By Chew Cheng Yu (16S06L), Choo Shuen Ming (16A01E), Liew Ai Xin (16A01A), Louisa Li (16A13A), Nah Sze Perng (16A13A), Vanessa Chia (16A13A)
Set among the lush trees of the gardens, with a sprinkling of water features and fountains just outside, Casa Verde put us at ease immediately. The laid-back atmosphere was present inside the restaurant as well, where the warm lighting and earth tones, blues music and cool air-conditioning made for a nice break from the hot humidity of the Botanic Gardens.
The interior design complemented the natural elements of the Botanical Gardens, from the wide, full-length windows, to the choice of warm-coloured furnishing. Dining at Casa Verde compels you to be at one with nature, with the slow warmth of the sunlight streaming through the glass panes and the lush greenery surrounding you as you dine and partake in the comfort of conversation. We explored a few dishes from their rather comprehensive menu, but despite its lovely environment, the food was generally less impressive.
House Specialty Pizza – Sfilatino Casa Verde ($24.00)
We ordered one of their ‘house specialties’, the Sfilatino Casa Verde pizza, expecting the usual circular fare. Instead, the actual dish was 6 small portions of mozzarella, ham and mushroom filling rolled inside bread (‘spring roll’ style) with a small bowl of watery, sour tomato salsa sauce. Though an interesting variation of the standard pizza, as a house specialty, the small size of the portion let us down a little. The taste did a little to redeem the pizza, with the admittedly liberal amounts of melted cheese and ham contrasting nicely with the crisp, well done bread — but in the end, we felt that it simply wasn’t enough to justify the title it held as house specialty, alongside its exorbitant price (a whopping $4 for each palm-sized chunk).
Aglio e Olio ($12.00)
Aglio e Olio, for the non-food enthusiasts (philistines) out there, is a variant of spaghetti that is cooked with garlic, olive oil, and topped with red chilli flakes. With a rich taste from the good amounts of spice, it had copious amounts of olive oil but that was to be expected. However, the portions were small, with not enough mushrooms and ham in proportion to the amount of pasta. As non-picky eaters, it was still a rather satisfactory meal, and we would recommend buying it again; if not for the quality of the food, then for the quality of the environment and company.
Italian Herb Roasted Chicken ($14.50)
We felt pleasantly surprised that the chicken came with a healthy serving of fries and greens, as some of us have dined at restaurants that only serve the chicken with dabs of sauce at almost the same price. Although the chicken was not very well marinated, the skin was sufficiently crispy and the meat juicy and well-cooked on the inside. Another gripe we had was that the salad itself only had a sparse sprinkling of olive oil — but it was overall quite an enjoyable plate. This dish gives you a decent amount of value for your money, and is recommended for those who enjoy simple, balanced meals.
Yong Chow Fried Rice ($11.00)
The Yong Chow Fried Rice is an example of Casa Verde’s attempt to deviate from its classic Italian offerings in order to cater to the desires of locals and tourists alike for authentic local cuisine. The dish infused the familiar smoky and salty aromas commonly present in hawker variants. The first taste that permeated through our mouths was the sweet, aromatic fragrance typical of jasmine white rice, in which the tantalising flavours were further enhanced by the fast flame used to fry the rice. Surprisingly, the rice grains were soft and covered with a thin layer of oil that further infused flavour into the dish — a welcome departure from some variants where the rice grains are too hard or brittle, or just too greasy for the stomach to bear. Overall, the Yong Chow Fried Rice stayed true to its origins of providing a simple yet familiar favourite that both locals and tourists would enjoy. The price of $11, however, is markedly high for those more acquainted with hawker offerings and is best left to be enjoyed by those willing to pay a premium for subtle improvements in taste and flavour.
Vanilla Panna Cotta ($8.00)
Panna cotta is a rich Italian dessert made by blending thick cream, egg white and honey together to create a delicious mix similar to the texture of pudding. The panna cotta at Casa Verde had strong vanilla tones that added to the richness of its milky taste. Although the creamy panna cotta was surprisingly mild in flavour, the generous sprinkling of chocolate flakes not only sweetened the dessert in a very natural way, but also added a twist to its smooth texture. It was melt-in-your-mouth good, and did not possess any of the artificial sweet flavours most desserts seem to parade. All in all, despite the rather exorbitant price for a small cup of dessert, this vanilla panna cotta gave us a taste of the genuine richness of an Italian delicacy.
To conclude, Casa Verde is a fine place for comfortable dining, with a cozy and relaxing environment. We had a good experience overall, and it is most definitely a go-to place to spend time with good company (especially after long walks and fun and games at the Botanic Gardens), but as far as food quality and price are concerned, there are worthier places to turn to.