The problem with going to try new restaurants is that the experience can be either good or bad. Now it's one thing to go to a restaurant and have a lousy time there, but it's quite another to go with high hopes and still have a lousy time.
Such was the case with Il Gladiatore, the updated and revamped Fuenti at UE Square. I had high hopes due to a review in the Business Times, and the fact that the guy on the telephone I spoke to while making reservations had the best manners I have ever come across in the restaurant industry. His politeness, reassurance, flexibility and geniality were such that I was determined to give the restaurant a try after having had to cancel the first reservation I made a month ago.
Unfortunately, my high hopes were not to be borne out by my experience there.
The first problem was one of location. UE Square is, we discovered, comprised of more than one building, and Il Gladiatore is hidden away in a remote corner, so it was quite a while before we managed to find ourselves in the right place.
The next was decor. I tend to be a bit suspicious of places based on themes, especially if those themes involve strange costumes and period architecture. Also, if the restaurant started as something else but is now repackaging itself, that's not a good sign either. Il Gladiatore, if it isn't obvious enough, bills itself as a restaurant serving ancient Roman food, and requires its staff to look the part. I wonder if the chefs have to dress as Romans too. Still, I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt.
I did think the metal chalices used as water glasses were quite cute though. True to the Roman theme, there was even a housefly that landed on my cousin's cup. A+ for historical authenticity, but D- for hygiene and cleanliness.
The other problem is consistency. It's quite difficult to imagine that you're in a Roman amphitheatre when above you there are exposed air-conditioning risers and vents. I think that overall, they might have been better served with a more modern look.
Our starter was strange, because although it was supposed to be a mixed plate of carpaccio, eggplant and something else ($18), those ingredients occupied perhaps half the plate, not at all enough to share between three people.
Stranger still, a portion of veal tripe and sauteed mushrooms arrived a bit later, apparently part of the starter, though none of us recalled seeing that on the menu. The veal tripe was rather spicy, and not exactly my thing, but the mushrooms were adequate, if uninspired.
I had a pasta (fettucine?) in a bolognese ragu ($18), which was quite enjoyable, though in a somewhat petite portion. It took half an hour to arrive though, which is inexcusable given that the restaurant wasn't very full and it was already 10pm.
Unfortunately, my poor cousin ordered spaghetti with clams in white wine (ordinarily called Vongole, but Il Gladiatore lists all their items in Latin), which she valiantly, though ultimately unsuccessfully, tried to finish. It was swimming in oil and apparently the pasta was undercooked. She didn't send it back, but she did take some of my sister's pasta.
Now, what should a restaurant do in a situation like this, when a customer has left a significant amount of food unfinished? To their credit, the waitstaff did inquire about the unfinished pasta, and when informed of the reason, quickly apologised, removed the offending dish and told us the chef would be preparing something else to replace the pasta.
This though, is where good service, if not tailored to the circumstances, quickly becomes bad service.
As my cousin had already eaten some of my sister's pasta, and it was quite late, we were already full enough, and desired to leave shortly. So we declined the waiter's offer of a substitute dish.
Five minutes later, he started laying out new cutlery, telling us that the chef was preparing something for us, which prompted us to again state that we were done with dinner, and request the bill.
Five minutes after, he again wanted to lay out cutlery, saying that the chef was doing something very quickly.
While one offer of a replacement dish is mandatory, two is pushy, and three is certainly unacceptable, no matter how good intentions may be. We were forced to decline once again, very firmly and categorically, pay the bill and leave immediately. A $30 voucher was given to us by way of apology, but I have a feeling it will definitely not be used. At least, not by us.
Il Gladiatore's location is not particularly convenient, as no MRT lines serve that area. Also, UE Square is large and disjointed, so there may be some problems locating the restaurant itself.
Ambience is kitsch, definitely, though it does have some novelty appeal. Partly due to a small crowd that night, the restaurant felt very discreet, making me decide to switch my phone to vibrate.
Service is particularly difficult to rate for this one. Food was slow in arriving, so that was a problem, but how they tried to remedy the bad pasta is a little less clear-cut. I'm loath to describe it as bad service as such, but as the road to hell is paved with good intentions, I cannot classify it as good service either.
Il Gladiatore (Italian)
207 River Valley Road
UE Square #01-61
Tel: 6333 8875
Ambience: 2/5 (-1 for the fly)
Overall: Il Gladiatore seems destined to go the way of the Roman Empire, into the dust of oblivion, though without the glory.