Diane Ng, owner of Oliva Italian Restaurant at Arab Street, bemoans the imminent loss of shisha. Since plans to eventually outlaw the distribution and retailing of shisha have been ratified, human activity in the usually bustling district has dampened, Diane shares.
But, with her reasonably-priced Italian cuisine that omits pork altogether for a greater reach, the founder of the 4-year-old eatery believes there is hope for life in the future of the culturally-rich area beyond that of textile inundation.
When I stepped inside Oliva, which occupies the foot of a shophouse, I thought the entire scene looked exactly like an extension of a modern monochrome showroom in IKEA. This homely disposition with white suspended lamps, black cloth-covered chairs, and whimsical Italian tunes, according to Diana, is in place to especially entice lovers (or potential lovers) in search of a dimly-lit and cozy place at night. With enough luck, we can expect to see the restaurant release Set Dinners next time.
Because Oliva sees a flurry of lunch patrons everyday, we had our multi-course meal consisting of the bestsellers slightly later:
Bruschetta ($7.50). Other than rather wide and thick slices that make for potentially messy eating, the toasted baguette lathered with olive oil and topped with pepper was nicely crispy below diced tomato that I thought could have been diced smaller too.
Pumpkin Soup ($5.90). Mushroom or pumpkin soup is typically the soup of the day that gratuitously accompanies the set meals. On this day, we were served the latter. The viscous consistency of the squash-rich soup plus the natural sweetness from it are lovely, though not being able to find more goodies within was a little disappointing.
Caprese Salad ($18). In larger forms, the tomatoes and mesclun that are sprinkled with cheese powder don’t appear and taste too springy, lacking some crunch. I also found the mozzarella to be a little on the tangy side.
Sunny Side-Up ($16.90). The allure of carbonara, to me, has always been the wanton cream base. Oliva’s version of it is served with a raw egg and beef slices instead of ham. From the first mouthful of creamy spaghetti, I immediately enjoyed the blend of slightly cooked yolk with the thick sauce, and subsequently gobbled the entire plate.
Signature Pasta ($24.50). Spaghetti in a light tomato base dressed with chunked crab flesh is the signature pasta here. Despite it appearing a little short of glamorous, the interplay of the components does render this a rather appetizing dish with the sweetness of the seafood highlighting this dish.
Lamb Shank ($25). We learned that this incredibly tender lamb shank is slowly baked over 3 hours with a varied range of herbs. The decently sized leg, together with copious amounts of delicious gravy and a highly buttered mash, is quite the bang for the buck.
Tiramisu ($9.90). While certainly not a standout among other tiramisus, this restaurant’s product is well-balanced and gives a soft mishmash of mascorpone cheese and chocolate. Sliced strawberry and a drizzle of warm chocolate syrup supplement the dessert more for aesthetics than anything else.
Panna Cotta ($8.90). Also containing strawberry, Oliva’s panna cotta finds a good balance between the sweetness and sourness of the berries that can be mistakenly alluded to white chocolate.
I generally find that authenticity and finesse in international cuisines is positively correlated to price. In Oliva, where most items appear to be simple homey concoctions, one should not expect fine-dining gourmet food. But for a quick casual meal, some decent food here seems to be in line. There are not that much Italian options around the Arab street area anyway, which could be Oliva restaurant’s edge.
Tuesdays to Thursdays Set Lunch: $12.90 with Soup, Dessert, Drink
Expected damage: $15-25 / pax