Italian food has come a long way in Singapore. Back in the 70s, the only “Italian” food consumed by Singaporeans were spaghetti with tomato-based sauces which closely approximate Bolognese. By the 1980s, one can get more “authentic” Italian, but one still needs to go to one of those lush, hotel-based restaurants, e.g. Ristorante Bologna in Marina Mandarin, or DOMVS (Est. 1985) in Sheraton Towers.
Then came the independent Italian spots which changed the game: Paolo & Judie Scarpa’s Da Paolo which set the benchmark for fine Italian cuisine when it opened in 1989, Salvatore Carecci’s Pasta Fresca Da Salvatore which opened in 1988 and made fresh pasta readily available to Singaporeans for the first time, Gabriel Fratini’s eponymously-named Fratini La Trattoria on Neil Road in 1991, and the groundbreaking Pasta Brava, located in a pair of traditional Straits Chinese shophouses, opened by local entrepreneur Tan Chee Chye, also in 1991. Executive chef, Rolando Luceri, later joined Pasta Brava in 1993 and helmed the place for the next 20 years, to become one of the Italian mainstays in Singapore.
Fast forward 30 years later, and the number of independently-run Italian restaurants (many by Italian expats in Singapore) has increased ten-fold from about half a dozen in 1990, to nearly 60 at the last count, many of which have become local favourites.
Last weekend, I met up with a maternal uncle & aunt living in Seletar Hills, a quiet, leafy suburb in the northern part of Singapore, for dinner.
For the past half-century that I’d been here, Seletar Hills is as traditional as one can expect, when it comes to eating options in the neighbourhood: Chinese noodle joints, Chinese family restaurants, etc. In fact, the only thing vaguely “Italian” there would be the rather kitsch, life-sized gladiators on the gate-posts of my uncle’s neighbour down the street!
My octogenarian uncle can also be very traditional in his food preferences: with Teochew and Cantonese being his favourites. So, it was a surprise to me when my uncle suggested that we go to Trovato, their local neighbourhood Italian joint just 5 minutes’ drive away, for dinner.
Trovato opened just late last year, Sep 2022, but seemed to have built up quite a loyal clientele among the locals here. Our dinner this evening:
Tartufo di funghi - shitake mushroom, button mushroom, light cream, truffle-infused milk foam. Deep flavours and strong aroma from the fresh mushrooms used.
Ostriche al forno - half dozen oyster sautéed with bacon bits, onion, spinach and gratin with mornay sauce - my uncle loved baked oysters and would never miss ordering it - whether he was in an American restaurant in New York or Chicago, so he was delighted to see a similar item on the menu right here in his neighbourhood. He polished off the oysters in no time, and declared that he’ll be back again soon to order the same.
Truffle spinach cannelloni - sautéed spinach with soubise sauce, pasta roulade
gratin with mozzarella cheese - aunt is an ovo-lacto-vegetarian, and she was suitably satisfied with this dish.
Garganelli alla polpa di granchio - pasta with crab meat, wild rocket, tossed in pink sauce - the sauce was the star here, with the intense shellfish flavours of a bisque.
Risotto ai gamberi - Arborio rice, fresh tiger prawn, scallop, in-house
Italian tomato sauce - my favourite dish for the evening: superbly fresh seafood, and perfectly-cooked risotto, yielding the exact textures I looked for in the dish.
Desserts - Panna cotta - suitably wobbly, and very creamy-rich.
Tiramisu - it tasted much, much better than it looked: light, moist sponge with an alcoholic punch, and creamy mascarpone.
We felt rather old in a roomful of Singaporean millennials. Great food. The wait-staff was super-efficient, super-polite and ultra-friendly. What’s there not to like about this place?
26 Jalan Selaseh, Singapore 808445
Tel: +65 8842 9826
Opening hours: 11am to 10pm Tue-Thu, 11am to 11pm Fri, 8.30am-11pm Sat-Sun. Closed on Mondays.