January 2015: Please note that Alessandro Frau is no longer associated with Alba 1836.
|Alba 1836 – does this not transport you to Italy?|
Before you throw your hands up in the air and let out a yawn at yet another addition to the crowded Italian dining scene in Singapore, pay heed to what Duxton Road newbie, Alba 1836, will bring to the table.
In an atmospheric conservation shop house just steps away from Craig Place Car Park, a set of mysterious glass doors swing open to unveil – arguably – Singapore’s most stylish Italian.
|The nucleus of Alba 1836: is a charming inner courtyard|
|Glass-padded wine cellars at the entrance|
At the nucleus of the space is a glass-topped inner courtyard smartly kitted in a black-and-white palette with strangely-charming grey tones. Surrounding it are a kitchen shielded from prying eyes by louvred French windows, a bar bedecked with designer hanging lamps, a spaciously dim-lit main dining room that opens out to an alfresco terrace and, last but not least, glass-padded wine cellars for the 200 label-strong wine list.
|Alessandro Frau is the face to watch in the Italian fine dining space|
The culinary poster boy roped in to consult at this Italian fine diner is Sardinian native, Alessandro Frau, chef-owner of Acqua Phuket who achieved somewhat of a celebrity chef status after he triumphed at Thailand’s Iron Chef TV show last year. As one would expect of jet-setting consulting chefs, Frau conceptualized the menu but will not be on the ground daily. Holding the fort this end is local kitchen anchor, Luca Piras, a Sardinian native with a colourful resume having worked his way across Italy, Australia and now Singapore.
For his maiden debut in metropolitan Singapore, Frau has distilled a decidedly upscale menu studded with contemporary Italian creations. Of note are Frau’s deftly executed seafood dishes, which, in our humble opinion, are out to give the city’s modern Italian brethren a run for their money.
|Sicilian red prawn|
Plump Sicilian red prawn (S$55), also called the carabineros of Sicily, is served raw with flavours of the sea mingling with a refreshing kiss from the olive oil and lemon that it is marinated in. On the side, the prawn’s own carapace is baked on an island of toasted panino, the receptacle absorbing the rich and savoury goodness of the crustacean’s dramatic crown.
|Carpaccio of Hokkaido scallops|
Sweet and luscious, lemon-marinated Hokkaido scallops (S$30) are served carpaccio style with sliced asparagus and Italian black truffle shavings; a faint drizzle of truffle essence nudges the dish from delicious to the realm of transcendental.
Octopus salad (S$28) is another standout. The mollusk is cooked on a sous-vide machine for 14 hours until tender; its flesh is then sliced into thin slivers and crowned with stocky chunks of tentacles. Teamed with Taggiasche olives, fennel leaves and celery bits, the match is simply beyond reproach.
The picture is equally rosy outside seafood.
|Grilled pecorino cheese with chestnut honey and fresh figs|
Pungent Sardinian pecorino cheese (S$22) is grilled until the crust turns golden brown and the insides slightly softened, then drizzled with chestnut honey and paired immaculately with in-season fresh figs.
|Saffron risotto with stacchino cheese, caviar and sea urchin|
Then, there is saffron steeped risotto (S$40), served perfectly al dente and topped with a triumvirate of creamy stracchino cheese, smoked Avruga caviar and sea urchin. Unlike the Japanese fresh sea urchin that leaves a sweet and creamy flavour on the palate, the canned Mediterranean variety that Frau uses evokes a sharper taste with an ending note of subtle bitterness. Unusual, yes but equally irresistible.
|Suckling pig, New Zealand scampi, chickpea puree|
If there is one dish we love less, it’s the little planks of suckling pig paired with New Zealand scampi (off menu). Arranged artfully on a bed of chickpea puree flanked by potato mille feuille, the pig – a tad salty from a generous dose of salt – pales in comparison to the outstanding fore courses.
It’s difficult to think about Alba 1836 without our mouth watering. It’s been quite a while since we’ve encountered Italian cooking so fine, so confident and so delightful. Best of all, it’s matched front of house by tip-top service courtesy of general manager, Michele Zanella, a wine lover who knows the Italian wine labels stocked here like the back of his hands.
Now, if only someone will convince Frau that now is a good time to put together a tasting menu of his signatures. We are convinced that there will be plenty of takers. But as Frau may tell you, it’s still early days.
28 Duxton Hill, Singapore 089 610 |+65-6222 2048 |alba1836.com
© Evelyn Chen 2013
Please note that the reviews published on this blog are sometimes hosted. I am under no obligation to review every restaurant I’ve visited. If I do, the reviews are 100% my own.