Prego's new head chef Antonio Facchinetti
SINGAPORE - Italian restaurants may be a dime a dozen in Singapore today, but there was a time when they were limited to a precious handful: Pete's Place at the Hyatt, Pasta Fresca at Boat Quay, Al Forno's along East Coast Road and, of course, Prego at the former Westin hotel.
Back in the late '80s and early '90s, Prego was regarded as a sprawling temple of fine Italian fare. It was the go-to ristorante for special occasions and when the young wanted to impress.
Although Prego remains one of Singapore's longest-standing restaurants, it wouldn't be an overstatement to say that its glory days seemed far behind it. With the proliferation of Italian eateries all over the island, Singaporeans didn't have to traipse all the way to Raffles City just to have their linguine vongole. Besides, Prego didn't do very much to keep up with the times and the increasingly discerning tastes of Singaporeans either.
Pan-seared gnocchi filled with spinach, asiago with oxtail ragout.
All that looks set to change now that the restaurant has installed a new chef, who is bringing the rustic back into the cucina. Italian Antonio Facchinetti has enjoyed a career that has spanned the globe over the last 25 years, from Rex Il Ristorante in Los Angeles to Il Baretto in Sydney. He's brought along a clutch of his own staff, including a pizza chef from the Bangkok Marriot Resort where he last helmed the range.
Among other things, his new menu holds something the old one sorely lacked: Good handmade pasta. His taglioni with truffled cream (S$44), for instance, is a beautifully textured dish that is finished tableside in a wheel of Parmesan cheese. When it is set before the diner, the perfume of earthy truffles and savoury Parmigianino really gets the appetite going.
Strozzapreti with mixed mushrooms, Italian sausage in spiced tomato sauce.
That this otherwise simple dish is served with such aplomb is a reflection of Facchinetti's sophisticated approach to his rustic cuisine. Gnocchi (S$34) isn't served as ordinary cubes of potato dumplings, but rather rolled with spinach into a roulade, sliced and then pan-fried. They are then set on a scrumptious tomato-based oxtail ragout, sprinkled with Asiago cheese and then blitzed in a hot oven. The resulting dish is both elegant and comforting, the sauce full of rich, meaty flavours and the gnocchi melt-in-the-mouth light.
Pastas aside, the other new offerings that we tried and liked included the pizza gustosa (S$35), topped with ricotta, arugula and pine nuts, and with a crisp, blistery crust that tasted milky at the end of each mouthful. The soft shell crab (S$26) was satisfying too, with its robustly crunchy polenta crust and succulent heirloom tomatoes.
Is all this enough to restore Prego to its former glory? Time will certainly tell. But for now, there's no reason not to revisit a nostalgic stalwart that has taken pains to up the ante.
Where: Fairmont Singapore, 80 Bras Basah Road
Telephone: 6431 6156
Monday to Saturday 6am to 11am, 11.30am to 2.30pm, 6.30pm to 10.30pm
Sunday 12pm to 3pm, 6.30pm to 10.30pm