European treats at heartland prices
EXPLORE neighbourhood European restaurants which are easy on your pocket but expand your culinary experiences.
iO Italian Osteria
4 Hillview Rise, #02-01
Opens 10am to 10pm daily
Street food in South-east Asia usually refers to affordable local fare sold out of pushcarts.
However, in Italy, it is a term for dishes that are unique to each of the 20 regions, said Anna Borrasi, group executive chef of Etna Italian Restaurant.
It has one outlet at Upper East Coast Road, another at Duxton and, most recently, a new casual eatery named iO Italian Osteria.
The latter's speciality is serving street food from all 20 regions - something no other Italian restaurant in Singapore has done before, said Ms Borrasi.
Foodies have been taking to the concept as the eatery's 150-odd seats are often packed at lunch and dinner since it opened more than a year ago at Hillview Rise.
Some of the dishes the Italian-born chef Borrasi recommends are stuffed traditional Roman schiacciata ($15) with rocket and parma ham and rice suppli ($9) - stuffed rice ball with cheese that is battered and fried and baked crispy pork belly stuffed with wild fennel.
Everything is imported or made in the kitchen and bakery, said the 51-year-old, who has her son in iO's kitchen while her daughter runs the front of the house there.
She added: "I was a bit worried when I first opened iO because I was doing things that nobody ever tried before. But I've been surprised so far.
"Many Singaporeans tell me they've never tried (Italian street food) but they love it, or that it brings back memories of being in Italy."
408 Ang Mo Kio Ave 10, #01-779
Opens noon to 3pm, 6pm to 10pm daily
The Saveur group may have given up on its casual Italian concept Concetto but new contender PocoLoco might just take its place.
As with Saveur's humble beginnings in a Joo Chiat coffee shop, PocoLoco is starting small in Ang Mo Kio.
"We try not to enter enclaves like Bukit Timah, Holland Village or Siglap - there's too much competition," said co-owner Alvin Chew, 34.
Being in the suburbs means lower rentals so they can offer authentic fare at zi char prices.
Said the ex-engineer: "Every common man in the neighbourhood can try our food - we're competing with $8 sweet and sour pork and $15 fish."
That is why the appetisers, such as the baked scallops with capsicum puree, are capped at $12 while pasta dishes range from $9 to $12. Other items, such as the beetroot spaghetti, make interesting alternatives to ubiquitous offerings like alfredo or aglio olio.
There is also no fixed preparation for the meats (around $18). The kitchen makes recommendations based on your preferences so you can get fish done acqua pazza style, or choose between chicken milanese and parmigiani.
Chef's specials include oven-roasted pork belly.
Many ingredients are imported from Italy and most components are made from scratch, including dressings, focaccia, tomato sauce and stock bases.
This attention to detail requires expertise so Mr Chew has partnered with food and beverage operator Lee Tiong Leng. The 35-year-old also owns fine dining concept Ristorante Tanaka which serves Japanese Italian fare.
Thus, the dishes have some Japanese influence. "Japanese chefs do very good Italian food - their style is more refined and they are meticulous even with basics like dicing vegetables," said Mr Lee.
456 Alexandra Road
Opens Mon to Fri, 11am to 11pm
A new entrant has joined in the fray of bringing affordable French food to the masses - local chef Chris Fong, with his own modern European restaurant Horizon Bistronomy.
It started out as a mere 40-seater that opened at Punggol Settlement in December 2014, but after a year of operations, the 29-year-old Singaporean chef expanded to a bigger location at Alexandra.
"I realised there was a market for French food that's not high-end or low-end, but somewhere in-between," he said.
The offerings at both restaurants are similar - mainly European dishes with a bit of Asian influence, cooked mostly using French techniques.
His style is honed from stints at restaurants such as Sabio By The Sea, Restaurant Andre and Saint Pierre over the course of a nine-year career.
And after spending a year at Les Amis, he decided to open his own restaurant.
"I make everything I can from scratch - even the sauces, which are an important element of French cuisine.
"There's no way I'm going to use the powdered kind.
"If I partner a businessman, he might ask me to use cheaper methods," he explained.
An item on his Alexandra menu is a homemade pasta, which he does only for lunch, served with prawns and crab meat at $18 a la carte.
Dinner's bestseller is a duo of pork belly done two ways (crispy or braised) at $26.
However, it has been an uphill battle to introduce Western food in the heartland. That is why he incorporates local flavours into his food.
"I serve Kurobuta, which is good enough to eat medium well, so I serve it slightly pink.
"But people have insisted on having it fully cooked.
"So we try to teach them that it's safe to eat and, hopefully, one day, they'll give it a try," he said.
THE BUSINESS TIMES