Culinary couples: Singapore and Sweden

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Appetizer at Buko Nero, a blend of rucola and pomelo

Buko Nero, Singapore

Type in the words Buko Nero in a google search and you’ll find a long list of reviews, mostly enthusiastic and positive, on this small and personalized restaurant in Singapore, located along Tanjong Pagar Road.

The restaurant with a seating capacity of not more than approximately 25 persons or 6 tables, looks literally as its name suggests, a ‘hole in the wall’. It’s an easy location to miss, being situated amongst the larger bridal boutiques and pubs that line the stretch of shophouses along Tanjong Pagar.

What makes this place special is the fusion of Italian and Asian flavours that lace most dishes they serve. The fusion of flavours perhaps being a reflection of the background of the Italian husband and Singaporean wife team, Tracy and Oscar Pasinato.

Considering the usual month long waiting period for a seating at the restaurant which, could as likely be attributed to the small seating capacity of the restaurant as to the quality of the food served, the opinions around the table regarding dinner varied from very enthusiastic to not the least impressed. It was a shared dinner on our table, so everyone got to try what the other had ordered.

The husband and wife team are clearly dextrous. From where I sat in the restaurant, I had a clear view of Oscar working through the night and I don’t think I would be exaggerating if I said that he never did look up once from what he was doing to check out the crowd in his restaurant. Crowd mingling and the managing of the restaurant per se was Tracy’s realm.

Hotel HS Milton, Sweden

Across continents and in a slightly different business setting are husband and wife team Paolo and Ellen Vercelli, who run a fairly small but warm hotel and restaurant just outside of Helsingborg, Sweden, called Hotel Milton. We were there at Hotel Milton sometime in September 2007, during our visit to Helsingborg.

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Ellen and Paolo, Hotel HS Milton, Brohagavägen 67, S-265 90 Åstorp – Sweden

Paolo, who is also from Italy together with his wife, Ellen, who is Belgian, run quite a tight ship in that little hotel and restaurant without any formal staff to help them through peak hours. We had dinner at the restaurant on one of the nights at Helsingborg and we found their food so inspiring and their hospitality so sincere, that we brought more friends with us the next time we visited them, which was two days later.

To me, the movie Ratatouille (2007), characterizes what it feels like when eating at Hotel Milton. Every visit to Paolo and Ellen’s is a culinary experience in itself that begins with a generous portion of two kinds of freshly baked breads, served with olive butter, sun dried tomato butter and rough grained sea salt. The breads are baked by Ellen every morning at 5 a.m. for the hotel and restaurant guests, served warm.

The whole idea about eating at Paolo and Ellen’s is seduction. They brought out their breads, recommended wines, took their time to get to know you and explained the foods and flavours we were about to experience. The excitement in Paolo’s eyes fired up your excitement. Ellen’s warm hearted nature made you feel instantly at home and you feel like you’ve known them for years. And in their place, you find a place to really call home for a night or two.

Their culinary experience begins with a narrative of great expectations in the next few hours of dining. Plunked down cozy and warm with breads, buttered spreads and a bottle of wine, no wild horses could’ve dragged us out of their restaurant thereafter.

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Succulent lamb served with fresh blades rucola, perfectly grilled vegetables and marinated figs in Paolo and Ellen’s own recipe.

Apart from a clever and intoxicating blending of flavours in their food, what makes Paolo and Ellen’s cooking outstanding is a non-compromise on the use of quality ingredients, right down to the herbs used in their dishes. Herbs are grown all around the hotel premises and when needed, are harvested right outside the restaurant kitchen, to go into the dishes.

Compare the rich fresh green colour of the rucola leaves on the lamb platter for example, from Hotel HS Milton, to the first picture of somewhat withering rucola greens from Buko Nero.

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Lamb dish, up-close from Hotel HS Milton by Paolo and Ellen

I think the point about couple teams is the closeness of management to the business, that in the culinary industry, is felt by customers who visit the restaurant. They love what they do and are always present for you.

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