SINGAPORE — I believe I speak for all food critics when I say that a restaurant's Michelin star is always the elephant in the room that we try our best to ignore—huge and imposing as it may be. It's hard to maintain a modicum of impartiality when the shine and prestige of food's highest award loom over us as we prod and poke at yet another Wagyu au Poivre cooked ten ways, served with a beef jus (of course) that has been reduced over hundreds of years.
What a storied award such as the Michelin makes easy, though, is expectations. You walk in and anticipate your every need, whim, and fancies to be attended to—diligently. It's not a tall ask in the very least, a presupposition that naturally extends to the quality of food and service that is second to none. The Michelin, after all, is not something you bestow to celebrate mediocrity.
I entertained these thoughts as I sit here in one Michelin star Italian food emporium, Buona Terra. Housed in a classic black and white bungalow along Scotts Road, Buona Terra translates to 'Good Earth' and counts as neighbours exquisite Japanese omakase restaurant Ki-sho and The Song of India, the first Indian restaurant bestowed one Michelin star back in 2016. I'm surrounded by culinary greatness every way I look.
Here, Chef Denis Lucchi assumes the role of culinary Commander-in-Chief, a position he's helmed since Buona Terra opened its doors some nine years ago. In a world where chefs jump ship faster than you can say, 'not another boring chocolate dessert', Chef Lucchi's long service tenure is both surprising and laudable.
While brimming with artistry and creativity, the menu Chef Lucchi has created, like most fine dining places, is not perennial. His oeuvre is highly seasonal and dependent on what is available for choosing on any particular day. It makes the whole dining experience bespoke, with daily set menus constantly tweaked to take into account produce availability. Buona Terra is a temple of ingredients par excellence, and it shows.
The 6-course Experience menu (S$208++) is a suitable introduction to Chef Lucchi's paean to fine produce. It starts with a quartet of welcome snacks that are mini morsels of all things texturally balanced with a bit of everything from a preserved cured cod to a white cocoa butter sphere that holds within, a cold tomato gazpacho soup with its subtle notes of capsicum. An amuse-bouche of "Prosciutto e Melone" is a creative iteration of the oft-served Melon and Parma Ham. Here, it served as a Parma ham infused consommé and tiny goblets of the sweetest Italian rock melon.
Was I mildly intrigued by the prospect of creative spins on classics? Perhaps. Was I worried that this lunch would take on that tenor? Of course. But all these proved futile concerns as plate after plate of curated courses appear on my table, bringing with it a deep reverence for Italian fare with but a light touch of the contemporary.
There's a plate of red-hued Sendai A5 Carpaccio, delicately sliced, with a delightfully subtle smokiness that suggests finesse on the bincho. I'm impressed because it's so easy for this to be overwhelmed by intense bouts of smokiness. On top, yellow shavings of cured egg Yolk transforms this number from plain Jane to Naomi Campbell in a heartbeat.
Elsewhere, the Capasanta comes served with perfect cooked scallops on a plancha and easily some of the best I've ever tasted—I reckon, a result of one decade of cooking and an intimate familiarity with tools of the trade. I also enjoyed the cheerful burst of mint from the Kinome leaves, which goes a long way in adding flavour variance to an already gregariously moreish presentation.
A plate of intensely savoury Mancini spaghetti draws attention to itself with a green Watercress sauce that hugs each strand of noodle in a loving embrace. Here, it comes with beautifully cooked Bamboo Clams with heroic resistance and a pleasing brininess. It's a riot of flavours through and through.
Meats come by way of the Alfonsino, a dry-aged Kimmedai, and the Anatra, a glazed Challandais Duck Breast gleefully glazed with honey. Both are equally exemplary, although my heart is set on the Kimmedai, a fish so delicate, with a pronounced firmness and a laudable crispy skin up top for texture. It's not that the duck is unworthy of gracing these lips, but when the challenge is fish with this much personality and flavour, attention must be paid.
While everything thus far has been quite the adventure for the palate, dessert is where the mind is tickled. The Fragole is a mound of wild strawberries served with olive oil powder and a 25-year aged balsamic vinegar. It’s a dessert with none of the characteristics of a traditional, saccharine-forward end to a meal. The sweetness, however, comes from layers of bright lemon gel, apple strips, earthy dried almonds, and the aged Balsamic vinegar, sweetened ever so gently with age and time. It's an easy enough dessert to consume, almost poetically in contrast to the elements that exist on the plate.
But such is the gastronomical mastery of Chef Lucchi in making fine dining surreptitiously easy to approach. It makes me happy that I'm not the only one sharing this sentiment, evident by the full house during lunch on a balmy Thursday afternoon. Perhaps word's got out about this little slice of contemporary Italian fare just off the mainstay of Orchard Road. I recommend curious diners make a booking at your soonest before another Michelin star lands yet again on the lap of Buona Terra, after which, a reservation here would be but a lofty, unfulfilled dream.
Instagram | 29 Scotts Road, Singapore 228224
Mon to Fri lunch: 12pm – 2pm
Mon to Sat dinner: 6pm – 10.30pm
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