The entrants into fusion fare have been fairly warned by the ebbs and flows in this scene. It’s 2021 and there is no longer room for uncertain experimental endeavours; it’s the survival of the fittest here when it comes to a marriage of cultures in a single dish. And when a new entrant gallantly forays into the Japanese-Italian realm, we hold our breath. Especially so, when it’s minted at the national theatrical iconic date spot, Esplanade. From its birth, it’s clear that Dopo Teatro has huge shoes to fill.
Their offerings hold a complicated storyline; the seamless blend of Japanese ingredients in quaint Italian dishes, aimed at presenting a repertoire of modern and classic takes. When done well, it’s refreshing and innovative with much culinary promise. Herein lies the question: is this a play worth a watch?
What I tried
We get an introductory taste of Dopo Teatro with Fisherman’s Catch (S$20), a seafood platter of fried delights: calamari, tempura shishamo, soft shell crab, and smatterings of kawa ebi paired with mentaiko aioli. Imbued with heavy Japanese leanings, I heartily indulge in the seasoned fried batter and delicious crustaceans.
While the fishy taste of shishamo may put some off, its seafood savouriness makes me appreciate the time spent curing it. But for a more palatable entrance into this plate, the calamari is chewy and crispy rings, paired with the savoury and tangy zest of mentaiko aioli. And then you get the single beauty of a soft shell crab, with its sweet, ample flesh encased in its salted batter. But before you can fault this plate as a fried and salty overfloweth, the tsukemono pickles cut through the grease with its sweet-sour tang. It’s a palate primer, in one of the best ways possible.
The Truffle Mushroom Arancini (S$12) follows next, and we officially enter the doors to this Japanese-Italian production. A rice ball fried with bread crumbs, it’s a familiar taste after you get past its appetising crunch.
A burst of truffle hits me as I bite into it, permeating with every chew. It’s piquant, savoury, and delectable. But the highlight of this one has got to be the parmigiano reggiano, with a stretch that could go for miles and a chew that complements the likes of japonica rice so well. It’s a textbook example of textural brilliance in cooking, checking off boxes of crisp and chew.
If you’re wondering where the mushroom fits into this picture, sadly, it’s obliterated. I know, what a waste. What we love about the truffle duxelle is what kills the mushroom kombu; the latter’s savouriness can’t hold a candle to the all-encompassing truffle. It still doesn’t appear in the miso mushroom aioli, though, which is a bright accompaniment to the rice ball. It’s a game of juggling here, and they’re dropping one of the balls.
They continue the juggle with Sugo Al Granchio (S$25), an ika sumi tagliatelle dish laden with crab chunks, herb pangrattato and wild rocket, in a pool of spicy marinara. And this time, they drop almost all the balls at once.
My mind believes what it’s seeing—squid ink, in all its black glory, but it’s nowhere when I taste it, so I’m left with a heap of chewy, under-seasoned tagliatelle. Seeking hope from the spicy marinara sauce proved futile as well, as it too, was a watered-down mix of tomato sauce without any inkling of spice. The only good graces of this plate is the sweet and tender crab flesh, which still, can’t save a failing performance.
The first bite into Dopo Teatro’s Al Funghi Pizza (S$22), though, was a good save. Riddled with chew, its palatable dough truly does justice to the 36 hours of fermentation time, while its crisp signals that they have calibrated the baking temperature of 320 degrees to perfection. But still, the restraint in seasoning is this dish’s downfall, again.
Topped with sake soya mushrooms, halloumi, wild rockets, crispy mushroom floss and slathered with shiso pesto, this pizza is an epitome of unrealised potential. The light swath of pesto is complemented with some savouriness from halloumi, but further let down by its condiments. The sake soya mushrooms were bland, and the crunchy shiitake mushroom floss and wild rocket provided texture without flavour. It’s anti-climatic, given its standing as Dopo Teatro’s pizza special.
Under seasoning truncates all potential in this dish, and the stage curtains have fallen prematurely, leaving you with a that’s it? to the show. I’m pleading for more of each ingredient— it’s deliciousness that’s so near, yet so far.
After tasting some of their offerings, I still stand by their concept of Japanese pairings with Italian nosh. But it’s a promising storyline that doesn’t realise in execution, lacking depth and nuance in flavours. Maybe it’s the fear of overkill, given the complexity of Asian cooking and ingredients in Western cuisine. Featuring a disproportionate ratio of seasoning to ingredient, it’s a challenge to fully appreciate the medley of flavours when they aren’t present enough.
Orchestrating fusion fare is a tour de force that Dopo Teatro is possibly capable of with due time. Concept-wise, they’re on the right track, but R&D is needed, beyond a one-plus-one in ingredients.
All the world’s a stage, and on the culinary grandstand, Dopo Teatro’s take on fusion Italian nosh may be worth a watch, after some thorough fine-tuning.
Expected damage: S$20 – S$40 per pax
*This review was done prior to Phase 2 (HA). If you’d like to order delivery/takeaway from them, Dopo Teatro is extending 30% off all pizzas with promocode ‘PIZZA30 for both delivery and pick up. Click here for more information.
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