Why Buona Terra Might Be the Top Italian Restaurant in Orchard Road
At Buona Terra, wine director Gabriele Rizzardi tops up your flute of Franciacorta DOCG, with a persuasive intent of merging the natural and traditional wine worlds. In 2013, Rizzardi kick-started the natural wine collection, and has since then made wine pairing a major part of the culinary experience at the one-Michelin star restaurant. Every time a new bottle is toted to the table, he starts spewing details like a walking encyclopedia of wine knowledge. For example, the Ronco del Gnemiz Sauvignon Salici 2017, an intense flavour profile of cocoa and cardamon that has become one of my top favourite wines on the Vivino app.
Buono Terra’s summer menu is a dialectic study of the season and paints the landscape of Italy in bold strokes of colours, ingredients and flavours. Its repertoire includes killer snacks that trace the country from coast to coast. The gazpacho encased in a fragile cocoa butter packs an explosive taste—conjuring an imagery of tomatoes plucked straight off the vines during the height of summer. There is scallop tartare in a mini butter cone served with Calvisius caviar hailing from a farm situated in chef Denis Lucchi’s hometown of Brescia, Lombardy. What could be mistaken for a play on the jaunty fish and chips is instead a remake of the Italian dish baccalà mantecato (creamed cod) from the Veneto region. It’s a crisp potato chip filled with cod fish mousse, with both ends dipped in chopped chives.
The next amuse bouche had me scrapping fervently at the bottom of a topless egg shell with my teaspoon. Its previous tenants, a snail ragu blanketed by frothy heights of pepper-infused sabayon is so damn good that you’re tempted to ask for seconds.
Chef Lucchi introduces a fresher, brighter approach to Italian cuisine with his first dish. Fresh cuttlefish is sous vide, sliced into strips posing as pasta and barely seasoned with a light dressing of lemon and EVOO. Here it is accompanied with micro mint, green apple, shiso flower, Italian rock melon, Sicilian green almond and dusted with squid ink powder—reminding us that sometimes the most natural make-up is hardest to master. There is one problem though. I generally eschew the cephalopod family, it has a glistening wetness to it that I don’t like. If you’re waiting to hear how my opinion has changed, it is not happening. I hope the waiter did not notice my prolonged interaction (or fiddling) with the dish, as I tried my hardest to swallow it.
Rizzardi swoops into the rescue with a Trebbiano, the Paolo Bea Arboreus Bianco 2015 that has a beautiful amber from the long skin contact. The profile of peaches and honey creates the perfect companionship to the fatty black throat sea perch that has been chargrilled over the binchotan. For me, the real strength of the meal lies in this one dish. The smoky hues of the fish, embellished with braised artichokes and lubricated with guazzetto redolent of saffron spice. There is also restraint in terms of salt and added fat.
Carbs are a perennial favourite in Italian cuisine, and Buono Terra’s tasting menu poses no dilemma—both risotto and pasta are covered. You get the luck of the draw depending on the season but either way, the talent and execution render show-stopping dishes.
When the red prawn risotto reveals itself, you approach the carabinero prawn head with predatory instinct. The reward you get is tasty juices and salt speckled prawn umami-ness, which serve as a fine preview to the squid ink-infused Acquerello risotto. You might attribute the dish’s success to its provenance, but you’ll be proven wrong with the following carbonara.
Chef Lucchi makes an amazing version using parmesan stock brewed from parmesan rinds with water. The balance of butter, chicken stock, seared guanciale and pasta is impeccable. The kitchen then explores more expensive shades of flavours with an added applewood chip smoked cured egg yolk and shavings of fresh Manjimup black truffle. This perfection calls for an equally gutsy wine which you’ll get in the Terlan Pinot Noir 2018.
The meal finishes with a wedge of pear and ricotta cheesecake and a quenelle of pear sorbet. It’s a decent medley of hazelnut sponge cake, luscious ricotta mousse and Comice pear to satisfy any sweet tooth without being too cloying.
Do note that the summer menu has since given way to an autumn menu featuring the likes of the coveted white truffle and scampi. If you looking for a night of gastronomy, head over to Buona Terra. The pleasures and principles of good Italian food and wine await.
Pricing-wise, the 5-course is from $178 and the 4-course is $148. Wine pairing starts from $138 and the natural wine pairing is from $148.