Months after giving up the Domvs restaurant space he had been leasing in Sheraton Towers, chef Gabriel Fratini is back.
His latest restaurant, Solo Ristorante, is much more intimate – in an Amoy Street shophouse that opened about 10 days ago.
The open kitchen takes up half of the front of the space, fronted by a row of counter seats where diners can watch the chef whip up their food.
At the back, the space is divided into two areas with table seating, one of which can be closed up to form a private room.
The restaurant may be small but fans – who discovered chef Fratini during his first ventures in Singapore in the 1980s and 1990s, and then when he returned in 2013 to open a trattoria in Greenwood Avenue – will find his skills undiminished.
The menu at Solo is simple. For lunch, there is a three-course set at $38 that comprises assorted appetisers, pasta and dessert. For $58, you also get a main of either fish or meat. The actual dishes are not listed, as they depend on what the chef has to work with on the day.
The dinner menu offers slightly more choices, with a la carte appetisers such as potato puree crowned with grilled scallops and crab meat salad ($32), as well as pastas such as tagliolini with olive oil, garlic and prawns ($34).
But the main courses are left vague. There is a daily catch of seafood priced from $40 to $45, and a cut of meat from $38 to $48.
Having no specific dishes, however, means that what you get is limited only by the chef’s creativity and the ingredients available. Seafood, for example, would depend on the catch from local fishermen or what is flown in from Europe. And meat, whether it’s beef, veal, lamb, pork or chicken, comes from various sources too.
With Solo, chef Fratini’s cooking mantra is to stick to simple, traditional Italian dishes, but often with a little twist – a way to put his signature on them, he says.
So the way to eat there is to put your faith in the chef. Listen as he tells you what the kitchen has to offer, say what you don’t eat and then let him know which courses you want.
If you are in a group of two or three, a good idea is to share pastas and main courses. Let the restaurant know you’re sharing and the chef can portion them before serving, which is less messy than trying to divide the dishes up yourself. Also, that way, everyone is sure to get a bit of everything in the dish.
I’m there in a group of three, so the dishes are split into three, which is why the servings look so little in the photos. Still, sharing some appetisers, two pastas, a meat and assorted desserts, we are stuffed.
The appetiser platter ($30) comprises a grilled octopus leg with balsamic vinegar, a small piece of frittata with bell peppers and foie gras on top, plus a piece of stewed pork with porcini mushrooms.
The octopus is rather generic, but the frittata is out of this world as the humble peppers turn into gourmet fare combined with the luscious foie gras. The stewed pork tastes less indulgent, but is delicious too, with the mushrooms fronting the flavours.
We also share a beef carpaccio ($34), which comes with the usual shaved parmesan cheese but with extra dollops of burrata cheese on top. Some basil leaves and olive oil complete the dish, creating a melange of flavours in the mouth that makes this one of the more memorable carpaccio I have eaten in a while.
The pasta the chef recommends is something from his hometown in Pescara, which is by the Adriatic Sea. It is flavoured with red wine, making it ideal for the minced lamb sauce he serves it with.
The chef also throws in a risotto with ossobuco and bone marrow, on the house, that he wants us to try. The risotto is just how I like it – with the rice grains having a little bite left in them. The marrow would be a treat if you like it, but I’m not a fan.
For the meat dish, the chef dresses up what would be a plain piece of ribeye with a poached egg and bits of black truffle. And for a pretty garland effect, vegetables are placed on the rim of the plate instead of being corralled in a corner.
To be honest, the beef is good but not amazing. But because the dish looks so pleasing, you enjoy it just a bit more.
Desserts, however, are less fancy. A scoop of tiramisu, a timbale of chocolate mousse and a slice of apple tart make up the platter ($14). They satisfy any cravings for a sweet ending but are not the highlight of the meal for me.
But the other dishes? I cannot wait to eat them again.
45 Amoy Street
Open: 11.45am to 2pm last order (Mondays to Fridays), 6 to 9.30pm last order (Mondays to Saturdays). Closed on Sundays
Food: 4 stars
Service: 3.5 stars
Ambience: 3.5 stars
Price: Budget from $70 a person for dinner
This article was originally published in The Straits Times.