Italian restaurants are in no short supply in Singapore. Craving wood-fired pizzas and handmade pastas? We’ve covered good ground on that here. But there’s also more to the Italian dining scene than you might give Singapore credit for, including a Sicilian-centric restaurant, a buzzy gastrobar, contemporary Michelin-starred restaurants and even a neighbourhood joint that’s turning out lesser-known street snacks from the boot-shaped land.
Can a Singaporean chef – who's never even stepped foot in Italy, we might add – make pasta better than the Italians? At Bar Cicheti on Jiak Chuan Road, the answer is a resounding yes. The mostly handmade pastas are done fresh by Aun and his team at Bar Cicheti's open kitchen. On its spring menu are creations like the bucatini ($30) a thick and hollow noodle soaks up the fragrant saffron broth it's cooked in and finished with spring peas, seared Hokkaido scallops and citron zest. Another winner is Aun's take on classic Italian pesto: spaghetti ($28) is tossed in a blend of jalapenos and basil before it's twirled together with pistachios, pine nuts and ricotta salata. The small plates are not to be missed too.
Fresh ingredients and authentic Italian cuisine all alongside stunning poolside views – can we ask for anything more? Kick off your meal with the restaurant's signature Treccia Campana di Bufala, a 10kg buffalo mozzarella cheese from southern Italy that is plated and served tableside with anchovies. Still hungry? Order the Tagliata di Manzo to share. The tender US prime beef bone-in ribeye served with mashed potatoes, seasonal sautéed vegetables and capperata is guaranteed to leave you feeling stuffed.
This Duxton Road Stalwart has been doling out Italian dishes to Singaporeans since 2006. Named after Mount Etna, an active volcano on the east coast of Sicily, the restaurant showcases the rich agricultural produce of the region. Dig into its linguine al granchio ($28), linguine is a flower crab sauce, dentice stufato ($34), slow-cooked red snapper served Acqua Pazza-style with capsicums and other seafood-heavy dishes that showcase what the country's south has to offer.
Io has a great many things going for it but perhaps best of all is its array of Italian street stacks. In fact, we’d rather you forego the mains and do it tapas-style, ordering as many appetisers and snacks as you can manage. Among our favourites: stuffed schiacciata, a comforting sandwich with ciabatta-like crustiness that's slathered with truffle-flecked mascarpone; suppli, a Roman take on Sicily’s arancini, stuffed with ragu and served again with a ragu dip; and moreish globes of olives crammed with minced meat then breaded and fried for a salty-tart-umami flavour bomb.
TRY Porchetta (from $9 a slice). The crackling is glorious and don’t be intimidated by the thick stratum of fat – it simply melts in the mouth.
At Gattopardo, chef-owner Lino Sauro digs deep and explores the flavours of his beloved hometown, Sicily. Seafood naturally takes centrestage, with nearly a good three-quarters of the menu dedicated to it. Chef Lino is quick to clarify that Gattopardo is not about being hyper-authentic or hyper-traditional. His modern interpretations – such as the seafood carbonara, an edible homage to Sicily, cooked with little ringed pasta from the locale and rimmed with seafood broth – may not show up on traditional tables, yet his food offers a soulful quality that would make any nonna proud.
TRY Ricciola ($38). The pan-seared amberjack is meaty, fatty and so full of flavour it’s reminiscent of a perfectly grilled cut of kurobuta. As is common in Sicily, chef Lino pairs the dish with pearly grains of saffron-infused couscous.
A meal at Braci almost feels like you’re dining at a friend’s stylish apartment, with your talented friend(s) whipping up a feast on the kitchen island while you huddle around the four or five dining tables available. Quite often, the very chef responsible for a particular dish is the one to serve and explain his/her food to guests. It’s cosy, intimate, earnest and personable. Restaurateur Beppe de Vito has many restaurants in the ilLido portfolio but Braci is said to be his creative playground. The compositions are very contemporary, but there’s also a distinct undercurrent of quintessentially Italian flavours. And in spite of its Michelin-starred fame, Braci is as affordable as the setting is welcoming, with most dishes hovering around the $30 mark. Tasting menus are also available, starting at $100 for four courses.
TRY Mayura Wagyu ($78). Well-executed steaks are dime-a-dozen in this golden age of gastronomy but few are actually memorable. This one is, thanks to its brilliant accompaniment: almond foam, caramelised onions and pickled mustard seeds that impart honeyed acidity.
Put aside all thoughts of cosy, family-owned trattorias. The Jigger & Pony group’s latest venture is much more akin to a high energy bar – but of course! – that also serves some rather satisfying Italian grub for grazing while people-watching and soaking up the fantastic view of Marina Bay. Though the food menu may not seem Italian at first glance, the flavours of the Mediterranean surface in unexpected ways, such as in the golden beetroot salad – rocket leaves and feta on a scarlet bed of mole-style beetroot puree – and those juicy, panko-crusted tomato poppers. Drinks are half the fun equation – Caffe Fernet dedicates a good part of the menu to aperitivo-friendly numbers – think spritzers, bellinis and frosés and another pageful to negroni variations.
TRY Veal meatballs ($18). A departure from the rest of the contemporary-minded menu, this rustic and comforting spoonful of juicy meatballs slathered in tangy tomato sauce is as good as it gets.
For a grand Italian feast, there's no better destination to be bound for than Basilico. Weeknights are when Basilico turns the spotlight on Italy's regional cuisines – the main course selection of the semi-buffet presents specialties from a different latitudinal zone every quarter. The semi-buffet ($92) encompasses not just all the antipasti you want but also comes with access to Basilico's famous cheese room that’s piled with everything from fresh and semi-aged to even house-infused Italian cheeses (chocolate-coated gorgonzola, anyone?). Customers with smaller appetites can also opt to do just selected components of the buffet, such as cheeses and desserts. Sunday Brunch, of course, is when things go full-swing into extravaganza mode with a pizza counter, chilled seafood bar, pasta cooked a la minute and an even more staggering cheese spread.
TRY Cavatelli alla Metapontese, from the dinner semi-buffet. The handmade pasta – think narrow pasta shells, but with the sides folded inwards – is tossed with asparagus, black mussels, tiger prawns, and a dollop of sea urchin to evoke the flavours of the sea.
The one Michelin-starred Buona Terra, tucked within a charming black-and-white bungalow along Scotts Road, makes a fine case for Italian fine-dining. While the starched linen setup might seem austere, there’s no faulting the impeccable service or the creativity of the head Lucchi Denis. The food may lean towards dainty morsels but the focus is squarely on highlighting the natural flavours and textures of the produce. Buona Terra is also notable for its unusually straightforward approach to the menu. Guests taking the four- and five-course Create-Your-Own-Menu options (from $128) can choose any dish they’d like from the menu without having to fork out supplementary charges for certain items. Fancy three mains and a dessert? No problem. Consider letting yourself be talked into getting the wine pairing too. Gabriele Rizzardi, the wine director, has quite the knack for picking out wines that bring the flavours of the dishes into even sharper clarity.
TRY Scampi. It’s a well-orchestrated symphony with sweetness from that barely-cooked Mozambique scampi, smokiness from charred baby gem lettuce, brightness from the little blobs of parsley sauce, brininess from the anchovy sauce and richness from the gossamer of torched lardon.
The crown jewel of the new InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay, Publico Ristorante is drop-dead gorgeous. Granite floors are laid in bold geometric patterns that call to mind Italy’s many piazzas, dramatic green walls double up as vertical gardens, furniture set in neutral hues channel breezy coastal vibes, and floor-to-ceiling windows open out to the riverside terrace. The swankiness might also lead to scepticism but fortunately, Publico delivers. The complimentary bread basket is a good indication. Instead of the usual bread rolls, you’re served narrow triangles of pizza bianca adorned with no more than some herbs and sea salt, as if to boldly proclaim the powers of the pizza station. The menu is devoted to Italy’s greatest hits, with the likes of calamari and cauliflower fritti, arancini, Fiorentina-style T-bone, and truffled risotto. And since brunch is practically de rigeur in the Robertson Quay precinct, Publico spins an Italian twist around brunch staples with choices such as avocado toast with burrata and chilli bruschetta and scrambled eggs and black truffle shavings on sourdough.
TRY Pizza tartufata ($24). Truffle lovers, this one’s right up your alley with mozzarella, porcini mushroom, smoked scamorza cheese and truffle shavings.
Zafferano, with its expansive 43rd storey perch, has long been a favourite with the corporate dining set as well as with couples seeking out destining dining spots for a romantic date. Now with Tuscan native chef Emanuele Faggi at the helm, Zafferano straddles the contemporary and traditional with Tuscan flavours leading the menu. Zafferano is not just for fine-dining either. The main dining hall is surrounded by an al fresco terrace that offers a splendid panorama of the city skyline – complete with some very wallet-friendly boozy promotions. Our favourite: the $28 deal for free-flow house wines, bubbly and beers on Saturday nights.
TRY Gnudo ($26). Gnocchi-like dumplings, “naked” because the filling – here it’s ricotta and spinach, as is traditional in Tuscany – are not wrapped in pasta. Creamy and tender, these dumplings are boiled briefly then sautéed with baby squid in sage-butter sauce.
Exposed brick walls, vintage mosaic tiles, scissor gates – the industrial aesthetics of Amò may be popular with the trendy crowd, but rest assured that the food has timeless appeal. Pastas and pizzas are the main draw at this buzzy restaurant. The spaghetti with boston lobster turns up at just about every other table, and for good reason. It’s ‘gram-friendly, comforting, and also hearty enough for two (or three) to share. The pizzas are slow-fermented and baked in wood-fired ovens to achieve a satisfying chew and properly blistered edges. And because the pies are all pre-sliced and individually garnished, you’ll never have to fight over the toppings.
TRY Zucchini Flowers ($22). Amo has some excellent antipasti too, and this is hands down our favourite for the way the flavours play off. The richness of the mortadella filling juxtaposed with the gentle sweetness of the blossoms and the heavy nuttiness of the pistachio cream enlivened by some lemon-infused honey.
This tiny restaurant opened last year along Tanjong Pagar Road without much fanfare, but it has been perpetually packed. Some of that popularity can be attributed to its very reasonable prices – hearty pastas from $20, pizzas from $18 – but part of the allure is also chef-owner Takashi Okuno’s convincing take on Japanese-Italian flavours. The wood-fired pizzas – crusty, chewy, yielding – largely stick to the conventional Italian playbook. For a taste of Japanese influences, look towards the pasta and cichetti (snacks) sections. Among the intriguing options: tuna tartare reinterpreted with negitoro and ikura; smoked eggs topped with uni and draped with aburi wagyu; creamy mentaiko and ikura spaghetti; and shirasu aglio e olio tossed with shiso leaves, white bait and capers. Meats are excellent too. You can order as little as 100g of the wagyu cuts (from $23/100g), and that will still be served with the day’s sides.
TRY Plin agnolotti ($20). Most times, ravioli dishes come in depressingly dainty portions. This one is a mighty generous tumble of agnolotti (the Piedmont take on ravioli) stuffed to the seams with minced veal.