SINGAPORE — They say that one door closes, another outfit by food group Les Amis opens. Case in point: Lino swooped in to occupy the space once leased by Jamie’s Italian, which has quietly exited the Singapore market. After Binjai Park, Lino at Forum The Shopping Mall would be the only other Lino in Singapore, though you may have visited Lino Pizza & Pasta bar at Shaw Centre across the road, just a stone’s throw away.
With a whopping 26 brands under their belt, is it any surprise that Les Amis could pull this audacious move off? In the middle of one of Singapore’s most uncertain times for the F&B scene, at that. It’s also cavernous, spanning four units with a seating capacity of 92 inside and 26 al fresco with safe distancing measures.
Like its space, the menu here is also generous, sectioned into Antipasti (hot and cold starters), Primi Piatti (pasta and risotto), Secondi (fish and meat, Pizza, and Dolci). With 58 menu items to salivate over (it must be an enormous kitchen), I dare say there’s something with everyone. Even if you don’t like desserts (seriously, what have desserts ever done to you?), how can anyone resist Profiteroles?
To start, the Smoked Salmon Trout (S$22++) is vibrant, flavourful and pleasantly fatty. “Pleasantly fatty?” you ask. Yes, indeed. I cannot stress enough the importance of fattiness to something served as-is, sans filigree, sans pomp and circumstance. It’s just thick strips of house-smoked salmon trout cut lengthwise and served with bright dollops of yuzu mayo, chives, dill, and a subtle drizzle of olive oil.
The size of the Octopus (S$34++) should take you by surprise; at least for me, it did. Any sane person would have their breath taken away by the girth of this tentacle. Cloaked in an outline of bold char where meat meets grill, the octopus gives me great joy. It’s flavourful, poetically bitter, and tender—but not too delicate that you forget this is from a creature of the deep. The tentacle sits on a bright Palermo sweet pepper that has a sick lick of oil oozing out at its side as if it cannot bear the weight of all this fabulousness any longer. Dotted on this are capers that lend a great saltiness to balance out this intense brininess on a plate.
The Pan-fried Veal Escalope (S$44++) touts fancy-sounding things; Dutch veal loin, mushroom Marsala, fine beans. And at an eye-popping price of S$44, it is easily one of the most expensive items on the menu here. Still, it all starts to make perfect sense when what is presented hardly looks as luxe as the mind expects it to be. There are many browns from the meat, and the mushroom sauce with the fine beans is the only element to add a pop of colour. It’s ugly and, beyond looks, is also in desperate need of salt. “Salt!” the veal, beans, and pomme puree calls out. “Where did all our seasoning go?”
Pizzas, though, are where Lino truly shines. And I wouldn’t expect anything less. Their moniker, after all, refers to the Italian word, ‘linen’, which is used to cover pizza dough as it leavens—a traditional method that helps the dough ferment au naturel.
It’s probably why the Pancetta Pizza, (S$28++) feels like peak pizza par excellence, with a 12-inch sourdough base that holds smoked farmer bacon, duck-fat seared potatoes, fresh basil pesto, fior di latte (that’s cow’s milk mozzarella), Parmesan Reggiano cheese, and a dramatic runny egg in the middle which you should break and smear as needed. Is this a sinful pie? It is. There are so many flavours and fattiness on one round of baked dough. Especially those duck-fat seared potatoes. Oh, how luxurious and incredibly indulgent. All these fats would make a Keto-diet customer very happy. Minus the dough, of course. Come here, get this, and you’re good for the day.
What’s an Italian meal without the mandatory serving of Bomboloni (S$12++ for two pieces)? Look, I’ve had plenty of Bombos in my lifetime in Singapore, a trend that reached the apex of existence during Circuit Breaker as baker after baker started doling out these mounds of desserts to make staying home feel less burdensome. Those tend to lean on the larger side, so having them bombos here at Lino be this small is such a welcome convenience. The fluffy dough casing comes stuffed with a lightly sweetened hazelnut cocoa crème that oozes uncontrollably no matter how you eat it. Though, at this price, maybe a trio of them makes more economic sense.
I left Lino wondering about propositions. If predictions were to be believed, this being a Les Amis outfit would mean financial backing that would take them through some of the roughest F&B storms today. But I struggle to understand who Lino caters to and what Lino stands for. At the very least, their food is all right, which is entirely in keeping with the ideals of longevity as a restaurant in Singapore. But I can’t help wondering about this identity crisis and what it means to be in the F&B space today. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to this, but I reckon that being the case, uncertainty is what I’ll have to contend with for now.
The Forum Shopping Mall; 583 Orchard Rd, #01-01/04, Singapore 238884
Daily: 11.30am – 2.30pm, 6pm – 9.30pm