Spruce at Phoenix Park revamps its menu with a new Italian spread, and Sassy approves!
Spruce at Phoenix Park launched its new menu in November 2015 under the supervision of Executive Chef Mauro Scotto. The Ligurian Chef Mauro was the former Chef-Owner of one-Michelin-starred Ristorante Rocca Bruna in Rapallo Italy. Since moving to Singapore, he has worked with establishments such as Sicilia Mia and Mangiatutto, before coming home to Spruce.
Expect Italian comfort food such as the creamy burratina ($23), regional classics like orecchiette pasta with fresh sea prawns in a garlic-infused spinach and zucchini cream sauce ($21), and exquisite mains including melt-in-the-mouth seared tuna ($28), served alongside a phenomenal broccoli flan the likes of which we had never hitherto tasted!
The restaurant is housed in a restored colonial building in the middle of Phoenix Park, and can accommodate up to 140 indoor and outdoor diners. The rustic environs of Spruce made me feel like I was in Dempsey Hill or Rochester Park, both of which I have much affection for. The fairy lights and Christmas adornments of the alfresco dining area were a beautiful sight as I walked up into the restaurant.
My first starter that evening was the Burratina ($23), served on a bed of arugula together with long strips of gnocco fritto (or fried gnocchi), and a cup of cherry tomato salsa.
The burratina was perfect in texture – the outer shell was slightly firm, but gave way quite easily to the cool mozzarella and cream filling. I initially thought that it was a little bland, as the milk taste was not as strong as I would have liked, but after a few bites I felt more of the milk flavour filling my mouth. The combination of the creamy burratina and the arugula leaves was a winner for me, as the milky taste of the mozzarella with the nutty taste of the leaves complemented each other. The gnocco fritto was very tender and fluffy, with no oily aftertaste. However, I did think it was an unnecessary addition to a classic dish, and detracted from the burratina itself. 8/10
Next up was the Fritto di Calamari e Gamberi ($17): fried squid and shrimp served with aioli and homemade Italian chilli sauce.
The calamari were plump and fresh, with a coating that was light, crunchy, and subtly salty. The shrimp were similarly impressive, with a delicious grilled taste, and a very crispy shell. I personally love when a shrimp is fried to the point where I can munch on the tail (and sometimes the head!) and have it properly break apart, because that is where the flavour of the shrimp is most concentrated. The homemade Italian chilli sauce that came with the dish was also just sublime – I could taste the potent blend of chillies, tomatoes and pepper in the mix. 10/10
We moved on to the pasta course, and were served the Orecchiette Gamberi e Zucchine ($21), featuring handmade ear-shaped pasta typical of South Italy, with fresh sea prawns in a garlic-infused spinach and zucchini cream sauce.
I thought this dish was superlative. The orecchiette pasta was perfectly al dente, while the prawns were plump and springy – I found both components to be texturally very satisfying to bite into. The zucchini and spinach sauce was just thick enough, and the strong flavours of the garlic and the sprinkled cheese combined phenomenally with the more low-key zucchini and spinach tastes. This dish was definitely in the realm of guilt-free comfort food. 10/10
The mains arrived in rapid succession after the pasta. The first one I tried was the Tonno Alle Erbe ($28), which is pan-seared yellowfin tuna served alongside a broccoli flan and red onion.
This, together with the orecchiette, was one of my favourite dishes of the night. I enjoyed the dual texture of the seared tuna, with the outer portion tasting like steak, and the inner part melt-in-your-mouth-tender. The tuna had a subtle minty and herby taste, which kept it interesting. But as great as the tuna was, I thought the real star of the dish – nay, of the whole night! – was the broccoli flan, which was PHENOMENAL! It was eggy, creamy, and rich – imagine a quiche filling, but way better! This was a winner of a dish. 10/10
When I had managed to tear myself away from the life-changing flan, I tried a little bit of the Baccalà Bassa Temperatura ($39), which is the sous-vide cod served with a cream of chickpea, potato mousse, bacon, and rosemary oil.
Unfortunately, I found this disappointing, particularly after the magnificence of the tuna dish – a tough act to follow. I found the cod, tender as it was, to be a little too watery and slightly bland, with a bitter aftertaste. Nevertheless, the strength of the dishes makes me think this was an exception, and I’d like to go back again to give the cod a second chance. For now though, 6/10.
The final main dish was the Brasato di Manzo ($30), 48-hour slow-cooked beef short ribs drizzled in a port wine reduction, accompanied by polenta, sautéed spinach and white beech mushrooms, and topped with a poached quail egg.
I had wanted very badly to like this dish, because 48 hours seems a long time to spend on something which would turn out mediocre. However, while the short rib texture was amazing and so, so soft, the taste fell short. It was a little bland, so I had to rely on the overly salty spinach and mushrooms to add some flavour to the otherwise lacklustre short ribs. 6.5/10
For the final phase of dinner, we were served three desserts, the first of which was the Pannacotta Cuore Morbido ($12), consisting of a white chocolate panna cotta with a raspberry cream centre, served with berries.
Visually this was an absolute feast for the eyes – the colourful trio of strawberry, blackberry, and Cape gooseberry was striking, and the unexpected abstract sugar shell topper was the absolute icing on the cake. But texture-wise, the panna cotta was a little too dense, a detail which Chef Mauro was at pains to assure us was an anomaly that night. Thankfully, the taste was perfect – creamy, and not too sweet. The raspberry middle was a delightful, tangy contrast to the cream. 8/10, with a point docked for the dense texture.
The next dessert was the Zuppa Inglese ($15), meaning English Soup in Italian. The name is widely assumed to be derived from the English trifle. Spruce’s rendition is made up of a chocolate-and-custard-centred cake, baked in a meringue and served with raspberry and passion fruit sauce: think ‘Baked Alaska’, but without the ice-cream.
The look and presentation were pretty similar to the panna cotta, sans the candy shell. The meringue outer layer was not as hard as I would have wanted, but that’s more of a preference. I thought the rose taste was a little too strong, and overpowered everything else. This was only mildly memorable to me. 7.5/10
The last dessert we had was the Spugna di Pistacchio ($14), or pistachio sponge cake, with warm espresso coffee. The servers came around and served us the cake, before pouring the espresso around it. What was cool was that after a couple of minutes, the pool of coffee surrounding the cake had been absorbed by the bottom layer of sponge.
The pistachio cake was really delicious – in fact, in taste and texture, it was reminiscent of tiramisu, but without the lady fingers and Marsala. I liked the trio of coffee, cream and pistachio, whose tastes worked well together. A perfect option for those not into tangy desserts! 9/10
All in all I had a great time at Spruce. I did think that the wide selection of complex mains was a bit of an overreach, but where Spruce excels is in its reassuring comfort foods. I definitely plan on coming back to have the calamari and seared tuna again, and soak in the lovely ambience of the restaurant. You guys should definitely check it out too!
Spruce Ristorante, 320 Tanglin Road, Singapore 247980, +65 6836 5528, www.spruce.com.sg