So today I was given quite an interesting opportunity to taste the revamped menu at W52. Being completely honest one of my friends is family friends with the owner Benjamin Lung (a local entrepreneur who is the man behind Va Bene, Gaia and Isola) and that is how the opportunity came about. My friend and I sat down over lunch with Mr. Wong who is the VP of the restaurant management company behind W52.
So a little background: I've actually been to W52 before for lunch back on October 1st of 2009 when they first opened. At that time their mantis prawn risotto was their signature item but I left the restaurant feeling rather unimpressed. Let me know if you disagree but I personally find there are way too many overpriced Italian restaurants producing average quality food in town. Sure, they might have great decor or location but at the end of the day if you can't back it up with your food it's just disappointing.
Anyway, the revamped menu is courtesy of famed Italian chef Chef Francesco Berardinelli. Chef Francesco is most noted for his consultancy partnership with the Alain Ducasse Group (Alain Ducasse is the first chef to own restaurants carrying three Michelin Stars in three cities) and has also opened restaurants in New York (Francesco at MIX), Tuscany (Osteria di Rendola) and Florence (Beccofino). Furthermore he has contributed to a good handful of cookbooks (trust me, they've shown me the stack of cookbooks at W52...haha). From my understanding Chef Berardinelli has just accepted the executive chef position at W52 (yay!) and will officially start work in September.
Environment: The space at W52 is spacious and lightly lit. We had a great table right next to a large window overlooking Wyndham St which was to my liking. I quite like the clean, white, modern decor inside. W52 occupies 4 floors: the bottom floor is the bar, floor 2 & 3 are restaurant level and the top floor is the VIP room & kitchen. From what I hear the VIP room costs about $16,000 for a private party of 8-10 people (about $2000/head).
Service: Since I was eating with their VP I expected pretty much close to flawless service and they did not disappoint. The waitstaff was friendly and attentive. Food came out promptly and there were no mixups.
Food: After asking for my opinion on a few items Mr. Wong proceeded to order up a collection of W52's biggest hits:
Stuffed Artichoke Hearts With Pecorino Cheese And Herbs - This is a signature item from their past menu and it lives up to its billing. If you like stronger tasting cheese this is the item for you. I'm personally a big fan of artichoke and after biting into the soft artichoke hearts you get a get burst of flavor from the Pecorino cheese. Yum.
Mediterranean Red Shrimps Served With A “Giardiniera” Of Pickled Artichokes, Mushrooms and Lemon - This is a new item and is basically the Italian version of a garden salad (Giardiniera means "garden" in Italian) found commonly made in all Italian households. Foodies talk about eating with your eyes first and I was visually quite drawn to this dish. The pickled artichokes and shemeji mushrooms had a nice tartness to them and also were a nice contrast in texture. The shrimps where fresh and I quite liked the interplay between the cooler salad and the warm shrimps. Quite nice.
Hand-carved Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio With Shaved Aged Parmesan Cheese - I was told by Mr. Wong this specific carpaccio is different from normal carpaccios served around town because:
1) They don't freeze their carpaccio which allows it to retain its original texture and flavor
2) Hard carving allows the carpaccio to stay fresh before being served to customers
Texturally it did taste a little different from other carpaccios I've tried but I would say the difference is not that easy to detect. Beef itself had light subtle flavoring and was quite fresh. Not bad.
Duo of Handmade Pastas - Mr. Wong wanted me to try 2 of their new pastas. On the left was a Pici pasta with a Sienese tomato sauce. On the right was spaghetti that had extra flour and semolina added to it (for extra chewiness) with white wine sauce topped off with a small piece of goose liver. First off I just wanted to say I am a big fan of handmade pastas. The texture is really hard to replicate with dried pasta.
The Pici pasta is a staple of most homes in Tuscany and has the shape 'similar' to Japanese udon. It had a nice chewy texture and went quite well with the tomato sauce. Just simple and straight forward which is the way I like my pasta. Pretty good.
To me the spaghetti was the better of the two pastas. The extra chewiness reminded both my friend and I of an egg based noodle we had before in Indonesia (in a good way). Never quite had pasta with this type of chewiness and it had a subtle 'egginess' flavor to it. Again, love the simple white sauce accompanying it. The goose liver I think didn't bring much to the table per say but I think I will definitely reorder this pasta dish when I return to W52. Tasty.
Roast Rack of Pork With Fresh Summer Tomato Salad - This was quite interesting since the rack of pork was prepared with a salt crust. The outcome was quite nice and almost reminded me of Chinese roasted suckling pig. The skin was crispy and salty while the meat was quite moist. I normally eat quite clean so personally I thought the skin was a little salty for me but how can you not eat that crispy skin? Haha. I wish I wasn't so full but this was quite good.
Roasted Rack Of Lamb With Basil Potato Purée And Green Onions - A nice roasted rack of lamb. Maybe a little on the pink side for me but overall a tasty dish. The rack was a little gamey but flavorful. Quite nice.
Chocolate Soufflé - To me this was the best dessert of the day. Besides being really light and chocolatey (there's even more melted chocolate to pour on top if you want) I like the attention to the minor detail. Under the powdered sugar I realized they also caramelized a thin layer of sugar (similar to Creme Brulee) to give you a bit of added textural crunch when you bite into the fluffy souffle. Thumbs up.
Mango And Mascarpone Cheese Tart - A nice fresh dessert. The cheese had a neutral flavor and I liked how fresh tasting the mangoes were. Decent.
Babà With Limoncello And Vanilla Cream - I personally am not a big fan of cakes soaked in anything more than a drizzle of liquid (gets soggy super quick). The fresh vanilla cream did provide a nice contrast against the spongy nature of the cake. Babà, if you didn't know, is a Italian cake made of yeast dough. You see it quite often presented with rum or limocello. Maybe it's just my cup of tea but it was a decent dessert.
With all the nice things said I think it is important to point out that I find their appetizers a little on the expensive side (mostly $100+) relative to their portion size. The pork chop entree to me was relatively good value for money (about $450) since you could share that easily with 3-4 people. Mr Wong and I had a pretty interesting conversation about the struggles with pricing. He described how managers will want to add expensive ingredients to dishes (to justify the increase in pricing) while chefs will argue that the simple approach is actually better. I'm on the chef's side...sometimes less is more.
Needless to say I left W52 needing a wheelbarrow to take me out...haha. To be very honest I was really quite surprised with how the meal came out. A lot of people might argue that what I got to eat might not be a honest representation of what is truly served to the customers (valid point) but I think W52 deserves credit since they were able to deliver even though they had to added pressure of cooking for a reviewer with elevated expectations. I will come back to W52.
Artichoke Hearts Stuffed With Pecorino Cheese
Giardiniera Salad With Red Shrimps
Hand-made Spaghetti With White Wine Sauce
Roasted Rack Of Lamb
Mango & Mascarpone Cheese Tart
Roast Rack Of Pork With Fresh Summer Salad
Interior of W52
Stuff Artichoke,Spagetti with White Sauce,Roast Rack of Pork & Chocolate Soufflé
Date of Visit: Aug 14, 2010 Other Ratings:
Value for Money 3