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Restaurant review: Serenity, Senso, Privé, Prego, St James Wine Bar and Bistro in Singapore

 

When you’re the one asked to book a table for a group, it can be a hard call to make. The menu should have something for everyone – so a buffet is always a good idea. To make sure you all have a good time, the space has to be conducive to hosting a large table; and to keep everyone happy, it should offer good value for money. Here’s a selection of our favourites. Go on … assemble the Usual Suspects!

Senso Ristorante & Bar
21 Club Street

6224 3534 | www.senso.sg

Upscale Senso on trendy Club Street is at first glance an unusual choice for a large group, with its plush interiors and high-end dining. But its lovely alfresco courtyard beckons in the evening, the perfect setting for a classy yet casual birthday celebration with service to match – a find in Singapore.

Two elegant private dining rooms inside lend a more serious and personal note to celebrations, and are of course the choice of aircon addicts. Portions can be on the small side, so opt for a set menu (which you’ll have to do anyway if you’re in a group of more than 10,) or the prices can add up.

Weekend brunch offers a well-priced menu ($88++) that includes a delicious Prosecco, and is another good option for dining here in a group. The main courses are served at the table, which is great for keeping your crowd together during the meal, instead of losing people to the continuous lure of the buffet.

Antipasti, a roast carving station, cheese and desserts are help-yourself and done with more of a minimalist Italian elegance than the all-guns-blazing kaleidoscope that incites buffet greed and puts you into a calorie coma for the rest of the afternoon.

 

Privé Restaurant
2 Keppel Bay Vista

6776  0777

Privé restaurant and waterfront bar – past the bakery that supplies its delicious walnut and raisin rolls – is a good spot for group dinner parties. The wonderful outdoor setting on the marina among the bling yachts needs only the pop of champagne corks to complete the picture.

A chic indoor private dining room seats 20 and is a higher-end option that stipulates a minimum spend. Whether indoors or out, you can order the new dinnertime Josper Grill menu – a meat lover’s dream, cooked in a Heston Blumenthal-approved grill-oven – alongside the regular, more reasonably priced menu.

Try the deliciously juicy and flavourful double rib lamb rack ($58) or the charred yet tender ribeye cap steak ($75); this is a rare cut considered by some to be the holy grail of steaks, and they claim that it beats Wolfgang Puck’s at Cut. (We haven’t tried those yet, but Privé’s prices are not quite aseye-watering.) Sides are standard (save for the excellent golden fries) and include asparagus with hollandaise, an uninspiring house salad, potatoes and French beans.              

Leave room for the dessert platter for two ($32) – a smorgasbord of delicious bites ranging from sticky date pudding and an apple strudel with vanilla bean ice cream lemon meringue tart and lychee granité, to name just a few.

Prego

80 Bras Basah Road, Fairmont Singapore

6431 6156 | www.fairmont.com/singapore

I’ve always thought of Prego as a big restaurant, and so it is. But its new redesign gives it a much warmer, more intimate feeling than it had before – more like a homey trattoria with terracotta walls, wine barrels and striped awnings strung with prosciutto and salamis. Rustic wooden tables enhance the effect, and there’s a bar where you can perch for an afternoon coffee or a couple of glasses of wine. (There’s no harm in dreaming.)

One thing that hasn’t changed is the charming attentiveness of the staff; they’re all great, always.  Our warm rosemary bread rolls comes with individual little jars of ricotta dip topped with green olive tapenade, to be wolfed down before the arrival of a selection of exquisite antipasti ($4 per item) and then a pizza topped with prosciutto di Parma, arugula, buffalo mozzarella and tomato sauce ($29/36).

Chef Samuele Baudoino is from Genoa, and his speciality is home-style, simple dishes: the fregola with sausage, onions and pecorino is something deliciously different, and his potato gnocchi ($27/$38) probably the lightest and best we’ve ever tasted. Spit-roasted porchetta or suckling pig ($34) rounds off a veritable feast. If you’re not already sweet enough, leave room for an affogato – espresso poured over vanilla ice cream ($13) – and perhaps the house signature tiramisu ($14).

And make a point of chatting to expert sommelier Britte Giese; she’s a real asset to Prego. Our meal was perfectly paired with Prosecco “Z” Zardetto, followed by the 2009 Pinot Grigio Niedermayr and then the 2009 Valpolicella Allegrini.

St James Wine Bar and Bistro

3 Sentosa Gateway #01-11

6270 7676 | www.stjamespowerstation.com

After a sympathetic renovation, the 90-year-old St James Power Station now houses 11 different restaurants and bars, including St James Wine Bar and Bistro. Our large party opts for the alfresco courtyard for a pre-dinner drink and nibbles at sunset, and the hum of traffic on Sentosa Gateway doesn’t interfere with our chatter.

First up is a platter with five dips (including hummus and dukkah) and toasted bread cubes ($16), lamb triangles in pastry ($12) and Spanish meatballs ($12); all washed down with Tiger beer by the jug ($42) and a couple of glasses of Jacobs Creek Riesling ($13.50) from a reasonably extensive list of wines. 

Moving indoors, the bistro is a large, low-roofed space with exposed brick and rustic, well-worn floorboards that appear to be original. Seated at a very wide table and having pre-ordered our three-course set meal ($38), we watch the chefs in the glass-walled kitchen hard at work while variously sipping sangria ($16.50) or French rosé ($13.50). Soothing sounds from a grand piano and the resident singer complement the chilled-out atmosphere.  

After a starter of char-grilled Cajun chicken breast salad, there are two choices for the main course: veal medallions with mushroom ragout or roasted Chilean sea bass with sautéed asparagus and lobster cream sauce. The veal is tender and the mushroom jus has a pleasing bite, but it wasn’t served as hot as it could have been. The fish is firm and tasty and the asparagus done to perfection.  

Conversation ceases abruptly when dessert arrives, accompanied by a wonderful aroma: chocolate lava cake and ivory chocolate mousse. It’s the highlight of the meal, straight from the oven.  

We virtuously decide to head home for an early night, but we could easily have stayed until the wee hours at next-door club Movida, which is just firing up as we leave. 

1-Caramel (closed)

1 Rochester Park, Level 2

6774 1302 | www.1-caramel.com

For the first 16 years of my life, I survived exclusively on sugar-based foods – more specifically, Allens’ Redskins and Arnott’s Wagon Wheels (supplemented by Cheezels whenever I needed more dairy in the diet).

Recently, I took my sweet tooth to the newly opened 1-Caramel at Rochester Park. The menu is full of guilty pleasures: à la carte desserts, five different soufflés, signature cakes for weddings and other events, and “assiette” platters for sharing. Highlights include the crème brulee infused with earl grey tea, and the awesomely sweet-and-salty miso soufflé with yuzu ice cream (both $14).

With all that pudding, you’re going to need a good coffee. 1-Caramel’s are very good. Standard brews are $5, but you’re better off choosing one of the specialty coffees for $8, or so my tooth reckons, because they’re served with complimentary handcrafted petite fours.

1-Caramel seats up to 16 diners, and would be perfect for one big group: it’s upstairs from parent restaurant One Rochester – you actually enter the second-storey sunroom via the pastry kitchen, so you can watch the chefs in action as they make the soufflés rise. Alternatively, book a table downstairs in the grounds of One Rochester, where the 1-Caramel menu is available, too.

By the way, for the sweet-toothless, there are savoury brunch options galore – everything from eggs benny to croque monsieur (dishes from $8) – available all day, all week.

Shamus Sillar

Serenity Spanish Bar & Restaurant

1 HarbourFront Walk

6376 8185 | www.serenity.com.sg

If you’ve been to Spain, you’ve perhaps seen an enormous paella being prepared alfresco in an improbably large pan measuring a couple of metres in diameter, over a coal-fire, generally in the heat of the day. A couple of sweaty chefs will be hard at work – one throwing in buckets of ingredients at the appropriate moments, the other raking them into place. An admiring, salivating crowd completes the scene.

And if you’re having a party, a paella is a good way to feed your guests; your pan does not have to be anywhere near as big as those communal ones; they feed hundreds of diners.

It’s been said that it’s easy to make a decent batch of paella, yet virtually impossible to prepare the perfect one. Paella cooks are passionate about their personal techniques, but some of the basics are inarguable. Here, Nikko Thero of Serenity Spanish Bar & Restaurant shares with us a few essentials for the perfect pan of paella.

1.

Start with the proper pan.

A paella pan, which is also called a paella, is a round, shallow steel pan with two handles and splayed sides. The base is flat and thick, allowing a thin, yet wide layer of rice to absorb the flavour. 

2.

Rice, rice, baby.

The proper choice of rice is crucial, says Nikko, who recommends bomba rice, a short, fat, oval-shaped rice grown in the Murcia and Valencia regions of Spain. The so-called king of paella rice, it is three times more absorbent than other types of rice, yet it doesn’t crumble, lose its form or become creamy like a risotto. Unlike most Asian dishes, paella’s added ingredients (chorizo, mussels, squid) play second fiddle to the rice. “The rice is the champion; the rest is just there to enhance the flavour,” says Nikko.

3.

Time is not of the essence.

It takes between 30 and 45 minutes to cook paella, and that’s not including the prep work. At a restaurant, be suspicious of a pan that arrives in less than 20 minutes – you’re likely not getting a freshly prepared batch. For home preparation, remember that paella requires your constant attention. Never leave it while it is cooking. “You need to shake, not stir, the pan from start to finish, so that the rice cooks evenly,” says Nikko.

4.

Savour the socarrat.

Paella’s crowning jewel, the socarrat, or crispy rice bottom, can be created with a large burner, grill or open fire. It not only tastes delicious, but its presence indicates that the paella was not cooked in a larger pan, scooped up, reheated and transferred to a smaller pan before being served. Tip for home cooks: simply listen for a light popping sound to indicate the rice is toasting to a beautiful crisp.

In the mood to sample some paella? Serenity’s best include:

Paella Valenciana – saffron, chicken, Spanish chorizo, tiger prawns, squid, and half-shell mussels

Arroz Negro (black squid ink paella) – squid ink, squid, tiger prawns and capsicum

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