It was full house on a Thursday night at the 2-storey shophouse where Italian seafood restaurant Gattopardo resides. The decor has an old-world, old-school charm. Like any good fine dining, manager and sommelier Fabian Schenk would carry a tray of fresh produce to introduce to guests because the seasonal menu changes quarterly. For our tasting, Chef Lino Sauro asked if we preferred to order or let him arrange the dishes. I always go for the latter to gauge the mettle of the chef. Yes, it’s a test.
And I was taken aback, dish after dish, by both the bold flavors, and how gutsy Chef Sauro was. He didn’t serve his signature dishes! Buay zhai see. Hadn’t he heard I was difficult to please?
Instead of serving us his specialties, grilled calamari ($29) and burrata ($38), for starters, he presented Polipo (grilled octopus, $34), spaghetti al Nero (squid ink spaghetti, $36), and Capesante e Maccu (Hokkaido scallop tartare, $30).
William, my dining companion, asked, “What is your ranking for the three starters?”
I replied, “I can’t decide. They are all so good. What’s yours?”
“I think the Hokkaido scallop tartare is my last.”
“What?! Why? It is so delicious!”
“It’s true. All three starters are delicious, but the scallop is nothing special.”
I stared at him wide-eyed and said, “Are you serious?? It has such a layered taste that every mouthful is a new surprise. Sometimes the refreshing mint oil emulsion comes through forcefully—who knew scallop could go so well with mint?–and sometimes there is a sudden burst of delightful saltiness of a huge grain of hidden salt. Underlying it all and mixed into the tartare are atomic bits of crunchy cool cucumber, to buoy up the softness of scallop. This tartare is special.”
He replied, “So I guess you’d rank the pasta last?”
He continued, “But I really like the ‘sambal’-like seasoning [nduja, to be accurate] in the squid ink spaghetti, which complements the viscous yellow capsicum sauce. The combination is unique; it’s east-meets-west.”
“Yeah, I understand what you mean when you say there is an Asian taste in the pasta, but at the same time, when I eat it, I feel like I’m transported to Italian countryside, eating al fresco beside a vineyard. A warm lazy sun, and the world is turning slowly. Carefree. This pasta evokes a longing in me.”
“My favorite,” William announced, “is the octopus, charred to an unbearable lightness of saccharine, undercut by piquant strands of celery root. But most amazing of all is the texture. It is as chewy and juicy as fats, it’s like zero-calorie fats because seafood is nearly zero calorie right?”
Continuing the bravura, Sauro didn’t serve us any signatures for our mains. No risone pasta with octopus and marrow ($34). No seafood stew ($39). No salt-baked sea bass for two (800g, $88). But the swordfish ($44), imported from Japan, and the Maori Lake lamb loin ($48) must have been on par with the signatures.
Marinated in saffron, the swordfish was pan-seared, leaving the inside raw, to create a contrast in texture. The lamb loin, not at all gamy, came with a sweet, fluffy couscous with figs.
Of course we didn’t get the signature homemade almond parfait ($16). By this late in the game, I had figured out Chef Sauro’s strategy. The cannoli ($18) is a simple dish, but simplest things are hardest to surprise, and yet I was surprised by the strange but delightful pairing of pistachio ice cream with bergamot sauce.
This is the way of Sauro’s inspiring cooking: combining familiar ingredients in unfamiliar ways, to defamiliarize the eater, shocking us to appreciate and scrutinize the food anew. The service, by Fabian and Khat, was considerate and comfortable. Best of all, The Entertainer app offers 1-for-1 mains. Which means you save at least $40! If you haven’t purchased the app, you can use my promo code 2015RERG to get additional 10% off. Use the app 1.5 times at Gattopardo and you’d recoup the price of the app! Trust me, you’ll definitely want to return to Gattopardo again and again.
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.
This is an advertorial by The Entertainer, who contacted Gattopardo for a tasting. Thank you, Lino, Fabian, Bhavisha, and Khat for the wonderful night.