At 14 years old, Chef Denis Lucchi set foot into culinary school, racking up a wealth of experience at restaurants in Europe before arriving in Singapore.
Decades have since passed, and his career has slingshot him across the globe. Now, he has a one Michelin star to show for it. Yet, Chef Lucchi remains steadfast to what kickstarted his life’s calling: honest cooking, generational recipes, and quality imported ingredients. These anchor his tenure at Buona Terra, which, fittingly, means ‘good earth’ in Italian.
One should not expect a progressive spin on Italian cuisine here. Although contemporary and elegant in their plating, these flavours are, at the heart, comforting and traditional. Chef Lucchi prioritises provenance and takes care to educate his diners about the origins of the ingredients he uses. While he also works closely with suppliers across Europe for the best seasonal finds, Italian produce still takes precedence for us and is evidenced by his new summer menu.
First, we need to talk about the butter. The Italian Beppino butter, sourced from a small producer in Piedmont, is akin to a crème fraîche, and boasts a high-fat, milky taste attributed to the way it’s made, where fresh skimmed cream is taken from the milk of the day while it’s still warm. We inhale this by the spoonfuls, as it melds beautifully with the tartness of the dried tomato soft roll and the pungent richness of the onion focaccia.
Caviar from Calvisius, a producer with a farm located in Chef Lucchi’s home province, is an especially delicate finish to a butter cone filled with Hokkaido scallop ceviche. Saffron from L’Aquila lends the star dish an inimitable flavour and vibrant gold colour. The rich notes of dried fruit and flowers and subtle smokiness in the tomato-based broth is perfection with the creamy oiliness of the Japanese sea perch and the bitterness of Liguria’s Taggiasca black olives. Altogether, it is the embodiment of a true Mediterranean dish. The same saffron is what lends the parmesan sauce of a fresh tagliolini an earthy complexity that melds well with the meaty morsels of sauteed porcinis and generous shavings of Manjimup black truffles.
The Squid Ink Acquerello Risotto and Red Prawn is further proof of Chef Lucchi’s mastery of the classics. The rice from Acquerello in Piedmont is the only producer in the world that uses a patented system that involves ageing unhusked rice for seven years, before it’s refined with a minimally invasive whitening process, and reintegrated and re-enriched with its germ that was removed in the whitening process. Butter, squid ink, sun-dried tomato sauce, and brandy are added to the rice. The Carbinero prawn, which is grilled over a binchotan oven, sits atop the risotto. Crush it with your fork so the juices splatter out for a strong hit of umami.
Where summer makes a brazen introduction is the tomato balls.These are a tribute to Chef Lucchi’s love for them in the summer, and are meant to be eaten in a single bite — just like the fruit itself. Sink your teeth into the cocoa butter-covered gelatine cases to be greeted by a cool stream of gazpacho. It’s made from tomatoes from French greenhouse grower Le Jardin De La Relabis, tomato juice, raspberry vinegar, white wine vinegar, capiscum and, onions.
A cuttlefish dish (pictured in the main image) has us bowled over. Cut to look like tagliatelle, the tender flesh is paired with summery light cantaloupe, crispy vegetables, and mint. It’s the perfect antidote to the sweltering heat outside and whisks us away to the sunbaked Italian coastlines.
Peaches, summer’s sweetest stone fruit, also show up as highlights of the mains and the dessert. It’s served alongside Chargrilled Dry Aged Mieral Pigeon, which is served two ways. The thigh of the pigeon is sous vide in butter and deglazed with pigeon jus, while the breast, charred over a binchotan, is coated with Italian acacia honey and spices. Where the peach comes into play is as a vinegar gel that’s boiled in a sugar syrup and wine vinegar, poured over the skin and core, before it’s combined with agar agar and blended. It is a sweet and tart contrast to the gamey pigeon. For dessert, fresh Italian yellow peach is served as a granita, accompanying its baked shell and a puree that’s made into a foam.
Finally, summer ends with a multi-layered tribute to the Comice pear which is Chef Lucchi’s seasonal favourite. It’s sandwiched with ricotta mousse, made from premium Italian ricotta from Puglia’s Artigiana Caseifico, and a hazelnut sponge cake that’s soaked with a pickled pear-infused syrup and served with a pear sorbet. Do note, however, that summer is a surprise here as the Buona Terra Experience is subject to seasonal produce.
Buona Terra, 29 Scotts Road, Singapore 228224