When I hear “Italian-Japanese fusion”, I immediately think of the usual casual dining spaghetti and “hamburg” steak joints like Pasta De Waraku, Bene Spaghetti and Saizeriya, or in other words, typical yoshoku (洋食), referring to Japanese-style western food, which I am a big fan of. I wasn’t expected anything of the likes of NUVO, tucked away in a tranquil and quiet corner of Marina Square’s The Dining Edition (just next to Bangkok Jam).
NUVO can be most accurately described as an Italian restaurant which uses a touch of Japanese ingredients. It is Japanese-inspired rather than Italian-inspired with its whole concept built on bringing the best of both worlds together; a fusion of both Italian and Japanese ingredients and techniques. You’ll find smatterings of ingredients like azuki beans, shimeji mushrooms, and lots of yuzu (yes, yuzu is now mainstream) peppering the menu, all prepared with Italian cooking techniques. Imagine a hint of miso in your Squid Ink Gnocchi or crunchy edamame in your Lobster Risotto.
Executive Chef, Mark Richards, is the man behind NUVO’s innovative menu. Every dish was created rooted in traditional recipes and techniques, but given wings with a contemporary twist here and a modern tweak there. With more than 16 years of experience in the culinary world, he now pushes the boundaries and adds playful flavours to otherwise typical recipes, resulting in a heightened dining experience. Reading the menu, you’ll never imagine how unique and exquisite his creations are in terms of taste and texture until you’ve placed a spoonful into your mouth.
NUVO Restaurant and Lounge Entrance
Interesting paintings adorn the walls of NUVO
Wandering into NUVO, I was struck by how quiet the place was and wondered to myself, “Why is this place in such an obscure nook of The Dining Edition?”
True, the location lends the restaurant a calm that isn’t seen in most restaurants these days that are bustling during the dinner hours, and this indeed creates an intimate and cozy experience, but it was also very quiet that evening – perhaps Tuesday was too early in the week for a splurge? But the upside is, it is sitting on a gold mine with its prime location that will definitely work during the F1 period – the restaurant overlooks part of the race tracks! No need to fork out an arm and a leg for a birds eye view in a hotel room in the city. You might want to jot NUVO down into your little black book.
If you’re looking for a hidden gem for private dinners, I think this is it. It is no coincidence I assume, that the logo appears to take on the shape of a precious-cut gem.
The open kitchen concept allows diners to peer right in
The restaurant is decked out in beautiful gold and brown tones with plenty of seating variations, smaller tables for twosomes or longer tables for bigger groups gathering together for a dinner and tipple after. There is even an alfresco area (perfect for drinks) and a lounge. This definitely works out as a place to entertain, wine and dine. Aside from being an elegantly designed restaurant and lounge, NUVO, also entertains diners by allowing them to peek into the kitchens with its open kitchen concept.
Woody tones accompanying golds permeate NUVO
Dining here will be a slightly pricier affair from the usual. It’s not quite casual dining and sits at the higher end of the casual dining spectrum.
If you’re going for the full works of a starter to share, one main each (or maybe pasta dishes) and a dessert for sharing, your bill (at its leanest) will come up to around $77++ and this is good for probably two people.
Flora and I grabbing a selfie the moment we found a good source of light
I had the pleasure of dining here on invitation of one of my favourite girls (I have only just met her in the past year or so and it seems like I’ve known her for a gazillion years), Flora. We’re both big fans of Japan and everything about it which makes the food there uhhhh-maaayyy-frickin-zeeng and I swear after coming home from Japan, as I have been telling one too many friends, I have very low standards for anything remotely related to Japanese-anything in Singapore. Yes, I’m still having a Japan Hangover since October. It’s just that the freshness, quality of produce, the taste, and balance just doesn’t compare. Or so I thought…
NUVO was a real (pleasant) surprise and a fantastic way to really start off my week. The quality of the food here is excellent. My only little grouse is that service was more reactive than seamless, which I found quite odd because it really is a rather nice restaurant and in that environment and price-point, I had expectations of intuitive service weaved into the core of the restaurant operations, from ensuring that glasses were filled with water when they are running low to offering of serving spoons. That said, service was polite, accommodating, and prompt when requested.
Complimentary house-baked bread served with butter
To start off the meal, we were presented with a basket of house-baked bread and butter, served nice and warm.
My first question to Flora was, “How’s the butter?” Most of the time, when having bread from the bread basket of restaurants, the bread isn’t much to talk about, so I find that if the butter is rich and creamy, then the bread tastes great. Otherwise, I’ll skip these carbs. But surprise, surprise, the bread served was soft and so very fluffy, making it very enjoyable to eat. On it’s own, it was already savoury with a hint of cheesiness and there was actually no need for the butter. Loving NUVO already.
The Warm Japanese Mushroom Salad, pre-toss
Spinach covered with truffle oil, pine nuts and shimeji mushrooms
Starting off with a Warm Japanese Mushroom Salad ($18++) was just what the doctor ordered. Even while I’m calorie counting and watching my diet closely, I don’t really take to the idea of scarfing down a salad. The Warm Japanese Mushroom Salad doesn’t look like much but the blend of aromas and flavours are to die for. It is my favourite dish of the night. (Who knew a salad could win this soft spot?)
The joy of eating this begins from the moment, after tossing, when the greens (baby spinach in fact) sits in the bowl and glistens from the generous drizzles of aromatic truffle infused dressing. The combination of textures are so good. The crispy golden brown sliced onions complement the crispness of the leafy baby spinach. The pine nuts are rich, nutty and works so well together with the fresh asparagus to create a break from the leafy texture of the salad. And of course, a salad can always benefit from springy spongy shimeji mushrooms!
Delicious, delicious mix of flavours
While it sounds a little heavy on flavour with nuts, mushrooms and on top of that a truffle infused shoyu dressing. The Warm Japanese Mushroom Salad was actually very light and refreshing. I thought I’d only have a nibble of this for the taste, but I ended up having a pretty good portion of it. I blame it on the addictive pine nuts! So much for I’ll keep to a couple of mouthfuls per dish at this tasting.
If you’re considering ordering another item from the starters menu, aside from the prerequisite salad, you might want to give one of NUVO’s signatures, the Angus Osso Buco Stew ($28++) a go. The osso buco is a subtle but classic Italian dish. For NUVO’s rendition, the roasted bone marrow is stewed with plenty of shimeji mushrooms and then topped with a sprinkling of pickled crumble. The Angus Osso Buco Stew is then paired with bite-sized deep-fried breaded Tsukiji Oyster Fritters that gives this dish such a distinctive Japanese feel to it. Flora, who doesn’t like raw oysters much, and I, not much of an oyster eater myself, found the oysters very fresh and palatable.
I definitely was taken aback at first as I tried to understand the mix of flavours and textures in the Osso Buco Stew. This starter is very full-bodied and flavours are strong. If you and your dining companions are really looking for something that packs a punch, the Angus Osso Buco Stew is something you’ll love and wish came in a bigger portion. Lighter eaters may want to skip this and keep tummies ready for the mains and pastas at NUVO which can be very heavy and rich.
Baked Olive Black Cod swimming in a wonderful creamy lobster bisque concoction
Our first brush with their mains was with the Baked Olive Black Cod ($35++), another of NUVO’s signature dishes which was highly recommended to us by Kherray from Relish who was hosting our tasting session. Baked black cod topped with saltish espresso-infused black bean sauce sits atop a bed of baby potatoes, pepperoni bits and hon shimeji in a lake of sinfully decadent lobster bisque cream sauce.
Such enticing buttery flakes of cod
The black cod is beautifully browned at the top and perfectly soft and tender on the inside
The beautifully browned fish was crisp on the outside and remarkably smooth and buttery on the inside and I absolutely loved this. Each flake of baked cod was just so moist and creamy.
I have to say, Chef Richards, has a really heavy hand. The strong flavours from the espresso black bean sauce and the savoury lobster bisque sauce is quite a full sensory assault on the taste buds. I thought this distracted a little from the natural delicious taste and texture of an incredibly fresh piece of cod, which perhaps would have been best eaten accompanied with lighter sauces and components, but the dish was still interesting and stands out with its one-of-a-kind combination of savoury tastes.
The Smoked Uni Carbonara is the most expensive pasta dish on the menu and it makes sure to leave an impression
We were very sure to order at least one pasta dish and we couldn’t have picked a better one: the Smoked Uni Carbonara ($38++). The humble carbonara is given an upgrade. NUVO’s kitchens whip up absolute magic by combining mugi cha smoked uni, applewood smoked bacon and crayfish into a lush, velvety cream sauce. And as with any carbonara, there’s a runny onsen egg presented in the middle which waits to be poked for the yolk to flow into the pasta and cream sauce mix. Trust me, this is a must try on the NUVO menu.
A runny onsen egg completes this perfect plate of carbonara
Delicately poking the onsen egg
Not overcooked, the yolk runs over and into the cream sauce waiting to be mixed in
Alone without the yolk and egg mixed in, the cream sauce alone is so indulgent and comforting. With the yolk bursting into the cream sauce, it is just heavenly. I thought it would be way too much since everything was already a big bowl of richness, but the yolk really elevated the flavours and helped tie the entire dish together. Wonderful, wonderful.
The truffle soil was both crunchy and sweet while bringing with it the aroma of truffle. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was exactly. Perhaps truffle-dusted sugar bits? I can’t be sure. While I like my savoury food, more salty than sweet, for such a creamy dish like the Smoked Uni Carbonara, having the truffle soil really made the entire experience of eating the pasta so easy. I never tired of heaviness because the sweetness from the truffle soil would occasionally break up the creaminess.
Fatty kakuni is served with seaweed fries and coleslaw
I know what you’re thinking. This is looking very scary and super decadent at the very same time. The Kurobuta Pork Belly ($32++) is an exercise in restraint for me. Should I skip having any of the luscious fatty parts of the kakuni? It comes with crispy seaweed fries, coleslaw (with sweet raisins) and karashi aioli.
This was top on my list to try when I checked out the NUVO website. I saw the gorgeous slab of pork belly and I told myself, I know I am not supposed to, but I must at least have a small slice of this.
Absolutely decadent and not a waste of your calories
Revealing strings of kakuni as I cut it into smaller slices with ease
While I did not have the fats and separated that from the meat, the kakuni was generally melt-in-the-mouth tender and so very well-seasoned and marinated, bursting with umami.
The starch in this dish is pretty self-explanatory. It’s seaweed flakes sprinkled onto large fat deep-fried french fries. It wasn’t too saltish and was crispy and didn’t become soggy easily. It tasted fab with the aioli dip.
If you’re going to have this, make sure you select your starter carefully and don’t be greedy – if you can opt to share your starters and desserts because portions at NUVO are hearty. I am really loving NUVO but I do find that everything is uber rich and tasty. Having dish after dish that’s so full-flavoured and strong can really become too much of a good thing and very jelat (Singaporean slang meaning overwhelming or too much of a certain taste).
Interesting use of dehydrated fruits in this panna cotta
Colourful fruits really whet the appetite even as we reach the tail end of the meal
Absolutely photogenic, the Wild Honey Panna Cotta ($16++) scores points big time just for being pretty. Unlike most panna cottas, the vanilla bean panna cotta from KUVO is airy, not the least bit dense and is just the right type of sweet. This means that even after a heavy meal, this actually feels really light.
Of course, the full portion is pretty huge and there’s plenty of dehydrated lychees, oranges, and slices of fresh strawberries to go around, so eating this alone may be a challenge if you don’t have a separate stomach for desserts. My recommendation is to share this with your dining companions.
Fig and Honey ice cream, one scoop of that, topped with almond flakes
Just the right amount of ice cream to go with this Fuji Apple and Parmigiano-Reggiano Torta
And finally, the last dessert of the night to end off on a sweet note was the signature Fuji Apple and Parmigiano-Reggiano Torta ($14++). We were game to try the Japanese Kinako Delight ($12++) because we spotted several ingredients that are all the rage now and trending like honeycomb and azuki beans in the menu for that dessert, but Kherray insisted we go for the Fuji Apple and Parmigiano-Reggiano Torta. When we heard her insist on it, we knew we were in for a treat.
We got a scoop of Fig and Honey ice cream which has a subtly smokiness. When taken with a little bit of the Fuji-Apple infused torta which has an interesting texture between cake and bread. It crumbles like a cake would, but also has the density that reminds me a little of bread and it had a delightful cheesy aftertaste as well. Having both together, I had to agree that it was an excellent combination of savoury meets sweet.
With Kherray and Flora, thank you both for being such awesome dining companions
Dinner at NUVO was so much more impressive than I allowed myself to imagine. It is not everyday that I am blown away and that day I admit I was.
The restaurant delivers a memorable dining experience through Chef Mark Richard’s unconventional and modernist menu. If you’re up for something different and you’re ready for a whole new world of explosive flavour pairings that veer away from the ordinary Italian or Japanese fusion cuisine, NUVO is really the restaurant to dine at.
Thank you Relish PR and Flora for the awesome invitation to join you both for the tasting session at NUVO.
Marina Square, No. 6 Raffles Boulevard,
#02-100, Singapore 039594
Open Daily from 11:30am to 3:00pm and 5:00pm to 10:00pm.