The blogspace has been lighting up of late with posts about Cicheti, an Italian restaurant located in a shophouse in Kandahar Street. The restaurant is very new- which in Singapore means 3 reviews as opposed to 90 on HungryGoWhere, with a paid-for-by-the-restaurant photo gallery and booking hotline. I jest.
Does it seem to you that Singapore is just filled with Italian restaurants? Many of whom do well enough to bring their entire families over? And yet, very few of them stand out as having food that is hot to the table, home-made, consistent and not overpriced?
If that's your impression too, then we are in sync. I am hard-pressed to name my favourite Italian place in Singapore, this for a cuisine that seems to be one of Singapore's favourites. People are always asking me, so what is the best Italian restaurant in Singapore? And honestly, I can't name a favourite. I can name some good ones, should you be willing to pay and I can name you some that I pop into once in awhile if I have a craving for pasta, but something that tastes like Tuscan sunshine or a rustic Italian kitchen? Maybe it's like saying you can buy a Vespa but you can't have the riding-a-Vespa-with-your-scarf-trailing-down-cobblestone-Florence lifestyle.
The shophouse itself is nothing special and neither is the restaurant's decor, if you didn't know this is where it was, you would walk past completely. I like Baghdad Street because it's a fairly quiet street, fronting a chain-link fenced empty lot. There is little street parking so you would be well warned to find a multi-storey carpark and walk a couple short streets.
When you enter Cichetti, the first thing you see is the glassed up work space of the pizza chef, which includes the stone pizza oven suspended from the ceiling. The shape of their oven is like a cement Hershey's Kiss, kind of organic and modern at the same time. The restaurant is a mish-mesh of textures from the map-stencilled floor, to the tiled walls, some with faux drawers. The tables are rough-hewn dark wood with industrial metal-backed chairs. The restaurant seats 20 below and up to 30 (but comfortably probably 20) upstairs, it has 3 or 4 little outdoor lover seats (read: non-airconditioned) and a rooftop patio.
The service is unusually sweet and lovely. Never, in Singapore, have I been greeted as we sat, by a waiter who introduced himself cheerfully, nor welcome knowledgably with specials. At least, not at this price point. The waitstaff asked the two young-ish children at the next table how they found the food. I recognized the manager for the restaurant who told us that he had come to join his friend, who was the owner-operator of the restaurant. I guess time will tell but for now, I think this is a place with a lot of heart and where the food still tastes really small batch home-made and with the right balance of time on the stove and fresh herbs.
The menu makes the bold claim of being intriguing yet accessible, which is an interesting assertion for Italian food- not comforting, familiar, and the like. The restaurant still has specials on trial, like their excellent octopus and T-bone steak and they plan to revamp their menu in July, dropping out some less popular items and putting in items like uni pasta (which did originate from Italy). The interesting thing is, the men behind the counter were all young and they were all local. The only Italians, were the couple of tables of middle-aged ones with their families. The restaurant was booked through the Friday night and there were still odd couples streaming in at 8.30pm and 9pm.
To start, we had the burratina cheese with grilled pear and parma ham. The burrata was light, fresh, cold and just excellent. It used to be that unless you went to Oso, you couldn't have a good burrata (and they would cost $50, airflown). But I find that both Cichetti and Burlamacco (on Telok Ayer Street) have very good burrata too. The combination with grilled pear was both unusual and very tasty, the parma was a little pale and weak for my taste.
The presentation of the sea bass, in a plain Japanese department-store metal tray, also doesn't really reassure, but the fish was succulent, juicy and fresh. There was no bitterness to the fish, it was sweet, lemony and meaty. At $38, this was a fairly large fish which formed most of the main course for 3 people, so I felt it was an acceptable price and far less than dedicated seafood restaurants would charge for a fish this size.
The waiter's response to an earlier diner's diss of the tiramisu was very cute though, she said "well, it depends on your perspective, everyone likes different things". To me, that was telling of the positive service, particularly that the manager later acknowledged the sales numbers show the same and they are working hard on upgrading their dessert selection.
52 Kandahar Street