“Fernweh” is a German word for a longing for far-off places.
It comes from “fern”, meaning far, and “weh”, which translates to pain or ache. In our forced isolation, this woeful, lesser-known expression feels more appropriate than “wanderlust”— a term that now seems somewhat overly cheerful, as if all that’s between us and a Caribbean holiday is merely a decision to hop on a plane. Unfortunately, life as we knew is no more. Go figure.
While we’re pining for foreign lands, Chef Andrea De Paola is also experiencing what Germans call “heimweh”, or homesickness. So he’s put together a menu of splendid dishes that would lure any travel-starved hoping for a spot of escapism through recipes inspired by the places he’s been. It helps, too, that Zafferano is perched atop the 43rd floor of the Ocean Financial Centre. After all, it’s the closest we can get to the sky right now.
The clientele filling up Zafferano would agree. On the cloudy Wednesday afternoon I visited, the rooftop restaurant was pleasingly busy. And even though it’s operating on a smaller manpower (some are stuck in their home countries), service throughout is well-drilled and observant. They make sure your glass of water stays full and warm, and there’s always bread, baked in-house every morning, to nibble in between courses.
After a series of luscious, cheesy amuse bouches — which include a little cup of piedmont cheese, almond cream and burrata foam served with a drop of century-old balsamic vinegar — we began our five-course traipse around the world with a single red prawn from Sicily laying atop of a disc of foie gras, which is commonly savoured in the north of Italy. Cured with fermented orange juice (sous-vided for three days before extraction) and other aromatics, the plump, delicate and slightly mushy shellfish is coated with a “shichimi crumble” made with Italian rice and prawn emulsion. Its bed of smooth goose liver takes just as much work: whole foie gras is cured in marsala wine for days, then sous-vided, shaped and dusted in a pink cocoa butter-beetroot powder. This beautifully complex, pink-hued dish is a sublime representation of Chef Andrea’s roots in both ends of Italy, and already, it set the bar high for what’s to come.
Taglioni arrives glazed with bisque, sparingly seasoned with Calabrian chilli oil, accented with fresh Amalfi lemon zest and topped with a generous blob of hand-picked Alaskan king crab meat. I inhaled the eggy, al dente noodles in about three big mouthfuls, momentarily transported to a sun-drenched waterfront restaurant in Naples. When our server came around to clear the table, he asked, ceremonially, about the pasta. “It’ll be perfect if there were more,” I reply.
But I didn’t get a second serving. Might as well, because we have three more courses to go. Chef Andrea decides that we’re done with his motherland for now, and brings us closer to home with a chunk of charcoal grilled Kinmedai fish resting on a heap of leafy sauteed chard and a pool of coconut and basil emulsion. Thailand comes to mind. The last savoury plate, in comparison, is less straightforward. Beef and mushrooms are a classic Italian pairing, but the Manzo Giapponese is uplifted with piquant jus made with Nepalese timur berries, which tastes and smells like Sichuan peppercorn (the two are cousins). I’m not quite sure which continent we’re supposed to go in this case, but it’s delightfully acquiesced nonetheless.
Dessert is gorgeous to look at. Assembled to resemble a snapshot of a forest in autumn, it’s a dark chocolate lover’s paradise, with mousse spheres, crunchy nuggets, shards and crumble crafted from Itakuja chocolate, which boasts fruity aromas alongside the rounded flavours of Brazilian cocoa. Dehydrated shimeji mushrooms, toasted with sugar and cocoa butter, gives it a slightly earthy, nutty edge, while elderflower jelly perfumes our pretty little edible garden with fresh floral notes.
Simplicity is clearly lost in this refreshed menu, but when “simple” is pretty much all we can muster on the ground right now, Zafferano’s elaborate culinary odyssey is a dreamy diversion we all need from time to time.
Zafferano, Level 43 Ocean Financial Centre, 10 Collyer Quay, Singapore 049315, +65 6509 1488.
(All images: Zafferano)