There are some restaurants that, no matter how good the food is, just don’t work. You might attribute their lack of success to bad feng shui, a case of ugly interior design, poor service, a less than desirable location, too much nearby competition, or a number of other reasons. Unfortunately, way too often, when a new restaurant is suffering, its owners don’t have the vision or experience to nip the problems in the bud, i.e. move in decisively to make smart changes that will put the restaurant on the path to profitability.
When Singapore’s well-known Les Amis restaurant group first opened La Strada a year ago, the group had high hopes. The restaurant offered two dining options in one location, a casual pizzeria and a fine-dining Italian. The food, I have to admit, was good but I never liked the space. The fine-dining area looked like a high school theatre set, i.e. slightly exaggerated and very temporary. And given the prices of the food, I couldn’t justify paying for a not-that-cheap meal in a space that just simply wasn’t appealing. As it turns out, I probably wasn’t the only patron who felt this way. The restaurant simply did not do well.
In May this year, the restaurant closed its doors in order to recreate itself. Re-opening on 12 June 2007, the new La Strada is a chic, hip, trattoria that serves good, modern Italian dishes. The new space is modern and cool. It’s neither too stuffy nor too casual. It looks like the kind of well-designed space that you’d head to with friends and colleagues for a fun lunch or dinner. There’s a small al fresco area that is surprisingly breezy and a private room if you want to host a special meal or a business dinner. On the menu, there’s a well-rounded selection of starters, pizzas, pastas, main courses and some delicious desserts to choose from. Since La Strada has re-opened, it’s been buzzing. Every time S and I have been, it’s been pretty much full, proving that sometimes what a restaurant looks like is as important as the food being served — which is something way too many local restaurateurs often forget.
As said, the food is very good. Chef Leandro Panza, a young Aussie-Italian, has a deft hand at creating hearty yet refined classics. Dishes that we recommend include Chef Panza’s fritto misto, 4 perfectly battered and fried pieces of seafood, plated elegantly with some warm saffron mayo, capers and herb salsa; his quail and foie gras raviolo, which is served with chanterelle mushrooms and roasting jus; the pappardelle with asparagus, avruga and grated egg yolk, and served with a parmesan beurre blanc; and the coral trout baked in a coal fire oven with clams, potatoes and cherry tomatoes. My current favourite dish on the menu, though, is the homemade spaghetti carbonara (pictured above), which Chef Panza makes with truffle butter, Spanish ham and a soft-boiled egg. It’s a deliciously elegant yet sinfully rich dish which I’d be more than happy to have weekly (if S would let me, that is). S’s fave, on the other hand, is typically feminine; she loves the French baby spring chicken, which is marinated then char-grilled and served with some salad. I have to admit that the chicken is delicious but the overall dish is a tad too healthy for me.
Finally, Chef Panza’s desserts are really good. I had heard great things about his opera style chocolate and salty peanut caramel with chocolate feuillitine dessert, which is served with a milk sorbet (pictured above). And I was thrilled that it more than lived up to its hype. In fact, I’ve now had this dessert 3 times in the past 2 weeks and am already planning my next visit to have it again; it’s that good! Also good is Chef Panza’s Italian doughnuts filled with orange curd and served with warm chocolate sauce. (The flavours also reminded S and me a little of the doughnut dish that S created for last year’s New Year’s Eve dinner.) The peach and almond tarte served with truffle honey ice-cream is good also. The pastry could be a bit thinner and more delicate, but the ice cream was heavenly.
The new and very much improved La Strada is a nice addition to the Singapore dining scene. It’s nice that the restaurant seems to not only have found its feet, but is sprinting ahead of many of its competitors.
1 Scotts Road,
Shaw Centre 02-10/11