I started eating at 1.30pm, Indian food at Khansama for lunch (1.30-3pm) and Becasse at Dempsey for high tea (3-6pm). By the time I arrived at Buona Terra for an Italian dinner at 7pm, my gut swung over my belt like Sia swinging from the chandelier. But I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist, so I push it down, push it down. Ooh oh. And despite eating on an overworked stomach, Buona Terra turned out to one of the best restaurants I had this year.
Amuse-bouche: creme brulee with black summer truffle
Buona Terra, meaning Good Earth, is helmed by Italian Chef Denis Lucchi, who has worked at a Michelin-starred restaurant, and Gattopardo and Garibaldi. There are 5 menu options, starting from $88 (3 courses), $108 (4 courses), and $128 (5). These 3 customizable options allow you to pick any dishes from appetizers, pasta, meat and desserts. Let’s say you choose the 5-course. You can get all 5 items from the dessert section if you’re crazy enough. The other 2 options, seasonal menu ($148, 7-course) and degustation ($228, 8 to 10 courses), showcase seasonal dishes, allowing a full range of what Chef Lucchi is capable of. We had the degustation menu of 10 courses.
The food at most times had a lightness of touch and an understated elegance. There was beauty, there was creativity, but Chef Lucchi didn’t let the pride of his culinary aesthetics outshine the imported ingredients, which came off cleanly in the dishes.
One of my two favorites was the Hokkaido scallops tartare topped with a dollop of Beluga caviar in tomato consomme. It was ethereal, refreshing, with little bubbles of umami bursting in the mouth. It managed to be sour enough to be appetizing, but not face-scrunchingly so. Even the picky Chiobu praised it highly.
Spanish red prawn in sauce made from reduction of prawn head, tomato, brandy.
My other favorite was a simple Italian classic, porcini risotto. Unlike other restaurants’ versions that could be overly rich after a few bites, Buona Terra’s had depth and width of tastes. The dispersed flakes of parmesan spiked the dish with mouthfuls of saltiness between mouthfuls of umami lightness. The 9-year aged Italian rice had a firm, great bite, size of a barley grain, almost fermented, altogether very tasty.
Squid ink tonnarelli with bamboo clams and bottarga.
Chiobu’s favorites included a Toriyama wagyu (grade A4) on a bed of zabajon, a beef that was too fatty for me (I prefer a steak with more meat to fat ratio) and I opined that such a grade of beef should always be simply seasoned with salt, not on a sauce.
Her other favorite, berry field, was a gorgeous dessert: antioxidant berries encrusted in mascarpone, then layered with “soil” made from chocolate florentine, with a scoop of olive oil ice cream. This was poetic because it reminded us of the appetizer, Hokkaido scallop tartare, going in a full circle. The end is the beginning, the beginning is the end.
The only dish in this 10-course degustation menu we didn’t like was the sous vide lamb loin, tough and a tad dry.
All in all, this was a delightful experience. Wonderful, knowledgable service; wine pairing available by sommelier Gabriele Rizzardi; an intimate space; free parking (wanted to tip the helpful valet, but no small change on me); and fantastic food. So good that I suggested Buona Terra to my friends for our annual Christmas dinner. Worth visiting and revisiting.
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.
ps: Thanks for the invite, Lay Peng, Denis, Gabriele, and Jeffrey Hong.