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  • Rachel Chia

Jap-Italian fusion at Dopo Teatro, Esplanade Mall

If your favourite cuisines are Japanese and Italian, do we have just the place for you. Dopo Teatro (Italian for ‘after theatre’) just opened its doors at Esplanade Mall late last month. On offer is a plethora of masterfully-crafted fusion dishes, with a romantic evening ambience sure to impress a date.

The place executes Italian favourites – antipasti, pastas, signature pizzas – with a Japanese sensibility and produce from both nations. We start off with Sakoshi Bay Oysters ($34 for 6, $60 for 12) – plump, silky, and topped with yuzu and cucumber grantia, seaweed caviar and cured lardo. You get creamy, briny waves of flavour with a citrus lilt and no fishy pong; add champagne and you’re living like a movie star.

Not in the mood for raw? The Fisherman’s Catch ($20) is a plate heaped with sinful fried delights: calamari, shishamo (smelt), soft shell crab, kawa ebi (small river prawns). Tsukemono (pickles) and mentaiko aioli on the side offer varied mouths of tang and richness; the latter is a sweet, seafood-ey western-Asian marriage of pollock roe and mayo that’s impossible to dislike. Also of note are the prawns, which are eaten with shell – a loudly crunchy, slightly prickly experience that’s a touch more interesting than typical tempura.

For the mains, pizza is a must have: the pie here is made with dough fermented 36 hours, then rolled to an alarming thinness and baked till brittle. The crust remains airy, puffy and doughy; the centre like a crisp, slightly floury cracker. It’s a texture we’ve never experienced in any other rendition, and it’s incredible – the first bite is confusion, then subsequent ones of increasing appreciation, and finally a sigh as the last morsel is devoured. The pizzas come in a range of toppings, but we like the Al Funghi (S$22), generously topped with fat, meaty sake soya mushrooms, salty halloumi, wild rockets and shiso pesto sauce.

As for pasta, the Sugo Al Granchio ($25) is a pleasant surprise: the jet-black squid ink tagliatelle is perfectly al dente, the marinara sauce kissed with just a touch of spice – neither Japanese nor Italian cuisine are known for their heat – and rich with the robust sweetness of perfectly-cooked cherry tomato. There’s enough chunks of Japanese crab meat for the price; on top is a generous dusting of cheese-like herb pangrattato (breadcrumbs) and the delicate bitterness of wild rockets for balance. A warm, homely plate of pasta your Italian-Japanese nonna might make – if you had one.

Reppin’ local produce is the Snapper Acqua Pazza ($26). The seared, clean-tasting fillet comes courtesy of Ah Hua Kelong, who also supplies Avenue 87 at Amoy Street, Vineyard at Hortpark and Cafe Fernett. The fish swims in a stew-like tomato nage with capers, olives, and cherry tomatoes. We’re both intrigued and confused by the ice plants: crunchy, tastes like mildly salted water. Like the pasta, this dish is a warm, nourishing choice good for a rainy day or after a long week at work.

With such a lineup of delightful surprises, we can’t help but have expectations for dessert, but the chef’s masterful command of fusion cooking seems to have petered out by the time we reach the sweets. The Dopo Teatro Signature Tiramisu ($16) is served in a frankly puzzling choice of crockery – an opaque cup that doesn’t show off its layers – and we can barely make out any coffee or ladyfinger biscuits. The granules of espresso caviar on top don’t burst, but are gelatinous blobs that taste like slightly bitter agar tadpoles. We can’t make out any Japanese influences.

Meanwhile, the Pistachio Cannoli ($16) scores highly on Instagram appeal, but lacks the iconic shatteringly crisp shell. The pistachio ganache within is pleasant, but the matcha gelato on the side tastes just like more ganache, with the entire medley draped in an artistic zigzag of sea salt dulce de leche. It’s creamy and sweet, and speaks of lost opportunity for a playful mikan (orange), ume (plum) or sakura (cherry blossom)-themed accompaniment to lift the heaviness. This one has potential.

Overall, Dopo Teatro is a great place for a date, with balanced, solid pairings that taste and look good. Deftful command of both cuisines, though clearly heavier on the Italian side of things. For now, splash out on the mains but hold back on the sweets, and trust that the pizza will surprise you with its unique texture. P.S – They’re having a celebratory set menu ($79.90) comprising Japanese oysters, sake mussels, pizza, two pastas and a dessert.

Dopo Teatro, Esplanade Mall

8 Raffles Ave, #01-11 Esplanade Mall, Singapore 039802

Open Monday - Friday 12–3pm and 5–9:30pm, Saturday - Sunday 12-9:30pm

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