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Restaurant review: You’ll love the fare at five fabulous Italian restaurants in Singapore

It’s said that Italian food is the most beloved cuisine in the world. We tend to agree. So, we’ve dedicated ten pages in this issue to discuss everything Italiano – from restaurant reviews to chef profiles and more. Feast your eyes!

 

InITALY

38 Craig Road

6423 0918 | initaly.asia

As much as I adore them, Irish pubs and Italian restaurants can tend towards sameness. In the former, you’ll find cookie-cutter wall posters (“Lovely Day for a Guinness” and “God created whiskey to keep the Irish from ruling the world”) while in the latter it’s the food that gets repetitive: margherita pizza? Check; spaghetticarbonara? Check.

Mario Caramella, owner and chef at the superb InITALY near Duxton Hill, is defiantly different: “I only cook the things that I love to cook,” he says with a glint in his eye.

Which is why we’re thrown a few curveballs from the outset: the crostino ($18) is a puffy, crackly, pizza-sized starter smeared with olive tapenade, oozy hot taleggio cheese, prosciutto and endive; the straciatella ($18) is a thick blanket of melted buffalo cheese sitting atop a rich, sweet and tangy caponata.

These dual victories are followed up by pasta perfection: squid ink linguine ($18), again a dish with a difference (namely bottarga roe, sliced broccolini, plenty of chilli and chunks of fleshy prawn). It’s washed down with chianti ($12) served in a traditional straw basket (called a fiasco, by the way).

My partner’s not mad about veal tongue or horseradish, so I’ll have to save the restaurant’s signature gran bollito ($28) – a boisterous soup of boiled meats and veg – until next time. Also in my targets: stufato di manzo (stewed beef cheek), cozze e vongole (spicy mussels and clams) and acqua pazza (red garoupa poached in “crazy water”).

There will be a next time, too. With its intriguing and exceptional food, elegant shophouse setting and casual-fine-dining vibe, InITALY is kicking a Totti-style goal.

Shamus Sillar

PepeNero's roasted octopus 

PepeNero

14 Stanley Street

6222 5808 | pepenero.sg

The problem with always trying new restaurants is that you never establish a kinship with any. No one knows my name, no one remembers my face. But that’s to be expected when you rarely return to the same place in the same year.

So what does that say about PepeNero, where I dined twice in two days? The first experience was so stellar, that I returned 48 hours later to celebrate a special evening with my husband’s boss, who was in town for a weekend from Hong Kong.

Relatively new, PepeNero’s shophouse interior is upscale, yet warm – with service to match. But the restaurant’s greatest asset is undoubtedly the chef, Italian Marco Violano, who works both the back and front of the house with ease and charm. He approaches our table and asks, “Shall I just fix something up for you tonight?” By all means.

We kick off with Parma ham cannelloni filled with creamy burrata, wild rocket and vibrant cherry tomatoes ($18) – all from Italy. My companion says, “I have tasted burrata all over the world, and this has got to be one of the best I’ve ever had.” The next course – a millefoglie of organic eggplant with buffalo mozzarella and San Marzano tomato sauce ($21) – is equally impressive. Crispy leeks add the only crunch to a roasted octopus and vegetable caponata ($22) dish, the octopus is so tender you can cut it with a fork.

Marco returns with a dish of red wine and instructs us to dip the cracker-like tarallini from the bread basket into the wine. As we pop morsels of softened bread into our mouths, he says, “We always eat these like this back home in Puglia.”

The homemade spaghetti ($19) served al dente with tomatoes and basil is as perfect as pasta can be. The grilled beef tenderloin with Ratte potatoes ($34) is also a winner, as are desserts of molten chocolate fondant ($16) and persimmon cream with banana ice cream ($9).

Monica Pitrelli

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Antipasti never looked better at Prego 

Prego

Fairmont Singapore Level One

80 Bras Basah Road

6431 6627

“It’s never just spaghetti with Antonio Faccinetti!” goes the promotional tagline for Prego’s new chef. And though the neighbouring table is slurping spaghetti marinara with gusto, the handmade gnocchi, strozzapretti and tagliolini really are something different.

Those succulent pinwheels are pan-seared gnocchi filled with spinach, asiago cheese and oxtail ragout ($34). Tagliolini truffle in a Parmesan cheese wheel ($44) is served at the table straight from the cheese – a heap of yummy decadence.

Back to the start: our antipasti platter ($5 per item) features Parma ham and mortadella, plus olives, marinated mushrooms, pesto mozzarella balls and anchovies. It’s served from the impressive antipasti counter located on your left as you enter, guaranteed to get the juices flowing on cue. Grilled Tomino cheese ($26) with fresh figs, arugula and balsamic glaze comes next; delicious polenta-crusted soft shell crab ($26) is inspired by a Venetian version that is usually served on polenta. It’s accompanied by exquisite heirloom tomatoes in three varieties: red, purple and green.

A small pizza gustosa, topped with ricotta, pine nuts and rucola ($35) keeps things light, so we just about have room for a delicate vanilla panna cotta with fresh berries and a hearty tiramisu ($14 each).

Our favourite sommelier, Britte Geise, helps turn a lovely meal into a great experience: Italian La Tunnella Sauvignon Blanc 2011 with the antipasti; a marvellously grapey German Gunderloch Riesling 2012 with the grilled cheese; Falanghina Feudi di San Gregoria 2010 with the crab and the pizza; then Attems Pinot Grigio 2011, Primitivo San Gregoria 2010, Nippozzano Riserva Chianti 2008 and Dönnhof Riesling 2011 for the rest. No, no! – we didn’t drive home.

Prego is one of our favourites – a big, busy restaurant that can turn over 500 covers on a good night. Knowledgeable staff members deliver reliably great food and extra-friendly service; they never disappoint.

Verne Maree

Gnocchi al ragu Toscana 

Trattoria Nonna Lina

4 Craig Road | 6222 0930

Italians are famously loyal to their mamma’s home cooking, so when a little family-run Italian restaurant recently popped up in Chinatown, with cheery yellow walls and bright lights, mamma’s cooking called. In this case, both mamma and son are cooking – she stays mainly in the kitchen while Chef Simone frequently appears to serve the dishes, urging you to “Mangia! Mangia!” before it gets cold.

The chef’s wife, Singaporean Josephine, works front of house welcoming everyone in. It’s a quiet Friday night – there’s a family with two well-behaved toddlers beside us, and a table of two women. Though the setting is very casual, the menu indicates something more upmarket, both in the dishes being offered and the prices charged.

Seafood features in abundance – the chef and his family are from Porto Santo Stefano in Tuscany. An appetiser of cured carpaccio of tuna and swordfish ($18) is light and fresh and spaghetti with sea urchin in white wine ($33) is delightfully moreish. Homemade gnocchi al ragu Toscano ($27) is another winner; a wonderful, meaty, comforting dish. Other dishes, including some house specialities, did not impress as much.

A refreshing palate-cleanser of zingy lemon sorbet arrives; it’s made by Nonna Lina (the chef’s grandmother), with a handmade limoncello imported from Italy.

Everything from the focaccia, pasta and gnocchi to the beautifully dense, coffee-flavoured tiramisu is lovingly made in-house. We hope this in itself pulls them through – the competition is tough.

Beate Baldry

Pietro Ristorante Italiano

12 Jalan Kelulut (near Hougang Avenue 3) | 6484 5528

Good news for those of us who live around Yio Chu Kang: there’s a local celebrity chef in the neighbourhood, Chef Peter Neo. His restaurant is a great place to hold a private party but, most importantly, it’s somewhere to get a great Italian meal.

I prefer to sit outside even though the restaurant is in a small neighbourhood shopping centre with no special view apart from the large painting of Venice above you.  

Chef Peter’s fans have followed him out to the “hood”. His journey from Raffles Hotel to a stint in Italy has equipped him with 31 years of culinary experience. In his affable way he introduces me to some of his signature dishes; starters zuppa di mare ($12) and funghi portobello ($20). The soup’s prawns, clams, mussels and squid made it a bit too fishy for me, but the mushrooms baked with crabmeat, prawns and gorgonzola were delicious.

Pizza ($26) and carbonara (a true Italian one without cream) were on the cards for the kids. I saved myself for total indulgence – the pork belly ($25). Roasted with porcini, kidney beans and apple sauce, it was perfectly moist with the crackling both crunchy and chewy. Molto delizioso.

Peter’s good at doing alternative versions of traditional lava cake ($14.80). I didn’t choose his new Frutti one but went for the alcohol-laced one which had enough rum to put hairs on a sailor’s chest! It was yummy, and big enough to share; I don’t think I could have finished it on my own as it’s very rich. 

With reasonable prices and no parking to worry about, this a great place to go with the family or especially with a group.

Rebecca Bisset

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