You know all about the absentee celebrity chef. Now meet the absentee celebrity butcher. Yes, Dario Cecchini, the eighth-generation butcher with the Chianina-sized personality whom you may know from Netflix’s Chef’s Table, where a whole episode is dedicated just to him, has opened a branch of his “signature steakhouse”, the Bottega di Carna, at the Mondrian Singapore Duxton.
Now forget everything you know or have ever read about Dario, because it will have no relevance to your dining experience here. Not that it’s bad, mind you. Simply that the Bottega di Carna is yet another highly priced steakhouse catering to the aspirations of the nouveau bourgeoisie who infest this high-net-worth island. The multiplicity of non-beef options, pastas, cicccheti and entrées on the menu shows how far the formula has deviated from Cecchini’s minimalist meat-centric philosophy. There is no talk here of “responsible carnivorism”, “happy animals” or “nose-to-tail eating”, and certainly no evidence of any such philosophy, unless you count the bavette — also known as a flap or flank steak — as a lesser-known cut (which you really shouldn’t!).
Instead, you get Hokkaido A5 wagyu tenderloin, 200-day grain-fed Australian Black Angus ribeye and 225g USDA Prime Black Angus filet mignon (Can we stop this marketing-driven fetishising of “Black Angus” as if it’s some sort of trophy breed, please?) sourced from local importers. That Dario’s other branches outside of his Tuscan butchery are in the Bahamas and Dubai speaks volumes as to the sort of market he is targeting.
In short, the essence of Dario has been reduced to his “signature salt”, a salt mixed with dried Tuscan herbs pompously named “the perfume of Chianti”. And that is a massive lost opportunity to bring another perspective on steak to Singapore, as if we didn’t have enough Japanese wagyu and USDA Prime steaks floating around here already.
And another thing: If you Google around, you will see all of the influencers or media were invited to review Bottega di Carna during lunch, when the sunlight supposedly floods the room and fills it with warm, soulful colour tones. Go during the evening like I did, and the restaurant has all the grey and dimly lit charm of a pay-per-use airport lounge.
That said and done, the food itself is not bad, if not spectacular. The artichoke tart is crisp and true to itself, if a bit finicky with its micro-tart presentation. The Aussie wagyu bavette is tender and cooked to the desired medium-rare, but it is not a remarkable piece of meat by any stretch. The signature salt is pleasant, although they are not especially generous with it during the seasoning. Pro tip: Ask for a little dish of it on the side.
In the same not especially generous vein, the tiramisu “for two” is barely enough for one and I had to do an Oliver Twist of “Please sir, I want some more.” Thankfully, they acquiesced and treated me to another scoop from the massive tray. And to the restaurant’s great credit, the second helping was on the house.
I walked away well fed but feeling empty. If you are here to feel the love and soul of Dario, you have really come to the wrong place. Would Dario approve of flying steaks from all over the world? Would Dario approve of grain-feeding animals or his customers eating only choice cuts and wasting the rest of the magnificent beast that gave up its life to nourish and sustain the human race? At the end of the day, it probably doesn’t matter. Dario has been paid his pound of flesh for licensing his name and image, and we all deserve our day in the sun. Again, a reminder: only if you visit Bottega di Carna during lunchtime.
Bottega di Carna, The Mondrian Singapore Duxton, 16A Duxton Hill Singapore. (65) 6019 6000. Budget S$320 (approx RM1,117) nett for dinner for two, excluding drinks.
This article first appeared on Jan 15, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.