Back in the days, I remember dining with my husband at the now defunct Da Paolo Restaurant at Cluny Court with my baby girl sleeping in a pram parked next to me in a narrow aisle while we savoured whatever we could before she awoke from her slumber. Those days, fine Italian dining was far and few in between and great pasta moments, like Da Paolo’s teeth and lip-staining squid ink pasta, were fondly remembered.
Fast-forward to now, Da Paolo has expanded into an F&B group operated by the children of the founders, Paolo and Judie Scarpa – son Andrea Scarpa leads the group’s kitchen as executive chef, daughter Francesca Scarpa takes charge of marketing as marketing director while the latter’s husband, Guillaume Pichoir, leads the strategic direction of the company as Chief Executive Officer.
First established as a modern trattoria in 1989, the Da Paolo Group now boasts an F&B empire comprising seven Gastronomia outlets, a catering arm, a professional services arm and five restaurants including its latest flagship at Dempsey – Da Paolo Dempsey Restaurant & Bar (“Da Paolo Dempsey”).
At 5,000 square feet, this is not your typical Italian restaurant but an Italian-inspired “lifestyle destination” with a restaurant (complete with custom-built rotary wood-fired oven), bar and retail counters for gelati, cakes & pastries, cheeses and charcuterie and homemade pastas, catering as much to dine-in guests as it does to home cooks.
Open all-day for breakfast, lunch and dinner with distinct menus (the latter more extensive and gastronomic than the former), Da Paolo Dempsey is a one-stop-shop that brings the group’s multiple concepts to bear in a single location.
Da Paolo has built its brand on pizzas and pastas. So by all means, order these and whilst waiting, sip on a glass of smoked negroni while chowing down a starter. Burrata Mediteranea is, as its name suggests, a generous blob of creaminess buffered by the sweetness of roasted date jam, the bitterness of rocket leaves and a hint of smokiness from smoked eggplant puree. We hear that the lightly battered calamari fritti, which uses fresh rather than frozen calamari, is good too in case your preference leans towards crisp rather than creamy.
Unlike at Pizza Bar where they use a blend of flours for the thin crust pizzas, Da Paolo Dempsey uses the Italian Capito “00” flour exclusively. The result is a pizza base that is still thin and light but with more bite. If you don’t mind a bit of heat, try the Spilinga that comes with spicy salami calabrease (a dry salami inspired by the region of Calabria), nduja (a spicy air-cured spreadable salami from Calabria), mascarpone, sprigs of kale and Pecorino floss – you’ll be rewarded with an intense umami of the cured salami that Pecorino alone will be hard pressed to match.
While there are fish and meat items on the menu, insiders know better to dive straight for the pasta menu. Comprising mostly of pastas made in-house or from the group’s central kitchen, the array is quite simply mind-boggling. While you should most definitely try the fresh pastas, no one comes to Da Paolo without ordering the signature Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia, essentially spaghetti with fresh cuttlefish bits in a velvety-black and rich cuttlefish ink (it is listed as squid ink in the menu) sauce that bears a whiff of oceanic sweetness. A bite is all it takes to teleport one to the three decades-old group’s early years of dishing up this jet-black dish. Few things withstand the ravages of time but this dish does.
If you have space for one more pasta, Gorgonzola Ravioloni is highly recommended, but only if you do not begrudge the salty, intense and unabashed pungency of this veined Italian blue cheese. The square pillows are stuffed with the said cheese and served with spinach enrobed in a silky leek cream sauce. In theory, this pasta dish should come across as creamy, even cloying, but the headiness of the Gorgonzola acquitted the dish.
By all means, finish with the gelati. With sixteen flavours on display at the counter, making a choice could be tough. If I could make your life easier, it’s by offering this advice: that they use Italian pistachios for the pistachio gelato. It’s not my favourite flavour but as far as pistachio gelati go, this will deliver the nutty flavour you’re looking for in spades.
#01-13 Dempsey Road Blk 8, Singapore 247 696; dapaolo.com.sg