I left FOO’D by Davide Oldani (yes, the name of this famous Michelin-starred chef is a permanent appendage to the restaurant’s own) at the five-star Shangri-La at The Fort after a four-course tasting menu last month feeling, well, less than satisfied.
Perhaps it was because I attended Oldani’s event with great expectations. He, after all, honed his skills under some of the best chefs in Italy, including Alain Ducasse, Michel Roux Jr., pastry chef Pierre Hermés, and Gualtiero Marchesi, his mentor and the first chef in Italy to earn three stars from Michelin.
My palate is definitely not as sophisticated as his, nor as with the other guests who enjoyed the set menu. Perhaps that would explain why I did not do so as much.
For starters, Oldani prepared what he called a faux egg. The fake sunny-side-up-looking dish is actually made up of cauliflower velouté and tabbouleh (for the egg white) and a carrot and orange sphere as yolk. There was texture as rich as the flavor of the combined ingredients. But diners who are not into cauliflower, the ingredient du jour, might not take a liking to this dish. (And I could not help but ask if there was no other possible creative name, instead of faux egg that sounded uninspired to me.)
Next came Oldani’s version of the classic surf and turf. This dish was a testament to his distinct Cucina Pop style, which aims to elevate the dining experience by making luxury gastronomy affordable. Instead of the more expensive meat cuts and lobster, he used Wagyu beef cheeks and tiger prawn, served with lobster jus and asparagus. The beef melted like butter, and the prawn provided contrast in terms of texture. I was hoping for more of the briny flavor of the lobster jus and the caviar topping, but overall this dish really aimed to please, and succeeded.
The third course (a surprise entry as the plan was originally for a three-course tasting menu only) was saffron fregola served with rich Grana Padano cheese. I could barely taste the saffron, though, and I told Oldani that the cheese and the lemon juice might have overpowered it. Grana Padano is not supposed to do that, though, as it has a subtler and less nutty taste than its fellow Italian cheese, the Parmigiano, which makes it the cheese of choice for a delicately flavored risotto, for example.
To cap the set, Oldani served white coffee tiramisu. Perhaps it was because the kitchen had to serve one too many guests at the same time that the sponge cake base was not as moist as I expected, and the dehydrated merengue tasted positively dehydrated. But the coffee mousse was fantastic.
According to Oldani, he has remained true to his humble Cucina Pop philosophy of combining tradition with innovation, and keeping prices affordable.
“I am an entrepreneur and I want a restaurant that is always full. It is a marriage of quality and accessibility. And I believe Filipinos are ready for this concept,” Oldani said during our pull-aside interview.
“I have to give a chance for people to enter my restaurant. We use local and seasonal ingredients to keep the prices affordable. I am not a magician. I just use my brains,” he added.
If there is one Italian chef who can make magic happen, that would be Oldani. His D’O restaurant in his hometown of Cornaredo, near Milan, has been described by Wall Street Journal as “Italy’s most elusive reservation,” with bookings of up to eight months in advance. This is why I am hopeful that the dishes of FOO’D at The Fort will soon (if not yet) live up to Oldani’s reputation and record.
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