There is never a dull moment in the Central dining scene. Restaurants keep opening (and to some unfortunate ones, closing) and new concepts present themselves as novelties -- be it a new cuisine for novelty, or a twist of the classics. We foodies are often drawn towards the sparkling new restaurants. This time we dived right into the brand new L'altro, a new Contemporary Italian restaurant headed by chef Philippe Leveille(below, left) and his protege, Antimo Maria Merone (below, right). Together they create a contemporary take on Italian cuisine. WOM has sampled a few of the restaurant's signatures, and is ready to look into the novelty L'altro has to offer.
Born a French descent, Chef Philippe Leveille is a devoted practitioner of Italian cuisine, with a fine dedication to infuse French culinary techniques and modern presentation through his dishes. With considerable amount of white, grey and mirrors, the dining space exudes a chilling ambiance that may lighten up with conversations at a full-house. On one side is a view into the kitchen, opposite a street view overlooking Queen's Road beneath.
The bread basket greets the diners with numerous varieties of homemade breads. We particularly liked the olive bread, specked with bright Italian green olives. The briny olive bits offered just enough savory taste to the bread. The focaccia, round and pale, is made with the addition of potatoes to create a softer texture. We found the bread flavoured with an abundance of sea salt which allowed diners to consume them without oil or vinegar.
Presenting at the beginning of our meal is the Amuse Bouche, complimentary from the kitchen and made with the prime ingredients selected by the chef for that particular day. Ours was "Salmon Ricotta Cheese Roll with Green Peas and Seawater Foam". The Seawater foam is created by combining the briny juices of mussels and a beurre-blanc, making a light emulsion that brings out the briny taste of marinated salmon and extra crunchy trout roe on the top. The Amuse Bouche may change depending on availability and quality of ingredients at L'altro, and more often than not, the change in variety depends on what inspires the chefs as well.
Up next is a two-dish course: "Duck Foie Gras and Wild Duck Terrine, Caramelized Onions and Variation of Foie Gras". The first course is a 7-layered terrine, featuring alternating layers of slow-cooked duck meat, slow-cooked duck foie gras and two layers of tomato confit. The sharp fruity tomato confit cuts through the richness of the flavorful duck meat and foie gras, which is further enriched of its complexity by tangy caramelized red onions and dices of apples that are fresh (crunchy and tart) and cooked with Calvados (tender and sweet). It is particularly good spread on buttery house made thick Brioche toast.
The "Variation of foie gras" dish is a playful take on duck foie gras. The Foie gras Croquette is a morsel consisted of cream and foie gras, evenly coated with breadcrumbs and deep fried until golden brown. The contrast of crunch and creaminess brings forth some surprise in the palate. Next is the "Foie Gras Chocolate bonbon", as Chef Leveille combines foie gras terrine with hazelnuts and almonds as the filling and coated with chocolate. Served chilled, the morsel tasted like a nutty praline with a strong liver finish. It may not sound appetizing but the creamy texture is the only thing that reminds us of the foie gras here. The "Smoked Foie Gras Mousse" pairs Smoked foie gras mousse with a gelee made of Sauternes, a sweet wine most commonly paired with Foie Gras. The chilling sensation of melting wine gelee and a savory mousse brings forth the essence of the versatility of foie gras starring in all different element of this course. It creates some anticipation as to what other variations Chef Leveille may bring to the dish should the variations change in the future somehow.
We sampled the "Homemade Spaghetti with clams and Pantelleria capers, seawater emulsion" among all other pasta selections. The spaghetti, homemade with Italian eggs, are dressed with a sauce made with tomatoes, capers, clams and pesto, bringing a simple sauce with strong accents of briny seafood flavor from the clams and Pantelleria capers. While having cooked to al dente is standard fare for Italian cuisine, the spaghetti here are golden strands of egginess in each bite.
The dish that confused us the most is the "Monkfish bomboniera, buttered potato cream and black truffle". The presentation of fanned slices of monkfish atop creamy mashed potato did not convince us of the Bomboniera element, which conveys some form of a ‘box' or ‘parcel' and an element of surprise as diners dive into inner content of the main ingredient. Here we were surprised by the addition of cinnamon in the marinade for the poached monkfish, and the lightest creamy bed of potato puree makes this dish a wholesome main with simple flavours.
L'altro prides itself to respecting a traditional 50-year-old recipe of ‘Gelato Miramonti' served here at the restaurant. The mounting pile of gelato presented to us was surprisingly made to order in 20 minutes. Presented as a feathery cloud of light beige, the mount of gelato is almost as light as whipped cream, only better with the addition of lemon zest that lends sharp citrus notes and the ever-so-rich taste of custard from the Italian eggs used.
Served simply with macerated strawberries, the dessert exudes the culinary philosophy of Chef Leveille, that a great dish is neither uncomplicated nor elaborated, as each spoonful of this gelato brings us the flavours of eggs, vanilla, and dairy, lighten up with just enough of lemon.
While L'altro serves only dinner at its soft opening stage, we have yet a chance to sample what the full menu has to offer, and the maximum potential of the restaurant with its intended experiment to draw diners into this Modern Italian cuisine L'altro is setting itself from other Italian restaurants in the city. Dishes aside, we also look forward to seeing more of what novelty Chefs Leveille and Merone can offer in the future.