From first impressions, Pietro Ristorante Italiano is every food snob and purist’s worst nightmare – not a single staff member, from the wait to kitchen staff, is Italian. Heck, even the chef/owner himself is no burly, red-blooded Italian. What would a Singaporean, born and bred, who’s had little professional training know about the subtle nuances and complex intricacies of authentic Italian fare? Little, it’d seem. Chef Peter Neo’s big, bubbly personality might win him star connections, but it’s not quite good enough for me, because it’s the food that should do all the talking for you. I admire chefs, actually, be it celebrity chefs or the unsung heroes at your local diner – with every single dish that is served, they inevitably willingly submit their work up for criticism, not just from food critics, but everyday goers. It’s especially daunting when you open up an Italian joint, which is a huge undertaking, because everybody is so well acquainted with the cuisine. Get it wrong, and everyone’ll know.
The restaurant, located just off Yio Chu Kang Road, at 12 Jalan Kelulut, appears as an oasis in a middle of a gastronomic desert. The atmosphere is quiet, inviting, laid back yet still proper. The moment you step into the restaurant, you’re graced with murals and canvases which evoke the romanticism and mysticism that is Italy.
We were started off with portobello mushrooms and prawn and drizzled in salmon caviar and laced with rockets. While it was good, the earthy base of the portobello that should’ve anchored the dish, had vaporized completely. The prawn, combined with far too much caviar, gave it a very decidedly floating seafood flavor which was just hanging there and not doing anything for me. In fact, it proved too much with the seafood soup after that which was to be honest, not fantastic. There were only two notes that I could taste – a tomato juice-extract, or perhaps even a Campbell soup mix, and a decidedly concentrated prawn broth which overpowered the mussels, clams and squid completely.
The pizza was alright, but the addition of peppercorns really threw me off. It just didn’t go well with the rest of the dish at all.
Continuing our course were two signatures, the pork belly with kidney beans and spaghetti vongole. While I loved the former, the latter, on the other hand, was one of the biggest disasters of the evening – again, very one note, just the garlic. It was lacking the quintessential white wine, the olive oil was obviously cheap off-the-shelf ones which failed to add to the flavor, and pepper was glaringly absent. Costing SGD 18, there was absolutely no way I’d pay for the pasta. The final main course, lamb was surprisingly good considering the lineup but then again, there was nothing to it and overall, certain things just didn’t gel well together.
DO NOT, attempt the desserts. At the prices you’re being expected to pay for them, there are far better ones. If you’re into lava cakes, Starbucks’ better. If you’re into tiramisu, Gastronomia Da Paulo does it better, and cheaper too.
In conclusion, this was an epic fail on many proportions. For a chef who claims he was trained in Italy, there were countless cardinal sins committed. First of, blaming your “newly hired” Chinese sous chef for your mistakes is pathetic – you are the head chef, and the responsibility is on you, to deliver, to check and make sure each dish that goes out of the kitchen is acceptable. One-by-one, the dishes reinforced the assumption that the chef hadn’t grasped the concepts and philosophies behind Italian cooking. The culmination of the chef’s flippant and disrespect is his complete train-wreck of a tiramisu. Despite its good looks, it was not a tiramisu, since it was, in fact, a sponge cake. If bakery chains like BreadTalk and Four Leaves can respect its basic make-up, I cannot see why Pietro couldn’t. Making things worse is the exorbitant prices being commanded for such mediocrity. If the mains were below SGD 20, and desert below SGD 5 (Canele and Bakerzin can sell tiramisu at SGD 8, so I’m being very generous… you know what, screw that generosity, even Ang Mo Kio’s Pine Garden does a decent tiramisu), I’d have been a lot more charitable. The restaurant is simply not at a level that it thinks it is.