The calm outside Maxwell Chambers is deceptive, we realise, as we step into Otto Ristorante in time to see the hostess turn away a group of suits with genuine regret because the restaurant is full. It’s the lunch period and the restaurant is packed to the rafters; reservations are absolutely vital.
Thankfully, we have one. The restaurant is modern and elegant, with a simplicity that is carried through to chef Michele Pavanello’s menu. The Italian fare here is authentic and generous in portion. From the seasonal white asparagus menu, the grilled white asparagus with Tomino cheese and aged balsamic vinegar was our pick. As we were sharing, restaurant manager Michele Grasso cut each asparagus lengthwise right in front of us and apportioned it – the melted, nutty Piedmont cheese went well with the tender freshness of the asparagus.
Our other starter of Mazara red prawn tartare – this shellfish from Sicily is one of the most sought after from the Mediterranean – had a briny sweetness that was brilliantly offset by the slight bitterness of fennel jelly and the acidity of green apple slices.
One of the steadfast pasta favourites is spaghetti with sea urchin and Sardinian grey mullet bottarga. It was well-cooked, rich and creamy, with textural interest courtesy of zucchini strips and the sprinkle of bottarga. We would have loved it more if it had come with a topping of sea urchin.
A classic must-have in any true blue, self-respecting Northern Italian restaurant is the osso buco, here served on a bright-hued bed of Milanese-style saffron risotto. Although the presentation was straightforward, the generous portion and deep flavours couldn’t be faulted.
Dessert-wise, the Venetian iced meringue cake caught our eye. When brought to the table, hot chocolate soup was poured over, melting the meringue. A deep spoonful revealed the pistachio centre – too decadent for a weekday lunch but we enjoyed every mouthful to the last anyway.
Even though the restaurant was full, Grasso and his team flitted around the tables like principal ballet dancers, recommending the fastest dishes to order for a quick lunch, and patiently discovering a guest was vegetarian, despite the latter having answered in the negative regarding dietary restrictions. The kitchen was firing on all cylinders like an Italian supercar; dishes were served with controlled speed so guests never had to wait too long, nor feel rushed between courses.
#01-02/03 Maxwell Chambers, 32 Maxwell Road, S(069115)