Visiting Alkaff Mansion Ristorante, Singapore
There's something truly fascinating about restaurants with a long and colorful history. You know, the kind that you just love listening to and would love to share with others as well. Last week, I had the privilege to visit Alkaff Mansion Ristorante, one of the oldest fine-dining restaurants here in Singapore and boy, was I so excited!
Back 1918, Alkaff Mansion was built by a very wealthy family -- the Alkaffs, who are spice traders from Yemen. This lovely home was actually made as a weekend retreat home and a place for them to entertain visiting guests too. Perched on top of Mount Washington or what is now more popularly known as Telok Blangah Hill, it is said that this was once the highest point in Singapore. The family continued to expand this house making Alkaff Mansion one of the most popular gathering places by members of the high society in the 30s. However, World War II happened and the Alkaff family suffered a big loss forcing them to sell their properties including this beautiful mansion. After the war, the Singapore government took over the property initially to be converted into a 33-hectare park. It was then turned into a restaurant which became very popular again most especially for weddings. Again, it closed down in 2003 and was once again awarded to its new owners -- the LHN Group who worked together with the Singapore Land Authority in restoring the mansion into one of the country's must-visit fine dining establishments that it is today. They have also appointed Executive Chef Simone Depalmas, a native of Sardinia, Italy to head the kitchen.
The two-storey restaurant has a capacity of 80-100 guests. They also have a Grand Marquee which was built separately from the mansion which can hold a larger number of diners and guests too. We had our dinner at the second storey which was so pretty. Dimly-lit, it's definitely the perfect place of dates and even for those who are planning to pop the special question (eg: will-you-marry-me-?) I was there on a Thursday night and was surprised that the entire place is packed! Wow!
They also served freshly baked bread with olive oil - vinaigrette mixture. I love the bread sticks which had a slightly salty kick which probably had cheese sprinkled on it.
For starters, we had the Fresh Octopus Carpaccio (S$24). Thinly sliced and amazingly fresh octopus served with orange slices, cherry tomatoes and drizzled with balsamic reduction. It was so clean on the palate and definitely a delightful way to start our meal.
This was followed with the Seafood Platter (S$68). A huge serving of tuna tartare, tiger prawns, lobster, sea bass and octopus. The menu says that it's good for 2 but in my opinion, I think 4 can comfortably share in this since you'll be having your main course, pasta and dessert afterwards. I love the Tuna Tartare which are freshly chopped tuna and slightly seasoned with onion, lemon juice and other herbs and spices. The lobster was very tender and delicious too while the Tiger prawns were perfectly cooked that the meat doesn't stick to the shell.
Moving on, we had the Porcini Mushroom Risotto Superfino Acquerello with Thyme (S$28). I always love risotto but with the many versions that I've tried, I have to admit that it would really take a whole lot to impress me. As for Alkaff Mansion's risotto, I instantly fell in love with the creamy texture of the risotto that stays fluffy and definitely not soggy. I instantly caught a whiff of the aromatic truffle oil the moment the plate was laid down in front of me and we quickly took photos to be able to enjoy this dish in the soonest time possible. The secret to this winning dish is the use of the Superfino Acquerello grain which according to the Chef Simone makes the risotto al dente as it absorbs liquid very well yet keeps the grains itself fluffy.
Together with the risotto, we had this interesting pasta dish which is popular in Chef's hometown -- Sardinia. The Sardinian Fregola with Assorted Seafood (S$28) initially looks like a couscous to us but it has a very rice-like feel upon tasting it. Fregola is in fact called Sardinian couscous and this is specially imported from Italy. The flavor is very rich as it has a good mix of seafood such as prawns, squid, scallops, clams and mussels. Cooked in tomato-based sauce, it reminds me of a paella only it has a milder, creamier taste. The texture of the fregola, I have to admit, could take some getting used to but I highly recommend for you to give it a try and to share as one might be too much to be eaten alone.
For our Mains (Secondi) we had two dishes -- first was the Oven-Baked Sea Bass in Salt served Flambe (S$48 - S$64). Oh, this was truly a show-stopper! The fish came fully covered in salt and flambe'd by our table side. All this time I had Alicia Key's song playing in my mind only I changed the lyrics to "this fish is on fireeeee." :)
After a minute, the fire gradually went out and the server expertly de-boned our fish. Look at the finished product. The meat was oh-so-tender and the taste was so simple yet so clean and fresh just the way a good quality fish should be.
From our guilt-free fish, we went for the Slow Cooked Sardinian-Style Suckling Pig (S$46). People would think this is similar to the Chinese-style Suckling Pig or a bit far-fetched, the Filipino Lechon but no, let me be the first to tell you what makes this so unique and different. For one, it's cooked in the oven for 7 long hours at 70 degrees Celsius. No rushing here as this technique ensures that the skin comes out perfectly crunchy over time while the meat becomes fork tender. True enough, we went wild as the knife sliced through the skin creating a loud cracking sound. Served with caramelized onions and homemade prune sauce, I just love the sweet-savory flavor playing in my mouth. I could taste some pork fat but hey, at this point, I just told myself: "Fran, you only live once."
It was definitely one of the best dinners that I've had in Singapore so far however we're not done yet. To cap off our meal we had the Fresh Mint Vanilla Panna Cotta (S$14) which was really good. I have to admit that I'm not a fan of mint but this one was really light and yummy. It's actually the perfect way to refresh your breath after all the full flavors that our tastebuds have tasted from all the dishes served earlier.
First, let me tell you about my short hike up to the restaurant. The initial plan was to take a cab since I know that it's located in a pretty much secluded place which is not easily accessible by any mode of public transportation. However, I had an hour to spare so I thought of just taking the bus and alighting at the nearest possible bus stop. As soon as I got there, no cabs were in sight! So I began to walk.. well I don't mind walking and the weather was cool and breezy anyway. What I forgot to take into consideration is that the restaurant is located on top of a hill so yes, my cool and breezy quick walk turned into a hike up to the hill. Well, I got to the restaurant in one piece but that was indeed a good workout!
Will I do the hike again? Definitely! It's a good thing I was in flats or I would have died had I decided to wear heels that evening. Well look what greeted me as I got to the top of the restaurant entrance. Isn't it beautiful?
Now, listen closely children as I shall tell you a short story about this lovely mansion.
Our dinner began with some cocktail concoctions: While Colonial (Sambucca, Kahlua, Milk & Nutmeg), Captain Wood (Barcardi, Elderflower Liqueur, Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice, Gomme and Cinnamon) and Alkaff's Potion (Barcardi, Half Lime, Brown Sugar, Curry Leaves and Chilli Padi).
I shared these drinks with my fellow food blogger Nicole and we each had our own favorites. I love the While Colonial for its milky, comforting taste. Well, I always believe that you'll never go wrong with Kahlua haha. Nicole prefers the Captain Wood perhaps because of the strong cinnamon taste which makes it really interesting. We both tried the Alkaff's Potion and found it too spicy. Definitely not for the faint-hearted! This drink reminds me of the Spicy Lemonade only its 4x more spicier.
After our meal, now I know why Alkaff Mansion remains to be one of the highly sought-after fine-dining establishments through time. The ambiance, the food, the excellent service -- these three are indeed the perfect recipe for a delightful and memorable meal and you're sure to get them all here. I'll definitely be back this time to try their Brunch menu which is available during weekends and public holidays.
Directions: The best way to get here and back to your location is to drive or by taking a cab. Should you need assistance in calling for a cab as it can be quite challenging on busy evenings or the weekend, just ask your server who will get the two friendly receptionists to do the calling for you. Otherwise, you can walk down towards Henderson Road where the nearest bus stop is located. The walk will probably take you 10 minutes.
Alkaff Mansion is located at 10 Telok Blangah Green, Singapore 109178. Call them at 6510-3068 for reservations.