Culina at Dempsey Hill

5 04 2011

Culina's De Cecco Capellini Crab Meat

I WASN’T told where the best pasta could be had in Singapore.

Towards the end of my first week, the answer seemed to be elusive.  I initially wondered why but later conceded that being in the mecca of food, I would be presented a number of options that would rival one another as to which indeed was the best.  So that would take time.  But Friendship bringing me to Dempsey Hill on Dempsey Road solved my seeming pasta conundrum.

“Ang swerte mo, eNTeNG.  Ako, one year na ako dito bago ako nakarating dito,”  (Good for you, eNTeNG.  I’ve been here in Singapore for a year before I even got here) my friend Clint blurted out as we alighted from the 10-minute cab ride.

“Well, mas love ako ni Friendship,”  (Well, Friendship loves me more) was all I could say, tongue-in-cheek.

It was already quite dark when we got there, but I didn’t miss the verdurous feel and laid-back atmosphere that struck me about Dempsey Hill.  Street signs pointed to establishments and tenants clustered in blocks.  While it would’ve been a lot easier to use these signs for what they were intended, we stayed on our adventurous path and wandered around.  We stopped for a few minutes in front of the complex directory, not so much to be able to make a decision but more like – in my case – to make humorous observations.

“Oh, I have to take a shot of Harry’s @ Dempsey Hill (for Harryboy).”

“There’s a Jumbo here.  I just ate at their Riverwalk outlet the other day.”

Jumbo! Harry's!

“Who in his right mind will eat at ‘The Disgruntled Chef’?”

The Disgruntled Chef?!

Our feet led us to Block 8 where we found Culina, an enoteca.  Enoteca is Italian for “wine bar” and is a place that often serves simple meals.  Since they also sell and serve wine, it’s like having two businesses in one retail space.  Often, enotecas would charge less, compared to other establishments, for both the food and the wine.  We accessed Culina from one of the side doors and the extensive wine selection was the first to greet us.  Immediately, like a subtle homage to enotecas on the Via Del Gesu in Italy, I was engulfed with the comfort that could only come from a small, family-owned restaurant that has a cozy dining room open only for a few hours for lunch or dinner.

Complimentary bread


The best bread! Crusty on the outside, fluffy and chewy on the inside. I was willing to pay for bread this good!


I would only have extra virgin olive oil with my bread.


Friendship prefers a mix of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

We started off with the complimentary bread, and with the first small piece torn off from all that crustiness, didn’t feel the need to even consider having appetizers.  A bread has never had me at first bite.  Until, Culina’s.  The bread was that good!  We were able to charm our way to getting a few more, but I won’t reveal here exactly how many so as not to get any of the wait staff in trouble.  (Though I did come close to offering to pay for everything we had.)

The Pasta Menu. They had me at "De Cecco"!

The explicit mention of the dry pasta brand “De Cecco” on the menu got me instantly sold to make my entrée pasta.  I’ve always loved De Cecco and have referred to it here, and here.

My favorite pasta dish in Singapore!

My first choice, “Penne Crab Meat” had exactly the sauce I was lusting after that very moment – crab meat and arugula salad with spicy tomato sauce, except that I wanted it on capellini (angel hair).  It wouldn’t hurt to ask the chef if he’d consider.  And true enough, he obliged me on my simple tweak to their menu offering.

The crab meat was plentiful and was so fresh and sweet!


I asked for some more of the baby arugula! Yey!


Before I totally devoured the pasta, I had to dump additional baby arugula onto it.


Only my remaining sense of propriety prevented me from licking this dish!

The serving portion that arrived at our table was huge.  Expertly twirled to give more of an imposing height than spread, each strand of the capellini was suffused with the red tint of the tomato sauce, flecked sparingly with bright green julienne of basil than with crushed red pepper flakes, belying the intensely gratifying heat that would surprise the uninitiated to the wonders of “al arrabiata.”  The crab meat provided unassuming, underlying tones of sweetness that would coat the tongue after the arrest of heat, seafood so fresh it could very well have come from fresh lump crab meat caught and picked by a fishmonger himself.

For a refreshing crunch, a generous crown of baby arugula salad sat perched on top, its succulent leaves bursting with peppery goodness that was more nutty than spicy.

My Winter Dream Tea on ice, infused with the essence of ginger!

I knew I ended up telling Friendship that what I was having was, hands down, the best pasta dish I had come across in Singapore.  I was gasping for breath from both the excitement of my discovery and the enthusiasm of my declaration that to calm me down, I would take sips of the Winter Dream Tea on ice that I ordered.

Culina, I shall return.

Friendship had the De Cecco Tagliatelle Wild Forest Mushroom.


Clint had the most tender, most scrumptious Steak Sandwich!


The cherry tomatoes on Friendship's plate crossed over to mine. And were so welcome!


The house water was San Pellegrino?! Hahaha!


One of the many blue "Christmas" trees that lighted up Dempsey Hill that night.


Truly, an unforgettable dinner at Culina with Friendship and Clint!

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