As a kid, I always thought Alkaff Mansion was the home of Moe Alkaff (local comedian). It was a reasonable guess!
Alkaff Mansion traces its lineage back to 1918 when it was commissioned by a descendent of Syed Shaikh Alkaff – the first of a family of great traders from Yemen. It was probably the 1930s version of today’s Dempsey Hill in its heyday before the family liquidated their assets as a result of WW2. It later became the Singapore headquarters of the World Buddhist Society before being abandoned for a couple of years. In the 1980s, it was acquired by the state and converted into a restaurant which then closed in 2003.
In 2005, the building was awarded conservation status and the LHN Group, owners of the highly successful Spruce, was awarded the tender in 2009 to restore the charming bungalow to its charming grandeur and a signature dining destination; Alkaff Mansion Ristorante was born.
With the renovation costing a whopping $5 million (Ouch), every detail and decor hasn’t been spared to recreate the lavishness and opulence of the mansion – intricate retro floor tiles, retro furniture, grand chandeliers hanging from the ceilings. The interior is too impressive for words, you have to be present to appreciate the effort breathing life into this grande dame.
At the helm of Alkaff Mansion Ristorante is Executive Chef, Simone Depalmas. A native of Sardinia, Chef Depalmas is a strong proponent of quality fresh produce and strongly believes in harnessing the natural flavours of his ingredients (simplistic preparation in many dishes) and delivering original Italian cuisine with a touch of Sardinia. Under Chef’s watch, the menu is revamped every 6 months while crowd favourites are always retained to ensure that diners will be exposed to new concepts with every visit.
Fresh Octopus Carpaccio ($24). Delicate slivers of lightly steamed Sardinian octopus served with oranges, cherry tomatoes and drizzled with a balsamic reduction. The sweet and tangy flavours of this dish definitely jolted the dormant taste buds awake. The octopus had a unique firm texture and a smokey taste somewhat similar to Edam cheese.
Seafood Platter ($68). Photos can be deceiving and this is one of those. The platter was huge! Chef Depalmas tells us its a standard platter meant for two as starter but it certainly felt more like a main for just the 2 of us. An indulgence of tuna tartare, peeled fat tiger prawns, lobster, sea bass carpaccio and octopus salad.
No elaborate sauces – just olive oil and pepper (ok, the lobster had a zesty citrus dressing but it wasn’t your usual wedding dinner lobster with extra mayo dressing). We were horribly stuffed after this appetizer and we had barely began. Chef believes that fat and full customers are happy ones, which we agree indeed.
Unlike other Italian restaurants that I have sampled in the recent weeks where the seafood is mostly sourced regionally, Alkaff Mansion Ristorante imports all its seafood straight from Italy via various souces – air flown 4 times a week (probably on Singapore Airlines). ‘Fresh’ is probably an understatement as Chef shucked a couple of live mussels in front of us – these little buggers were still pulsating away and the smell of the Italian sea was divine.
Sardinian Fregola with Assorted Seafood ($28). This is a Sardinian favourite, the fregola is imported as well and it has a distinct nutty, wheaty flavour – think of it as Italian Mee Tai Bak. In most restaurants, this dish will be cooked with white wine but not under Chef Depalmas – just seawater from the mussels and clams with tomato. The sauce was very rich and exceptionally sweet. The fresh mussels were by far the juiciest and plumpest I’ve ever tasted in Singapore – not the usual frozen vacuum packed Australian/Kiwi mussels.
Porcini Mushroom Risotto Superfino Acquerello with Thyme ($28). One of the more popular dishes, Chef uses the Superfino Acquerello grains (known as “king of rices”) instead of the more common arborio rice as the former has a higher starch content and firmer texture thus guaranteeing a flawless al dente risotto. Served with a generous shave of black truffles this dish emitted a heady comforting aroma.
Oven Baked Sea Bass in Salt (600g/$48, 700g/$56, 800g/$64). Definitely the highlight of the meal was watching Chef Depalmas flambe the salt baked fish in front of us with a dash of cognac.
Chef always serves this dish tableside in person – so it wasn’t a one off thing for food reviewers mind you. The deboned fish is sprinkled lightly with black pepper, drizzled with some olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and then served with tomatoes. The simplicity of this dish exemplifies the freshness of the sea bass, the tender flesh was delicate and very cleanly flavourful.
Slow Cooked Sardinian Style Suckling Pig ($46). Slow roasted for several hours with herbs (and its own juices) for a soft texture and finished in the oven for 20 minutes at 270C for the crispy skin, this dish requires lots of work and it was fabulous. The flesh was moist and cuts easily. The berry compote at the side serves to lighten this heavy fatty dish as well if you find it too jelat.
Fresh Mint Vanilla Panna Cotta ($14). A twist of the usual panna cotta served with a mixed berry sauce, it was a balanced juxtaposition of rich cream and tart bite. Smooth and surprisingly light, it capped off an impressive meal.
To sum up, all the Italian dishes were well conceptualised and balanced; portions were actually just nice on hindsight although we didn’t manage to finish everything. For authentic bona fide Sardinia cuisine at wallet-friendly prices, Alkaff Mansion Ristorante is your best bet.
Alkaff Mansion is a highly recommended Italian restaurant, with excellent romantic ambience and equally matched cuisine. The only shortfall is how far in the middle of nowhere Alkaff Mansion is, and you’ll either need to drive in or take a cab.
Related Guide: Best Italian Restaurants in Singapore
Expected damage: $60 – $80 per pax