A hidden gem of an Italian restaurant called Gaia
GAIA RISTORANTE & BAR
22 Scotts Road, Goodwood Park Hotel,
Noon to 2.30pm, 6 to 10.30pm (weekday), 6 to 10.30pm (Saturday), closed on Sunday
Budget from $120 a person for a la carte, set lunch starts from $32 for two courses
SOME restaurants do very well despite serving mediocre food. Others, however, fail to attract attention despite having excellent cooking and service.
These are the hidden gems and Gaia is one of them.
The Italian restaurant in Goodwood Park Hotel was very good when it opened in 2011, offering fine-dining dishes at reasonable prices in a classy setting. And yet it has not been on the radar of many foodies.
In the last couple of months, however, the restaurant has gone through a reboot that hopefully will garner it some attention.
New restaurant general manager Paolo Colzani, 42, comes with a wealth of experience in some of the best restaurants here, including Les Amis and Iggy's. He was last at Burlamacco, an Italian restaurant in Stanley Street that he co-founded.
Chef Emanuele Faggi is also new, having come from Italy, where he worked in the two-Michelin-starred Cracco Ristorante in Milan.
His first menu for Gaia is made up of mainly classics plated in contemporary fashion. But what stands out is how refined his cooking is, which is quite surprising, considering he is only 27 years old.
He has even adapted an out-of-fashion classic French dish, canard a la presse or pressed duck, using pigeon instead.
The Piccione or Pressed Pigeon ($90) is the most expensive dish on the menu, but it is worth ordering to see how it is prepared and why the original duck dish was so prized.
The last time I ate pressed duck was in the late 1980s at a restaurant called Le Duc in the now-defunct Marco Polo hotel. The bird was partially roasted and brought to the table, where the breast and drumsticks were carved and set aside. The rest of the carcass was placed in a well-polished silver duck press and all the juices and blood squeezed out to make the sauce. The meat was then taken back to the kitchen to finish cooking and replated with the reduced sauce.
It was a visual treat that also demonstrated the thought that went into making a great dish.
At Gaia, you get the same show except, instead of a duck press, a miniature version is used for the Bresse pigeon from the Rhone-Alps region. It is a meaty bird with just a hint of gaminess, and it is tender and moist.
The sauce, thick and dark, is reduced with butter and Marsala and is delicious with rich, intense flavours.
The other main course I tried, Oven Baked Monkfish ($58), is good too. The fish is typically firm and fresh, but it is the ginger butter sauce that makes it memorable. The ginger brightens up the melted butter and is perfect with fish.
Two pasta dishes stand out. My favourite is the Doppio Ravioli ($24), which has two fillings instead of one in conjoined rectangular pouches. One pocket is stuffed with chopped Parma ham and the other with parmesan cheese. The ravioli comes with small blobs of white balsamic foam and a drizzling of aged balsamic reduction, which add just the touch of acidity needed to bring the flavours to life. And it is an amazing combination of flavours.
Another pasta I like is the Rigatoni, Astice ($34). The fat pasta tubes are drenched in a full-bodied bisque that envelops your palate with its intensity. Yet it is not salty, just so delicious that the piece of lobster placed on top becomes secondary.
A third pasta I tried, Tagliolini With Norcia Black Truffle ($28), tastes common in comparison, even though there is really little to complain about either the nicely al dente pasta or aromatic shaved truffles.
The Burrata Cheese ($38 for two people) I had as a starter, which comes from Andria, is a little disappointing in its blandness. But the roasted Italian cherry tomatoes that come with it are bursting with sweetness.
My dessert is decent but not outstanding. It is a trio of vanilla, comprising Vanilla Cream, Meringue And Milk Ice Cream ($14), topped with candy floss. The vanilla elements are nice but the floss, while pretty and whimsical, does not do much. It can also be more airy.
THE STRAITS TIMES