Small plates, Italian style at new joint
WHERE: 52 Kandahar Street
OPEN: Mondays to Fridays, from 12 to 3pm and 6.30 to 11pm; Saturdays, from 6.30 to 11pm
IN A row of ho-hum apparel stores and nasi-padang eateries, Cicheti sticks out. Not that it's a bad thing.
The week-old, Italian-inspired restaurant joins street stalwart Maison Ikkoku in trying to ratchet up sleepy Kandahar Street's cool quotient. Judging by the expatriate corporate types and American-accented Singaporeans that have been streaming in to fill its seats at lunch, things are going swimmingly.
Though the restaurant is christened after the finger snacks unique to the winebars of Venice, the menu isn't restricted to Venetian-style cooking, nor Northern Italian cuisine. A giant map of Naples is plastered across the restaurant's doorway and, in a glass-encased open kitchen a few paces in, chef-owner Yew Aun Lim can be seen diligently kneading out Neapolitan-style pizzas on a marble counter top.
Chef Yew, it turns out, formerly manned the pizza station under the Japanese-Italian L'Operetta group, and Cicheti is his first independent restaurant venture, together with cousin-turned-business partner Liling Ong. To further seal their commitment to the venture, the 27-year-olds have shipped in a two-tonne Acunto Forni wood-fired oven from Italy.
So what you get at Cicheti is a menu anchored by another one of eight to 10 pizzas, which is then paired with a selection of panini sandwiches, salads and desserts at lunch; and cicheti and larger piati principali - such as seafood cioppino ($27), lamb ragout with pappardelle pasta ($23) and salt-baked seabass ($35) - at dinner.
The pizza dough is slightly chewier than at most pizza joints, and chef Yew reveals that the pizza bases get progressively thicker from the centre to the crust, making it easier to funnel the ingredients down your throat. The same dough is baked for a minute longer to create the sandwich bread, which come with Mediterranean-leaning fillings such as chicken with Greek yogurt.
From the menu, the classic Venetian polpette ($11) are juicy home-made beef meatballs pan-seared then quickly braised in tomato sauce, while the herb-butter-seared gamberi grassi ($11), or fat prawns, have a luscious smokiness to them. All the seafood is handpicked daily by chef Yew from a wet market in Marine Terrace.
Desserts bear interesting twists: A molten-chocolate cake ($12.50) is lifted with a subtle sprinkle of salt and the creme bruciata ($12.50) is a frozen creme brulee topped quirkily with candied bacon.
The 30-seat dining room downstairs is dotted with clever design details - such as weathered-oak tables, antique cameras and cowbells - while a 50-seater lounge upstairs (to open tomorrow) features a stunning "chandelier", made with 1,500 light bulbs by Canadian designers Castor Design, and a slick island bar counter where Thai mixologist Pong will shake up a mix of signature Italian-inspired cocktails and bespoke sips in the evenings.
Knock them all back as you take in views of leafy greenery directly across the street, or on the second-floor outdoor terrace with Central Business District skyscrapers and the iconic Sultan Mosque as a backdrop - all the while wondering why you never saw more potential in this street before.