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Destination Duxton: A dining guide for the best places to eat in Duxton Hill

With such an eclectic mix of cuisines, combined with charming shophouse flair, it’s no wonder the area is one of the most appealing foodie destinations on the island. Here, we check out some of the neighbourhood’s hotspots.
 

Liguine Al Granchio
Etna

Though Etna’s been around since 2006, it’s anything but passé. In fact, it was packed on the Saturday night we visited; the lively, bustling dining room is decorated with Italian artefacts, giving it a cosy, upscale trattoria vibe. It’s unpretentious, each table receiving personalised attention – something truly refreshing to see here in Singapore; a warm welcome by owner Gianluca Impemba and a staff of knowledgeable waiters who happily provide recommendations made the experience that much better.

First up was a baseball-sized portion of creamy fresh burrata with Parma ham, rocket salad and a vine of juicy tomatoes ($42) – melt-in-your-mouth delectable, and enough to feed four. (Of course, the two of us had no trouble polishing it off.) We followed with a weekly blackboard special: homemade green linguine with mixed Mediterranean fish ragout ($39) in saffron and cherry tomato sauce – not overly fishy and with just pork cheek ($34) and seabass ($68) flown in fresh from Italy each week. With the right amount of creaminess, this flavourful pasta dish should be on the menu permanently. But, if you come on a night when it’s not available, there’s the always-popular linguine al granchio (linguine with crabmeat and softshell crab in lobster bisque; $27) that we hear is just as tasty.

Etna also serves over a dozen wood-fired pizzas – the Etna Pizza ($26), made with mozzarella, porcini mushrooms, Parma ham, cream cheese and pistachio, is a fan favourite; other popular dishes include grilled

Must-try: Any linguine they’ve got – whether it be a daily special or the signature linguine al granchio.

Tip: End your meal with a traditional cannoli ($12) filled with ricotta cheese and chocolate chips, topped with powdered sugar – yum!

49/50 Duxton Road | 6220 5513

 


Rhubarb

Cosy, intimate, and bedecked with starched white tablecloths, this little restaurant could be the place for a romantic dinner, a birthday or a business lunch to celebrate a deal. Opened over a year ago by the team from Dempsey stalwart Au Petit Salut, Rhubarb serves up exceptional value-for-money French food with an inimitable, international twist. The hamachi ($26) entrée is an example: the Japanese fish is vanillacured and served raw with cubes of sweet vanilla jelly, burnt pomelo and shiso, a fragrant herb. Rhubarb’s signature dish (top marks for the warm plates) is pigeon ($64) sourced from the Loire Valley; the tender breast is served with a confit leg, rhubarb and rose puree, and special sugared grapes. The flavours are outstanding, and the dish is well complemented with a glass of Rhone Valley syrah.

Dessert offer more surprises, this time trifle (from the set dinner menu), a combination of fresh raspberries, delightful bergamot (an Italian citrus fruit), mousse and granita. Add this restaurant to your must-visit list.

Must-try: Emulsion of Jerusalem artichoke and black truffle ($26), a foamy soup of to-die-for flavours; try it regardless of whether or not you know what a Jerusalem artichoke actually looks like!

Tip: Lunch is good value at $42 for three courses, or upgrade to the chef’s menu for $68 – Chef Paul won’t disappoint.

3 Duxton Hill | 8127 5001

 

Rasberry Meringata from Latteria

Latteria

On the weekday evening we stepped into Latteria, around 6pm, the vibe was warm and casual, with just a few diners dotted around – the perfect locale for a good catch-up. We had the option to sit more surprises, this time trifle (from the set dinner menu), a combination of fresh raspberries, delightful bergamot (an Italian citrus fruit), mousse and granita. Add this restaurant to your must-visit list.

 Must-try: Emulsion of Jerusalem artichoke and black truffle ($26), a foamy soup of to-die-for flavours; try it regardless of whether or not you know what a Jerusalem artichoke actually looks like!

Tip: Lunch is good value at $42 for three courses, or upgrade to the chef’s menu for $68 – Chef Paul won’t disappoint. Katie Roberts indoors or outdoors on the beautiful, large terrace (a cute setting for date night), but we sat inside to shelter from one of Singapore’s typically random downpours. I feel you can’t leave an Italian joint without sampling the cheeses. That’s why for starters we tried both theburratina with roast pumpkin and truffle ($23) and the stracciatella with eggplant caponata and pine nuts ($23) – and no, I’m not talking about the ice cream here. In this case, stracciatella is actually the very creamy, very delicious, savoury stuffing inside burrata cheese, which is traditionally made with mozzarella and cream.

Both got a big thumbs-up. For mains, we had two of Latteria’s house specialties: the tender slowroasted lamb shanks with chickpeas and red wine casserole ($35), which just fell off the bone (I’m told by restaurant manager Daniele that it’s gently braised for at least nine hours), and the porcini and burrata pasta bake ($28), which was cooked al dente and had a rich, earthy flavour from the mushrooms. To end, the raspberry and pistachio meringue cake ($16) was light, tangy and refreshing to the palate.

Must-try: Any of the delectable cheeses.

40 Duxton Hill | 6866 1988
 

a Russian delight 

BUYAN

Russian Restaurant and Caviar Bar

We’ve not had much experience with Russian restaurants before tonight – barring the little blinis my mother used to make and serve with black lumpfish roe, sour cream, chopped egg-yolk, diced onion and chives. From the BUYAN presentation, I see she got it exactly right; only here it’s proper caviar, starting at $5 per gram (minimum order 10g) and going up to a heady $25 per gram for Iranian Beluga. Speaking of heady, this is a place for serious imbibers. (Three men at a nearby table see off one bottle of high-end vodka and call for another; mind you, one of them disappears quite soon after that and is substituted by another who’s far less red of face.)

 Don’t miss the traditional infused vodkas ($13 per shot, $60 for a flight of 6) – we love the horseradish (wasabi) one, and they’re all prepared on the premises in accordance with recipes from an 18th-century cookbook. (Cookbook? Yes, we’re wondering about that too.) Other drinks from a vast and impressive list include killer concoctions like the yummy Spetsnaz cocktail ($20; pictured here) – vodka and pickle juice, served with pickles on the side and topped with a fiery little chilli. Its name is Russian for “special military force” – you’ve been warned. Though Russian wines tend to sweetness, not so the beautifully brut Abrau-Durso sparkling ($14 per glass, $65 bottle), which has been produced in Russia since 1871 and compared to some of the finer French champagnes; BUYAN is the only restaurant outside Russia to serve it. (There may well be more drinks sampled, but from this point it all becomes understandably hazy.)

The jovial vibe is partly due to the well-informed and exceptionally friendly Katia Gabalova at front of house, who entertainingly introduces us to dishes from  Russia and countries of the former Soviet Union, including Ukraine, Georgia and Uzbekistan. As these cuisines famously feature hearty soups and stews, we try both the borscht – beetroot and cabbage soup with beef, and the solyanka mixed meat soup – thick, slightly sour and spicy ($14 each).

They conjure the coldest scenes from Dr Zhivago and are much improved by being slurped together with swigs of the horseradish vodka. The shashlyk ($40) is a platter of tasty charcoal-grilled chicken, lamb and salmon, and what’s not to like about that? Pity the salted herring under a fur coat ($18) isn’t available; we’ll have to return one day soon for that. Highly recommended for a fun night out!

Must-try: Horseradish-infused vodka.

Tip: Preferably choose a weekend night, when you can sleep in a bit the next day.

9 Duxton Hill | 6223 7008

 

Alba 836 red prawn – looks delicious!
Alba 1836 Wine Bar and Restaurant

Located at the top end of Duxton Hill, Alba 1836 is a chic Italian restaurant and wine bar with indoor and outdoor seating, modern décor and a stylish bar; we love the copper-coloured lamp shades, which give it that “cool kid” vibe. Head Chef Luca Piras has definitely mastered the art of presentation, with each dish having a wow factor: the tuna carpaccio with smoked caviar ($22) was almost too delightful to tuck into; I could have admired it all night long.

The raw red Sicilian prawns marinated in olive oil and lemon burrata cheesecake ($30) were truly delectable – the burrata and prawns went down especially nicely with a glass of the light and fruity Pala Stellato Vermentino 2011 ($10). In fact, they offer more than 40 Italian wines, starting from $40 a bottle.

Must-try: Dark chocolate millefeuille ($16) with mascarpone cream and raspberries – the highlight of the night for me, thanks both to its delicate presentation and its taste. The millefeuille has the texture of a typical brandy snap, but the taste of caramelised chocolate.

Tip: If you’re looking for a reasonably priced lunch, try Alba’s set lunchmenu, which includes a starter, main course and dessert for $28; $55 with wine pairing.

28 Duxton Hill | 6222 2048

 

Sabio Pan Con Tomate Fresco

 Sabio

This casual Spanish tapas bar is a great place to unwind with friends after work. The cosy space is an inviting mix of contemporary elements like neo-industrial chairs, graphic mirrors and traditional Spanish design featuring painted Catalan tiles – perfect to relax in while you eat your way through an extensive tapas menu, which features a variety of hot and cold tapas, from chorizo and jambon to the traditional favourite, paella; also on the menu are select dishes by culinary host and TV personality, Angela May. We started the evening with the simple but delicious pan con tomate (fresh tomato bread, $7) and croquetas de jamon (ham croquetas, $14); the latter were equal parts creamy and crispy, and went down easily. We also tried the pulpo con sofrito ($15), a delicious dish of baby octopus, sunny-side-up egg and sofrito mushroom pickle from Chef May’s menu.

The highlight, however, was the beef meatballs in spicy tomato sauce ($13); each succulent meatball coated in tomato sauce was an explosion of flavour in the mouth.We washed it all down with a couple of glasses of sangria ($12 per glass; $49 for a jug). If, however, you prefer beer, wine or cocktails, they have those too.

Must-try: Beef meatballs in spicy tomato sauce.

Tip: They don’t take reservations, so go early and preferably in a group to avoid being seated on the uncomfortable bar stools.

5 Duxton Hill | 6690 7562

 


Pince and Pints

If it’s luscious lobster you’re after, you must try this place. Its simple menu of three choices means you won’t spend ages deliberating over what to have: it’s all fresh, and it’s all good. Your lobster is served in one of three ways: either as a classic lobster roll with garlic aioli, as a whole lobster grilled or steamed with an addictive herbed butter sauce, or as a chilli lobster– each paired with a classic side salad and hand-cut fries for $58.

Must-try: The truffle lobster roll ($58). Truffles are now in season, so try this dish before it leaves the menu at the end of January. Succulent, meaty bites of lobster in a classic soft sub, with a generous dollop of truffle mayo, laced with truffle shavings. A special mention goes to the truffle butter, which made a beautiful accompaniment to the leftover fries; we had to ask for another jug-full – it was that moreish!

Tip: If ordering the rosé wine, opt for a magnum ($156), extravagant as it may sound, as the wine carafes ($59) soon add up, and the magnum may prove more cost-effective, especially for a group.

They mix a mean cocktail here too, and the bar staff are on hand to guide you with your choice; they’re one friendly and helpful bunch. Pssst… they don’t serve starters or puddings here (please, can we see these added to the menu, Pince and Pints?), so go easy on those cocktails!

32-33 Duxton Road | 6225 7558

 

Merchants Wine Cellar

Situated across two beautiful shophouses, Merchants is a wine bar, cellar, café and restaurant all under one roof. As we enjoyed the relaxed, casual atmosphere, owners Ainslie and David told us about the 45 independent winemakers that are represented here, spanning 26 regions of Australia and New Zealand. (Merchants actually has the largest collection of boutique Australian and New Zealand wine in Singapore.) While the main business here is wine, this cosy establishment also hosts regular tastings from interesting small vineyards. (Look out, too, for regular visiting winemaker dinners that are announced on the Merchants Facebook page).

The wines are personally chosen, and there are some amazing blends to taste, even by the glass; opened bottles are kept in a state-of-the-art machine. A comprehensive menu (complete with suggested wine pairings) keeps those who choose to nibble very busy,with a wide range of salads, meats, cheeses, mains and desserts. To start, we opted for the outstanding house-made brandy chicken paté and toast ($14) – David’s grandmother’s recipe – and the meatballs ($18). For mains, we were tempted by the superb half-rack of lamb ($32), served with couscous, tzatziki and lemon wedges, and the Australian grass-fed grilled rib-eye steak and fries ($29), which was cooked to perfection. We didn’t have much room for dessert, but couldn’t resist the tiramisu ($8) – the perfect end to an enjoyable evening. Merchants is open seven days a week, and serves brunch and lunch as well; in fact, it opens at 8am daily and even has its own locally roasted coffee blend.

Must-try: Half-rack of lamb.

Tip: Arrive thirsty and hungry – there’s a lot to try. Also, check out Merchants’ online wine shop, which has some great discounts with the purchase of multiple bottles

52-53 Duxton Road | 6222 1162

Also try:

  • For tequila and tacos Lucha Loco at 15 Duxton Hill

  • For wine-sipping and French-Asian bites Praelum at 4 Duxton Hill praelum.wix.com/ praelum

  • For steak frites and escargots L’Entrecôte at 36 Duxton Hill

  • For a relaxed reading spot and all-day breakfast Group Therapy Coffee at 49 Duxton Road, #02-01

  • For trendy burgers, deep fried fare and cocktails Meat Liquor at 99 Duxton Road

  • For a java jolt Department of Caffeine at 15 Duxton Road

  • For post-dinner cocktails and craft beers (or drinks on the go!) Kiosk at 40 Duxton Hill

This article first appeared in the January 2016 issue of Expat Living. Subscription offers here.

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