With only 24 seats and evening-only dining, Buona Terra’s vibe is as cosy and intimate as it gets, housed in the quiet colonial-era bungalows of Chateau TCC along Scotts Road (also housing Japanese Restaurant Ki-sho) in between the busy thoroughfares of Newton and Orchard. Though the idea of Italian fine-dining in Singapore has increasingly relied on its illusion of extravagance and celebrity chef-dom, Buona Terra takes things back to basics (with a hint of colour thanks to a few tableaus of ’90s modern art that line the minimalist, white-washed walls) and a focus on experimentation with flavours and textures.
Helmed by chef Denis Lucchi, a Lombardy native and Garibaldi Group alum, everything is top notch, from the whisper-level, formal service – the dining room is handily managed by expert sommelier Gabriele Rizzardi, who also provides recommendations from his wine cellar brimming with exclusive Italian labels – to the plates of beautifully-constructed food.
Whereas Lucchi likes to keep the experience as cosy as possible, the breadth of his menu is anything but. His mantra relies on respectful manipulation of the freshest, most exotic ingredients, be it cuttlefish or asparagus. To wit: the chewy, squid-like mollusc is barely singed as it’s vacuum-sealed and cooked sous vide, and presented in a swirl with celery, almond and sweet melon with tagliatelle ($20). Lucchi’s flirtation with light flavours is similarly manifest in his treatment of the asparagus, which is blanched and served within a crispy tortellini dumpling amid a pungent milky three-cheese sauce with generous shavings of black truffle ($26). A bowl of deep heirloom-swathed, piping-hot seafood bisque ($20) also looks the part, heaped with shellfish and an entire langoustine head, and tastes it, too: brothy yet rich, spicy yet comforting.
With pastas and mains, Lucchi takes a more practical direction but never fails to sacrifice his vision, much less cater to the local palate. A dish consisting of tagliolini, crab meat and caviar ($34) sounds familiar, but in the young chef’s hands it’s subdued and complex, thanks to the addition of lemon zest, which gives its zing. The pasta, however, is still a notch past al dente. More impressive is his homemade pappardelle ($28), lusciously silky as it clings to a heady ragout of salami, hare and a briny black olive tapenade. The ibérico pork jaw ($40) – thinly slivered, slightly fatty and immensely buttery with still a firm bite – packs a flavourful punch on its own, needing nothing more than a handful of Belgian endives and a dip of its accompanying apple sauce.
Certainly, prices are hefty, but if you’re looking to try a range of his dishes, there’s the six-course degustation menu ($138), which includes the cuttlefish tagliatelle and crispy asparagus dumpling, as well the homemade tagliolini crab pasta and an oxtail tortelli. The featured main course is a tender lamb loin done with a pistachio crust, served with artichoke and whipped potatoes ($48 a la carte), with a nougat semifreddo to finish off the feast. In its artisanal form, the parfait ($14) is nutty, soft and laced with just enough Passito wine-sauce for tartness.
If you have room for more desserts, try the mixed-berry tartelette ($16), which looks better than it sounds and tastes even better than it looks: amazingly plump berries arranged atop a crown of tart-shell and anglaise pastry-cream, along with a quenelle of vanilla gelato. We’re sold. Jon Cheng
Antipasti $14-$36, pasta $28-$36, mains $38-$58; desserts $12-$18.