Buko Nero is a mom-and-pop Italian restaurant that has survived 20 years along the cut-throat Tanjong Pagar area. Italian-native Oscar Pasinato helms the kitchen while his Singaporean wife, Tracy, fronts the shop.
I remember years ago, you needed weeks of prior reservations for this 20-seater. It was one of the places on my to-visit list but I didn’t make it there until now. I regret the lost time because the restaurant is wonderful.
3-course lunch sets start from an affordable $35. Degustation dinner starts from $158++ but we ordered a la carte.
I often judge a restaurant by the free bread they give. If they do a free item well, it means that they take care in all areas. And this focaccia bread comes warm and buttery. Crispy on the surface, fluffy within. It was a propitious start. We asked for a second serving.
For appetisers, the burrata ($29) is lovely, drizzled with a light kumquat vinaigrette that dances. They may come across as strange bedfellows to some—milky and tangy at once—but I enjoyed the yin-and-yang greatly.
The scallops topped with uni ($42) sit on a thick bisque-like sauce. The scallops are seared such the the core is still raw, attesting to its freshness. My eating companions love it, but I am not a fan of scallop (because they don’t really have any taste) and the dish is, to me, overpriced for two mere scallops.
The third appetiser, smoked tuna loin ($28), is topped with ikura and pickled cucumbers. The tuna slices are salty, and ikura is also salty; together, they come across as overly salty.
For pastas, we ordered three and enjoyed all. The best is the homemade truffle pasta ($42), which admittedly is costly and looks ugly. Usually truffle comes in slices but here it is shredded. The flavours are explosive. I think that’s brown butter sauce? It’s simple but simple things done well taste the best.
The rigatoni pasta ($29) is tossed in a braised wagyu beef cheek ragu. There isn’t much of meat but the tomatoey-flavour is intensely moreish, as if a hundred tomatoes are distilled into a drop. The pasta is done a little harder than I’d prefer, but on the whole this is an excellent dish.
The spaghetti with spicy blue prawn and spanner crab ($31) has a sauce less intense than the rigatoni pasta, but it is also sweeter with seafood. The slight spiciness complements, not overpowers, the seafood.
Italian cuisine doesn’t do meats well in general, but Buko Nero keeps it simple and elegant. The grass-fed tenderloin ($46) is pan-fried and slathered in a (I wanna say) red-wine? sauce. As a sous-vide expert, I am almost sure that it isn’t sous vide but cooked in a traditional way. I prefer the traditional way and this steak proves me right with its gorgeous texture, tender, striated, with a bite, something that sous vide cannot achieve.
You can rebrand everything and sell it at a higher price and I think it’s the case for this Orata filet ($45), which is a sea bream. The cooking is great here, seared perfectly on both sides, succulent. But really, the best thing about it is the premium ingredient. It looks like a lean fish but there is an umami aftertaste that lingers on the tongue. Bliss.
Usually when the savory is delicious, desserts will fail. But in this case, both desserts are fantastic. My grandmother’s cake ($16), with raspberry coulis, is baked European-style, dense and thick. I don’t really know the flavour of the cake? Butter cake? It’s rustic as if done by someone’s grandmother. It is nice but I don’t foresee myself forking out $16 for a second time.
Better is the sticky date pudding ($16). It is rather tiny but it is intensely sweet in the most wonderful way. You can taste the integrity of dates, unlike sticky date pudding elsewhere where they are merely sugar-sweet. It also comes with a super creamy homemade Tahiti vanilla gelato. This is awesome.
I often boast that if you give me a menu in French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, or romanised Japanese, I can definitely order. I’m not good with languages, I just eat at restaurants a lot. Here, I recognise “nero” as “black” as in squid-ink pasta in Italian. I don’t know “buko” so I googled and it means “hole.” So I guess “buko nero” means “black hole,” an appropriate name since the food is priced outrageously.
That said, the food is fantastic, thoroughly enjoyable. The service is also wonderful, deserving of all sorts of praises. We paid about $368 for four persons, or $92 for one. This is a gem of a place and definitely warrants return visits. There is a good reason it has withstood the test of time.
126 Tanjong Pagar Road Singapore 088534
t: +65 63246225
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All reviews are done anonymously unless otherwise stated. Written by Dr. A. Nathanael Ho.