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Art's tasting menu shows off a new side to Italian food

Art's tasting menu shows off a new side to Italian food
Cameo: caramelised cauliflower panna cotta, smoked royal oscietra caviar, drunken apple.
PHOTO: Instagram/

If you like your pasta and pizza and gelato, and if the words Italian fine dining call to mind a sun-drenched table by the Adriatic Sea where you inhale parma ham and melon, then Art — the one-star restaurant perched atop the National Gallery — is not the place for you.

What it is: interpretive, surprising, and maybe at times a little contrived. What it isn't: hearty and comforting, despite the narrative that chef Daniele Sperindio created each of the dishes on the new 2022 tasting menu based on his heritage and family. 

Nevertheless, his new Italian cuisine does open the mind to what an upscale interpretation of the largely-homestyle cuisine could taste, especially given the tendency for similar joints to lean rustic, casual, and homey (we're looking at you, il Cielo and Fiamma). 

Homey, Art is not, especially when the meal opens with an assortment of amuse bouche, one of which looks like a spinach sandwich and turns out to be pesto between solidified meringue foam, something an Italian grandma would certainly not serve out of her kitchen. 

Neither could she produce a pate of vitello tonnato (cold veal with a tuna sauce) decorated with black onion caviar and an orange flower of mustard seeds, or a tartelette of raw fish and strawberry, or a ridiculously crisp mini Hong Kong egglet (a nod to the chef's stint in HK) — all of which, frankly, are tasty and fun to eat with your hands.

To be fair, even as it sprinkles on the fine dining fairy dust, Art does retain some of the things universally beloved about Italian food.

These familiar notes come through strongest in the pastas — like Oro Colato, a very eggy taglierini in a briny, creamy, likeable sauce of saffron, spanner crab, and that Japanese favourite: uni (sea urchin). This tasting menu mainstay was also available in previous renditions.

Another pick — our favourite — is the sweetly-named Christmas Dinner, featuring three fat culurgiones: chewy pasta dumplings stuffed with a savoury leek cream filling to die for.

They sit stoutly in a sweet, light consomme of toasted corn, with morello mushrooms and black truffle. It's clearly got rustic roots, but has been elevated to something technically complex and Michelin-worthy.

Of course, there are misses, such as a sourdough starter with comice pear pairing that's unpleasantly acidic, and a dessert of cheese, candied olive, white chocolate, blood orange and pistachio that's rather an acquired taste.

Then there's the decision to serve bread with a couple drops of bolognaise, puttanesca, parmesan foam and one pasta ribbon as a course. It's meant to honour the Italian practice of mopping up leftover sauce, but comes across as trying a bit too hard.

But perhaps it's popular with other diners, for this dish is also a carry-over from the previous menu.

Make no mistake, there are moments of wonder in the meal, like a pretty cauliflower panna cotta with elderflower, smoked caviar and apple rounds poached in red wine.

It tastes like no combination you've had, but works, and is just the kind of unique dish that requires an Italian chef to combine his gourmet skills and childhood love of instant pudding.

For meatier dishes, the fish is a good pick also retained from the previous lineup: a light steamed corvina in a white Riesling sauce, topped with a thin, gelatinous veil of peppers that melts away and steals the show; a masterful balance of flavours. 

In sum, if its your first time here, Art doesn't offer much in the way of the familiar. This might be disconcerting for folks who are usually competent at navigating menus, because there's no burrata, no margherita pizza, and no tiramisu, deconstructed or not.

Rather, let go and let Sperindio take you down a new road of flavour, because who hasn't despaired a little at how same-ey the offerings at most Italian joints end up? Art interprets this most familiar of cuisines in a new way — and whether you end up liking it or not, at least it'll be something different for a change.

An Italian Tale menu goes for 6 courses at $208 or eight courses at $258. Available till August. Book here.

ALSO READ: Restaurant review: Marguerite blossoms with whimsical spring menus at Gardens by the Bay

This article was first published in The Peak.

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