Saturday, 27 September 2014

A Review of Burlamacco Ristorante, Amoy Street - Marred by Inconsistency

As my regular readers know, I maintain a directory of BYO restaurants in Singapore and their corkage policies.  But every once in a while, a friend would ask on a Whatsapp group conversation: "What restaurant can I bring my own wine to on a (insert day) evening?"  My good friend D would inevitably respond "Burlamacco in Amoy Street".  This got me wondering whether D had some financial interest in the restaurant, and I finally had the chance to put it to the test when D hosted our regular monthly wine tasting dinner at, you guessed it, Burlamacco!

Burlamacco is helmed by chef-patron Gabriele Piegaia, who has plied his craft at places such as Senso, the Four Seasons and most recently, Alkaff Mansion Restaurant.  Piegaia is from Tuscany, and the food at Burlamacco, while not explicitly Tuscan, is said to have a "Tuscan sensibility".  Very sensibly, it runs corkage-free nights on Tuesdays and Sundays, and a recent Tuesday evening saw D cart in a selection of German Rieslings and Italian vini rossi for our enjoyment, paired with a pre-arranged menu of the restaurant's signature dishes.  On this Tuesday evening, the restaurant was heaving with three large groups (including ours) holding wine tastings.

Courtesy of Danny Leong

I am not ashamed to admit that Italian wines are not my forte, and the furthest I got was guessing that one of the three reds had some cabernet sauvignon in the blend.  But I do love a good German Riesling, with that ethereal acidity, mild touch of sweet citrus and far less alcoholic weight than my usual Alsatian tipple.


Before we proceeded to dinner, a selection of canapés was served.  Braised lamb vol-au-vents are rich, dark and brooding, with a little pink bullet of pomegranate adding crunch, colour and acidity.  A choux puff en demi is spread with a decent truffled brandade, while a tranche of cooked ham tastes and smells like cooked ham.  I didn't get a picture of a stuffed paccheri, which was gorgeously al dente and my favourite canapé of the evening.

Primo: Traditional Squid Ink Risotto with Gold Leaf

Courtesy of Danny Leong

By the time the risotto arrived, I could have eaten a horse, its chariot and a couple of riders.  It disappeared down my gullet without complaint, but even as I ate it, I knew there was something wrong with it: it was chock-full of cheese!  There was some sort of seasoning cheese, probably parmigiano or grana padano, possibly even some gorgonzola adding a lactic sweetness.  Now I am hardly an Italian cuisine purist, but the last time parmigiano was added to a seafood risotto, nonnas across the boot of Italy ripped their bodices and wailed to the heavens in unison.  And there's a practical reason for this: Italian cuisine is about the quality of the starring ingredient, and adding strong cheese kills off any sweetness and subtlety from the seafood.  That said, the rice is well-cooked (if a little over-seasoned) and the gold leaf  provides a nice visual contrast.

Secondo: Chicken Leg with Porcini Mushroom Sauce

To me, a leg is just that: a leg.  It should not mean "a drumstick" (although if you are at an economy rice joint or a cafeteria it might) and it's certainly not just a standalone thigh as I have here.  The waiter tells me it is a "French chicken", but I suspect it's really the "French breed" Malaysian-born and raised chicken that seems to have reached pandemic proportions in Singapore restaurants.  The potato mash is silky, the porcini sauce is sweet and earthy and the beans are fresh, but one chicken thigh does not a main course make and anyone who tells you otherwise is pulling your "leg".

Second Secondo: Cacciucco, Tuscan Seafood Stew

The other main course option on the pre-arranged menu was a cacciucco, of which I had a taste.  It was inoffensive, but I was glad, at least from a quality if not a quantity perspective, that I opted for the chicken.

Dolci: Pannacotta with Vanilla Bean and Berries

Italians are fond of saying that a pannacotta should feel like a particular intimate portion of the female anatomy.  One of the guests at the table had it right when they said that Burlamacco's very modestly-sized version wobbled more than JLo's posterior.  It was clearly not firm enough and after I ate a third of the pudding, the remainder collapsed on its face like a post-referendum Alex Salmond.  While it tasted good, its lack of structural integrity was another reason for the nonnas to get offended.

Another gripe: the promised berries did not appear, but were instead replaced by generous Enid Blyton-esque lashings of salted caramel.  I'm a forgiving kind of guy, and I thought maybe they just ran out of berries.  The kicker came as I was walking out of the restaurant, and I saw a pannacotta dressed with a rich berry coulis making its way out to the dining room.

In retrospect, it is obvious why the substitution was made: berries in Singapore are expensive, sugar and salt not so much.  I don't know whether the front-of-house had stuffed up, or whether the kitchen were trying to cut corners, but this was the second time the menu failed to accurately describe what would be on the plate.  A lack of generosity in an Italian restaurant is not a good look, particularly when the establishment's website boasts that it practices traditional Tuscan hospitality with a "high perceived price-value relationship".


I feel a little sad when I see what would otherwise be a very decent eatery let down by a series of amateur mistakes.  Hospitality is about making the customer feel taken care of, if not quite special and pampered, and there are few more sure-fire ways of achieving the opposite than telling a couple of fibs on the menu.

Don't get me wrong.  The food here generally tastes good, and service is vaguely competent if a little moody at times.  I like the warm, brooding, moody space as well as its generous corkage-free policy.  But there is just as much here that rubs me up the wrong way, and I'm not sure whether I would mark Burlamacco down for a return visit anytime soon.

77 Amoy Street
Singapore 069896
Tel: +65 6220 1763
BYO Policy: Sundays and Tuesdays corkage-free; other days, 1-for-1 or $30++ per 750mL bottle.  Please click here for a list of Singapore restaurants which allow BYO, and their corkage policies.

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