Just like with Pasta Brava, I can’t believe it's taken us this long to finally visit this Da Paolo. All the more so because it’s so close to Serene Centre, where we’re at practically every weekend. Not counting a long ago visit to the Holland Village branch almost 8 years ago, my previous experience with Da Paolo has been limited to the Rochester Park outlet, which I was completely unimpressed with. Because of that, I’ve always wondered what the fuss with Da Paolo was all about, and whether its reputation somehow affected people’s perception of the food.
Well, I’m glad to say that this Da Paolo proved me wrong. We went for dinner on Sunday night to celebrate S’s birthday (happy birthday, S!), and I have nothing but good things to say about the food. The ambience was also surprisingly casual – one of the reasons A and I refrained from coming here is because we thought it was pretty atas and poncey, but to our pleasant surprise, other customers were really casually dressed, and there was enough background din such that little A and B didn't stick out like sore thumbs.
To start with, we shared some fried calamari, beef carpaccio, grilled Portobello mushroom and a smoked salmon salad. They were all pretty good, but none were outstanding – they just tasted like what you’d expect them to taste, though I thought the addition of some avocado in the smoked salmon salad was a nice change, as it added a nice creamy texture to the dish.
On S’s recommendation, I ordered the duck liver pasta, since the home-made pastas are supposed to be their specialty here. I really enjoyed every mouthful of this dish – the fresh fettucine was thin, smooth and perfectly cooked al dente. It was tossed with cherry tomatoes, diced mushrooms and slices of duck foie gras. The pasta absorbed all the cooking juices of the ingredients, resulting in a very tasty yet not at all heavy dish. I tried a mouthful of S’s fettucine with crabmeat in a vodka tomato cream sauce. While it was also very tasty, it was really quite rich, and almost impossible to finish on its own. S and M cleverly asked the kitchen to split the 2 pastas for them – the crab and the duck liver one. Very good idea; we’ll probably do that next time.
A ordered the veal ravioli with veal jus and parmesan cheese. Unfortunately he was a bit let down by this dish. It wasn't as good as my main – veal by nature is quite a delicately flavoured meat, and because the ravioli was quite thick, most of the flavours got lost.
A was looking longingly over at J’s rack of lamb, regretting that he didn't order it because it looked really juicy. Sure enough, we tried a bite of it and it was very good. The meat was tender and sweet, and quite fatty and flavourful. I think we’ll probably come back just so A can satisfy his hankering for this dish. Y does have a point though – with good ingredients like good quality racks of lamb, this is a dish that really can't go wrong.
With the exception of S, who claimed she was really full after the crab pasta, we were all able to fit in dessert so we ordered a whole variety to share. The pancakes filled with pastry cream were really good, as was the chocolate panna cotta with caramelized banana. The chocolate cake, which we ordered as S’s birthday cake, was slightly on the dry and heavy side.
All in all, this place really surpassed my expectations, though it probably helps that I didn't have any to begin with. This is now definitely a viable option if we’re stuck for a weekend dinner venue when we’re in the vicinity.
Food and service are way better than I expected. Ambience is fairly relaxed and casual, and parking is also easily available. Very good marks overall, but still second best when compared to Valentino’s (or third best if you count Pasta Brava). I guess this place would be a viable alternative if the rest were fully booked.
Da Paolo Il Giardino
501 Bukit Timah Road
#01-05, Cluny Court
Lunch: 11.30 am - 2.30 pm
Dinner: 6.30 pm - 10.30 pm
Sunday brunch: 11 am – 12.30 pm