Drops of rain kiss me on the cheek as I scuttle down Scotts Road toward a black-and-white colonial building. I’m desperately clutching on to my camera bag whilst running my fingers through my hair to make sure the gel stays intact. We find respite under the shelter of Buona Terra, where the staff ushers us to a table at the far end of the restaurant.
To come here without a reservation would be courageous at best and doltish at worst. This isn’t spontaneous fare to spring for when you can’t decide on lunch. It’s a meal that calls for some measure of planning, dolling up, and a big fat calendar event to show for it. But what’s the fun in waxing lyrical about its one Michelin star or the brilliant hospitality? I want to eat, damn it.
Chef Denis Lucchi takes it upon himself to keep us full with a 6-course Buona Terra Experience Menu (S$208 per pax). His cooking is Italian, no doubt. But you won’t quite know what’s on the menu for the day—the ingredients change depending on what’s available on hand on any particular day. There are days when your spaghetti is lifted by a watercress emulsion, and some days that it’s not. Still, it’s tasty either way and such surprise does keep the astute diner on their toes.
Lucchi pays close attention to the seasonality of his produce, and he’s not apologetic about it. Perhaps it’s a consequence of growing up in Lombardy, where deep valleys and endless plains pave the way for prolific agricultural exports. Give him a bucket of carrots and some frozen hotdogs, and it’ll probably still rock our socks off.
What I tried
We’re particularly fascinated by the Just Tomato, which is page one in Buona Terra’s book of unpredictably awesome plates. At first glance, they’re bite-sized tomatoes that are a little too round and a little too perfect. Then they burst in our mouths with forthcoming jolts of tomato gazpacho, vinegar, and salt. I’m guessing that the kitchen had to fiddle with lots of temperatures and textures for this one. And we’re only at snacks. Gosh. Slow down. At least buy me drinks first.
Lunch only gets more intriguing through the Prosciutto e Melone. As with much of the food today, this dish doesn’t earn any oohs and aahs by name. But its appearance tells an entirely different story. Chef Denis has cleverly taken this traditional Italian starter and presented it in soup form, so that small spoons are all we need to slurp on a violently savoury parma ham broth and adorable pearls of scooped Lorenzini melon.
On the more predictable side of things, the Carpaccio comes by way of an A5 Wagyu Sendai. Because how could it not, right? We’re treated to these thin slices of chilled beef that arrive impeccably marbled and lightly finished on the binchotan. Any less cooking and we’d be on a farm. Of course, it’s gloriously fatty and luxurious, with lovely accompaniments of grated egg yolk, crunchy white asparagus, and Oscietra caviar. Is this how royalty live? Let me relish a little longer.
Don’t let all that Wagyu spectacle leave you second-guessing Buona Terra’s ability to handle vegetables. Yes, there’s seared scallop in the Capasanta, but its true show of finesse is in the celery root that’s handled three ways. I gleefully pick away at a buttery celery puree while munching on baby Morel mushrooms. The sauce is strained celery too, with just a touch of truffle. It all comes together quite nicely on a plate, and you’d be licking your spoon clean before stopping to think about the impressive concept at play.
There’s also exemplary pasta in a serving of the Spaghetti. Chef Denis’ approach here is again centred on the seasonality of his ingredients, and his determined use of blitzed watercress and Scottish bamboo clams convince us of it. It’s a twirl of perfectly al dente, zestful pasta that is dialled up by the fresh oceanic notes of clam juice and fish stock.
This underwater escapade extends to the Alfonsino, which boasts a Japanese Kinmedai cooked till crisp-skinned and paired with a fantastic anchovy sauce that’s all sorts of creamy.
Dessert is equal parts educational and tasty when the waiter brings out shiny bottles of 25-year aged balsamic to splash over a Strawberry Salad. And Chef Denis won’t stop there. He piles on powdered olive oil, which is made especially for Buona Terra by his cousin’s family. Talk about exclusive. Elsewhere, the Alpine Strawberry presents an enticing marriage of Mara des Bois strawberries, mascarpone cream, and egg yolk. I do prefer this one, simply for its smooth, airy texture.
Many of us, myself included, would think that we know enough about Italian food, having been equipped with the occasional creamless carbonara and a crunchy bruschetta in our diets. But Buona Terra presents an incredibly unique take on Italian fare in this secluded corner of Scotts Road that is told through Chef Denis Lucchi’s creative vision.
There are bouts of experimental flair that intrigue the mind, while the flavours we’re acquainted with remain wholly authentic and traditional. I had a fun, albeit lengthy, meal here. And while I can’t afford to be back anytime soon, Buona Terra has crept its way into my heart, one plate at a time.
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Price: $ $ $
Our Rating: 4 / 5
29 Scotts Road, Singapore 228224
29 Scotts Road, Singapore 228224