From one successor of Borgo to another, I finally decided to try L'Ancora, the five-month old Italian restaurant which now occupies Borgo's spot.
As an aside, I think there are too many Italian restaurants in Singapore. Think of ten restaurants off the top of your head, and at least half of them will probably be Italian. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and is probably just a reflection of the fact that most Italian food takes less time to prepare than most French or Moroccan food. However, it does mean that eating out in Singapore becomes slightly boring after a while, with more misses than hits.
Once in a while, however, you find a gem - a place that serves truly good food, paired with service so immaculate it makes you feel like royalty, and at prices that probably wouldn't even get you a bowl of soup at other restaurants.
L'Ancora is one such venue. The layout and look of the restaurant has been rejigged somewhat since the days of Borgo: a fresh coat of paint, the grill area of the kitchen is now a cheese room, and a chalkboard with daily specials. The most noticeable difference, however, is the change in management. While service at Borgo was never bad, Roy and Umberto from L'Ancora are genial, courteous and effusively enthusiastic about seeing to your every need. Service in this country is often compared unfavourably to that of Hong Kong, so it is all the more refreshing and rewarding to enjoy such an excellent experience.
Of course, service is only one part of the meal, but L'Ancora has astutely taken care of the other aspects as well. In terms of price, there is the two-course set lunch at $20, and a four-course set dinner (with free flow of wine) available from Monday to Thursday for $68, which are some of the best prices I've seen for a while.
As for the food, appetisers take the form of Italian classics such as bruschetta ($12), calamari ($16) and vitello tonatto ($18). Interestingly, the prosciutto in the prosciutto e melon ($18) is San Daniele ham, which is rarely seen, even in Italy, and is prized over the more famous Parma ham for its delicate sweetness.
My carpaccio ($18) however, was slightly disappointing. Despite a surfeit of ingredients (rocket, parmesan, black truffle), somehow nothing differentiated it from any other thinly sliced raw beef, and there was no noticeable truffle aroma.
Where L'Ancora stands out is in its fresh, handmade pastas. The tagliolini with shrimps ($20) is served in a thick shrimp bisque, and comes in a generous helping, so you might want to avoid having too much complimentary bread. Other intriguing offers are the wholewheat stracci with braised duck in red wine sauce ($20) and the braised wild boar pappardelle ($26).
The fettucine with braised rabbit ($24), however, was one of the best pasta dishes I've had in a long time. It's rare to get rabbit meat in this country, and I don't believe I've ever seen it take the form of rabbit pasta (in Singapore, anyway). Perhaps it was the novelty of it, but the resultant dish was fantastic. The rabbit meat had been braised to tenderness and teased apart with a fork, cooked into a luscious broth that draped the ribbons of fettucine, coating them with a sweet, unctuous sauce. The addition of Tagatosche olives was brilliant, as the saltiness of the little fruits provided a lovely contrast.
When (not if) I go back, I'll try one of the pizzas, as L'Ancora offers a selection of very affordable (under $20) pizzas that all look delectable, and I'm sure my father will be unable to resist having some pizza.
Desserts are not particularly surprising, there is the "unholy trinity" of tiramisu, warm chocolate cake and panna cotta. Happily, the warm chocolate crostata ($12) is more of a tart than a cake, filled with rich, thick melted chocolate.
Giving in to my compulsion to find out how good a restaurant's panna cotta is, I was impressed by L'Ancora's panna cotta. Glossy-smooth and wobbly, the panna cotta had pretty much a perfect consistency, without being overly rich and creamy. If all restaurants served panna cotta like that, there'd be no reason for me to make my own.
I've probably praised L'Ancora enough, but I really am extremely impressed by the high standards (with regard to both food and service) paired with low prices. I've often thought this is exactly what new restaurants need to do in order to survive the treacherous first year, and if L'Ancora can manage to keep its quality and prices consistent, I'm sure it will soon become extremely difficult to get a reservation.
789 Bukit Timah Road
Tel: +65 6467 3778