La Mensa, Tanjong Pagar: The ministry of pasta

For a good part of my life, I was (and still am) obsessed with making the perfect carbonara. It’s all about that silky, creamy sauce, getting my hands on guanciale proving near impossible unless you have contacts akin to the Italian mafia, and liberal showers of freshly cracked black pepper. A delicate dance, one that La Mensa twirls, whirls and sticks the landing.

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You’ll find La Mensa on the basement of Guoco Tower. On first blush, La Mensa may seem to the unsuspecting passerby, like just another pedestrian joint for hungry twenty-somethings clad in G2000 shirts and skirts during lunch. While that may be true, lunch is so much more than moderately priced grub at La Mensa.

The rattan chairs and tiled floor that spells ‘Pasta for the People’ does indeed appeal to my millennial sensibilities and given my affectation towards Italian carbs, I was more than ready to go all Corleone on La Mensa.

What I tried

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The menu is simple and to-the-point, as all pasta menus should be. The usual spread of aglio e olio, carbonara, alfredo and mushroom risotto graced the menu. It’s an array of good and dependable flavours that are enough for you to decide if La Mensa warrants a second visit.

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A Carbonara (S$13.50) is a simple enough Roman dish made from an emulsion of egg yolks and generous shavings Parm (or pecorino). Still, I have been burned one too many times by restaurants or cafes trying to peddle a cream-based pasta as carbonara—clearly a hate crime.

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You might think that all this affectation with a plate of pasta might seem excessive and even exceedingly pedantic (see also: dramatic). Luckily, there was no need for this angst at La Mensa that Thursday afternoon. Not only were the charred bits the ever delicious, funky guanciale, but each silky tagliatelle ribbon was also beautifully draped in a velvety, rich yolk sauce, before being dusted with liberal showers of black pepper and Pecorino.

Perhaps, I swooned, that finally, someone got it right without this plate costing an arm and a leg. After all, Carbonara was not made for the nobleman but an effort to stretch scant pantry ingredients, and here you get the best kind.

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However, this high came to a screeching halt with La Mensa Aglio E Olio (S$13.50) that came replete with juicy curls of deveined prawn. Arguably, a dish that’s the ultimate crowd-pleaser, spicy and chock-full of garlic. I was pretty inclined to the generous servings of prawns, but the slightly bland pasta was a let-down—more garlic and more chilli flakes, please.

When it comes to making risotto, it is somewhat a study in patience. The constant stirring for 20 minutes can be pretty meditative if you let it. What you want to look for is ‘all’onda’ that ‘wave’ effect, as the Gordon Ramsay’s of the world will tell you. This is where your rice ripples and moves with a deliciously undulating current as your spoon glides across the plate.

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Yes, the Mushroom Risotto (S$12) with those shimmering green globules of olive oil, with grated Parmesan checked all these boxes. Smooth, creamy, and criminally buttery, I was both surprised and pleased at this risotto. A few earthy mushrooms in each mouthful was enough to transport you to the sun-drenched summers of Italy.

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As you can probably tell, things are going great at La Mensa. Just to throw them a curveball, I figured the Polpette (S$12) would be a nice complement to all the glorious Italian carbs. Just like before, the dish is simple. You have two hand-made meatballs blanketed in a tangy tomato sauce, topped with a dollop of whipped ricotta cheese, and two crusty sourdough slices. I know sweet dreams are made of this.

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Undeniably herby and tender, these meatballs had the kind of comforting homemade quality that has been gently finessed so that you’ll pay good money for it. Tomato sauces can be rather rude when you let all that acid run wild. Here, they take on a tangy and savoury note that you can’t help but mop up with those perfectly golden sourdough toasts.

This can only be made better with the cloud-like ricotta—an experience I can only describe as akin to nirvana. It’s a straightforward number with a clear focus on the quality of ingredients that will leave you thinking about the Polpette for days.

Final thoughts

I’ve always stuck to the adage that Italian men are great. But honey, Italian carbs, when done right, is way better. It seems like La Mensa has understood this principle as much as I have. After all, it is my opinion that there is nothing more to it than just using good quality ingredients and cooking the pasta to that perfect al dente.

It seems like most people have not caught on to the delectable find that is La Mensa but you know secrets, especially ones as delicious as this, have a hard time staying hidden. Spread the word—let the hoi polloi know, and you can be sure that you’ll see me by the corner, oblivious to the crowds, happily slurping on my little piece of Italy.

Expected Damage: S$12 – S$20 per pax

Price: $ $

Our Rating: 4 / 5

La Mensa

1 Wallich Street, Guoco Tower, #B2-15, Singapore 078881

Our Rating 4/5

La Mensa

1 Wallich Street, Guoco Tower, #B2-15, Singapore 078881

Operating Hours: 11am - 9pm (Mon to Sat), Closed on Sun

Operating Hours: 11am - 9pm (Mon to Sat), Closed on Sun
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