A5 Wagyu beef steak served with spring onion jellies accompanied with a mysterious brown sauce. The tender and juicy steak was so good on its own that it did not need the au jus sauce to build upon its flavour profile.
The A5 wagyu melted in my mouth and the dish had layers upon layers of flavour. The saltiness of the veal sauce hit first, followed by the flavour of onions in the gel. The mustard seeds then gave it a strong punch that was combined with a quenelle of parsnip purée and bits of parsnips.
Fichi D’ India
White Strawberry, Mascarpone Cream, Basil, Prickly Pear Granita
The first of the trio of Dolce (“sweets”) was Fichi D’ India (“prickly pear”). The prickly pear is a fruit from the cactus plant, like a miniature version of the dragonfruit but with a much more intense flavour.
The juice was made to a frozen prickly pear granita topped on this dessert in a dramatic presentation of smoke and mirror.
The best way to enjoy this was to mix it all up like an Eton mess, and enjoy the tartness of the prickly pear ice with the savoury mascarpone, freshness of the basil extract and actual leaves, and bits of sweet white strawberry.
Milk Ice Cream, Chestnut, Hazelnut
And for the final course and the second dessert for the evening, a play on the classic Mont Blanc or Monte Bianco in Italian. It was like a reconstructed (not deconstructed) classic, with flat
The milk ice cream was creamy and rich, dollops of chestnut cream was piped to side instead of the traditional spaghetti strands, and instead of whipped cream (Crème Chantilly) flat sheets of meringue was used to replicate the white peaks of the actual Mont Blanc. But the secret ingredient of shaved black truffle, although decadent, and hazelnut caramel did not add to the overall flavours of this dessert.
I was always amused by chefs that provided three items instead of four for the Petit Four. But the accurate translation of the French term for the tiny confectionary mignardises is “small oven”. Anticlockwise from top left:
- Apricot Jelly
- Sicilian Cannolo
- Earl Grey Lollipop
Among the trio, I enjoyed the Earl Grey lollipop the best, with an Earl Grey truffle filling in a milk chocolate orb; you can’t suck it like a lolly but the chocolate truffle was delicious. The Sicilian Cannolo (pistachio cream cannoli) was a bit stale, and the apricot jelly had a mushy texture.
It was an enjoyable meal, with some tasty dishes, like the Scampi and the Tagliatelle which actuated the advantages of the natural ingredients and yet solid with the techniques. And then there’s the Just Tomato, the deconstructed tomato gazpacho, which showed innovation and range of techniques.
And then there were the misses, primarily the desserts. They did not build on the crescendo through the evening, leaving a bit of regrets leaving the restaurant. Nevertheless, Buona Terra is now my official Best Italian fine dining in Singapore.
29 Scotts Road Singapore 228224
Tel : +65 6733 0209
Visited Jan 2023
Michelin Singapore Guide 1 Star 2019, 2021, 2022
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