Forget about Michelin stars and other culinary awards. These restaurants have stood the test of time, focused on their customers and served food that truly warms the heart.
The artisanal and bespoke Italian restaurant Buko Nero is run by Oscar and Tracy Pasinato. Whilst it hasn’t been awarded a Michelin star, this cosy 16-seater restaurant still enjoys a full house most nights and remains a firm fixture on the Singapore food scene.
Offering home-style Italian cooking with local flavours, their trademark Tau Kwa Tower, freshly made pasta and homemade ice creams remain signatures from their first day of opening over 20 years ago. Dining at Buko Nero is like dining with your family. After all, Buko in Italian refers to a small family-run restaurant. This is exactly what it is.
Tau Kwa Tower
One of a kind and perfect for vegetarians. Chef Oscar conceived the idea at a wet market when he decided that the tau kwa (extra firm tofu) would be the perfect base for a vegetarian dish. He added some vegetables and, as they say, the rest is history. They did think of removing the dish from the menu but its immense popularity instead resulted in it being a permanent fixture – a reminder of where they started.
Chef Oscar’s handling of the classic Risotto makes Buko Nero my favourite go-to for this classic dish. Using Acquerello (Carnaroli rice from the mills of the famed Rondolino family in Vercelli, Italy) their risotto is prepared al dente and has a delicious bite to it. Currently, they have a most heavenly Amatriciana Risotto on the menu. I also love their Gorgonzola with aged Balsamico Risotto which isn’t always on the menu but is available upon request.
Ice Cream – homemade and a nod to Nonna
Local Singapore flavours can be found on Buko Nero’s ice cream list. Made at the request of one of their regular guests, the Horlicks and Milo are now the 2 most popular flavours. The ice cream menu changes weekly so be sure to ask what is available that week to avoid disappointment. I personally like the Expresso too when it is available.
As the name suggests, Grandmother’s Cake is a recipe that has been passed down to Oscar by his grandmother. Made from white chocolate, ground almonds and eggs, this Torta Della Nonna is another firm favourite that has been on the restaurant’s menu since day one. Tracy explained to me that each family has its own Torta and that the recipes vary from home to home, region to region. Do try Oscar’s interpretation. He has made some changes to the ingredients but it is still prepared in his grandmother’s way.
Expect a small but interesting wine list. Both Oscar and Tracy are certified sommeliers from the Italian Association of Sommeliers (Associazione Italiana Sommelier). I have often left the wine selection to them and have always come away learning something new about a winemaker or a winery. Buko Nero has just celebrated its 22nd anniversary. What does the future hold? As Tracy notes, “The food and beverage scene in Singapore has changed so much since we opened our little place. There is much more competition right now. The cost of starting and running an establishment is sky-high. We would say that only the fittest will survive. You must be willing to work hard and for very long hours”.
Citing the lack of manpower and ingredients of quality as challenges, we can only thank the likes of the Pasinato’s for their passion and for continuing to treat us to their brand of Singaporean-Italian cuisine.