Novena medical centre is exactly as you would expect - unremarkable corridors lined with doctors offices, waiting rooms, more doctors offices, yet more waiting rooms, and in the midst of all this, an unexpected outlier - a small and cosy Italian style cafe, serving up interesting ristretto shots.
The inside is quite small and cosy, but the limited space is put to good use. A communal table lies in the centre of the room, flanked by counter seats, and a door that leads to a shaded outdoor seating area. Tampers and espresso shot cups line the shelves, while the staff pull shots at an open bar counter lined with espresso machines and grinders. I like the concept - it's always interesting to see the baristas at work, and for coffee geeks, to see the shots themselves being pulled. This can tell you a lot about the quality of coffee at a cafe - a spaghetti strand sized column of dark black liquid slowly lining a shot cup is a sign of good underlying espresso, while a 10 second downpour of pale brown liquid is a hint that you should quietly slip out the entrance without waiting for your drink. Fortunately, La Ristretto's shots were good examples of the former, with a 20 second extraction of potent espresso.
The espresso shot had a medium brown crema, and a robust, full bodied flavour with distinct hints of chocolate. It was bright without being bitter, and potent without being burnt. The shot glass of water on the side is a nice touch also, and was used, as the serving size is a little larger than usual for a single shot. The coffee beans used were from Agust coffee roasters in Italy, which I haven't come across in Asia before, and are quite distinct in their own right. It's also interesting to be able to sample a robust Italian style espresso, which contrasts with the trend for citrusy single origin shots that are on offer in a number of cafes at present.
The latte that I ordered had smooth foam, and a large serving size. It was quite mild, but the underlying espresso shot was muted rather than being completely lost, and could easily be detected in the aftertaste. This may be the result of the larger espresso shot sizes mentioned earlier. The overall character was of coffee rather than warm milk, so despite the serving size, it avoids the easy mistake of serving warm caffeinated warm milk, rather than coffee. The foam maintained it's integrity throughout, without breaking up - a small detail, but one that's consistent with correct steaming temperature and duration, and something that I've seen a few cafes get wrong in recent weeks.
There is a good coffee menu on offer, with the usual combinations of espresso and milk, and brewed coffees. One thing that differs is the presence of shakerato on the menu (a shaken cold espresso), that I have not seen before, and something that I'm genuinely curious to see made. Prices were as expected, at 8.50 for the latte and espresso above.
Overall, La Ristretto's is interesting in that they are serving something genuinely different, and it's an opportunity to try a fairly authentic Italian espresso. The location may be an issue for some, in that it's in the middle of a medical centre, rather than in a standalone cafe. This should not deter you from visiting during non peak hours however, especially if you happen to be in the area. However do bear in mind that the cafe itself is quite small, so please let patients and staff take priority!