You’ve had your fair share of pizzas and pastas, but how well do you really know Italian food? We zoom into the regions where your favourite taste of Italia comes from, and delve into some iconic restaurants over the past four decades in Singapore.
Campania: pizza and mozzarella
History of region/cuisine:
Naples is best known for their Neapolitan-style pizza (only considered one when baked in a wood-fired oven), especially the Margherita. It was first baked in 1889 in honour of Queen Margherita of Savoy, and topped with the colours of the Italian flag: mozzarella (white), tomato (red) and basil (green). Campania is also home to 80 percent of Italy’s water buffalos, producing the largest quantities of buffalo mozzarella.
Where to go: Latteria Mozzarella bar. Opened in 2011, it’s now under general manager Daniele Fiore’s stewardship. Focuses on a wide range of fresh buffalo milk mozzarella specifically from Solerno, Campania, flown in weekly.
Who: Chef/owner Marco Caverni.
Specialises in: Dishes such as stracciatella, eggplant caponata and pine nuts ($23), slow roasted lamb shank, chickpeas and red wine casserole ($36) and raspberry and pistachio meringue cake ($16). Sun-Fri12-2.30pm and Mon-Sun 6.30- 10.30pm. 40 Duxton Hill. Tel: 6866 1988
Where to go: Al Forno (which means “at or from the oven” ). Opened since 1995, offering rustic tastes of Amalfi Coast (the most scenic coastline). The interiors with their classic wooden chairs date back to the beginning, even pricing of their coffee and tiramisu remain unchanged at $9 then and now.
Who: Chef and owner (since 2014) Alessandro Di Prisco from a small town in the south of Italy came to Singapore when he was 21. Married to a Singaporean with two children and a dog named Spike, they live close to the restaurant in the Siglap area. “For me, it’ll never be about the glory. At the end of the day, Al Forno has always been about its people–if they’re happy, I’m sure we’ll be fine,” he says.
Specialises in:Authentic wood-fired pizzas like the classic margherita ($22) and marinara ($21), or custom pizzas (from $22). Daily 12-2pm, Mon-Fri 6.30-10pm and Sat- Sun 5.30-10pm. 400 East Coast Road. Tel: 6348 8781
History of the region/cuisine: The Greeks introduced fish into the Sicilian diet. As many as 150 species of fish were eaten throughout the island then.
Where to go: Gattopardo Ristorante de Mare, opened since April 2010 with a switch from Italian grill and pizza bar to seafood restaurant.
Who: Chef-owner Lino Sauro arrived in Singapore in 2006, and proudly introduces himself as a “traditional village boy” . Born in Gangi, a tiny mountain village in Sicily, he started his culinary journey at the age of 15. “It is difficult to think of Sicilian food without thinking of fresh seafood,” he says, preferring to showcase fresh catches from the Tyrrhenian Sea. His family also owns a farm that is almost a hundred years old. They harvest the 200 olive trees and press their own oil. For the first time this year, chef Lino has bottled them under the Gattopardo label, available for retail at the restaurant.
Specialises in: One of the first to use gambero rosso (Sicilian prawns) in his dishes, such as the carpaccio di rosso di mazara, olio al cerfoglio, colatura di alici ($30). Of notable mention is the zuppa di pesce Gattopardo ($42) and bucatini con le sarde, wide spaghetti with fresh sardines, wild fennel, raisins and pine nuts ($32). Mon-Fri 12-2.30pm, Mon-Sat 6.30-10.30pm. 34/36 Tras Street. Tel: 6338 5498
Tuscany: the Florentino steak
History of the region/cuisine: The land of simple and honest flavours based on the Italian idea of cucina porcera or “poor cooking” . Roasted meats serve as the base of most traditional Tuscan meals, and the most popular of them all is the bistecca alla Fiorentina (the Florentine T-bone steak). An exceptionally thick cut of meat which usually weighs three to four pounds originating from Valdarno and Mugello, and from a special cow breed, the Chianina.
Where to go : Ristorante Pietrasanta, established in 2008.
Who: By brothers Guiseppe and chef Loris Massimini, who also established two outlets of La Pizziola.
Specialises in: Pizzas and the Fiorentina alla griglia, patate arrosto, insalata di fagioli e rucola, basically, a grilled 1kg Angus T-bone served with roasted potatoes, beans salad and rocket salad ($142.90). Mon-Fri 11.45am-2.30pm, Sat-Sun11.45am- 2.45pm and daily 5.45-10.30pm. #01-03, 5B Portsdown Road. Tel: 6479 9521
History of the region/cuisine: Lying in the fertile Po River Valley, Emilia Romagna also known as Italy’s food basket, produces exceptional wheat, butter, cheese and a variety of cured meats. Blending Byzantine traditions and Lombard customs, the region’s cuisine has some of the richest foods including balsamic vinegar, prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano- Reggiano and mortadella (Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati as well as Ducati motercycles are manufactured here too).
Where to go: & SONS Bocaro, started in 2014, an Italian cafeteria by day and trattoria by night, making its own specialty-cured meats and salami on premises in a custom-made curing room.
Who: Chef-owner Beppe di Vito and and an Italian team. Beppe (see next page) is married to notable foodie Lynn Yeow, with four boys between them.
Specialises in: Salamis like the salame dolce, salame piccante, black pork capocollo, pancetta, guanciale, nduja and sopressata veneta, available for sale. Other notable mentions include the grilled whole Italian seabass with rucula ($48, ideal for two), and tagliolini, crab and nduja ($24), a spicy salami sauce which balances the sweetness of fresh crab meat.Mon-Fri 11.45am-2.30pm, 6-10.30pm;Sat 6pm-2am. #01-19 China Square Central, 20 Cross Street. Tel: 6221 3937
A recollection of Italian restaurants that have come and gone (or stayed).
Opened in 1973, Pete’s Place doles out rustic charm, with red checked table cloths, wooded tables, and black and white photos dotting the walls. Their traditional hearty Italian fare has stayed consistent till today–a spread of over 45 creations from authentic wood-fired pizzas, homemade al dente pastas, baked bread and herb butters to salads, cheeses and desserts.
Fine dining reached its height at Ristorante Bologna, opened in 1987 together with the launch of the Marina Mandarin Hotel. This was the place to see and be seen by high society. The restaurant received a revamp in 2005 but subsequently bowed out of the highly competitive dining scene in 2012. Longer lasting is DOMVS, The Italian Restaurant, opened in 1985 and revamped in 2007. Its name means home in Latin, and the decor calls to mind a stately Italian living room. Established in 1988, Pasta Fresca da Salvatore was an early pioneer in casual Italian dining. Now with three fully revamped outlets, they’ve gone a bit more slick–check out their Panorama wine lounge at the Boat Quay outlet which stocks over 70 types of wine and liquor. Must-tries on the menu include melanzane alla parmigiana ($14.80), eggplant baked in layers of mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce, panzerotti mushroom alla pastora ($18.90), a type of stuffed pasta with shepherd’s inspired sauce of bacon and mushrooms sautéed in olive oil, garlic and chilli, and tagliata di manzo con rucola al rosmarino ($36.90), sliced beef tenderloin in rosemary oil.
Da Paolo opened as a simple trattoria at Tanjong Pagar in 1989, leading husband and wife team of Paolo and Judie Scarpa to create more concepts under the group. Now it has expanded to include Gastronomia gourmet deli and more, with their children Francesca and Andrea heading the company.
Former hotelier Roland Luceri opens a charming Italian restaurant in 1993, and has been hands-on ever since. At Pasta Brava, Straits Chinese collectibles abound while pasta and meat items are done the traditional way. Beppe De Vito arrived in Singapore in 1995 to help launch Bice at Goodwood Park (closed in 2000), and in 2003 would set up Garibaldi with fellow Bice alumni and business partner Roberto Galetti. The dynamic Ascione Gaetano, formerly from Ristorante Bologna, makes a splash in 1997 with his own restaurant Gaetano at Club Street (closing in 2006).
Fine dining yet accessible, Garibaldi was a hit from the beginning, with Roberto Galetti in the kitchen and Beppe de Vito at front of house. But in 2005, Beppe left to set up ilLido. Since then, he’s built reputable restaurants like Southbridge, &Sons Bacaro, Osteria Art and Aura at National Gallery Singapore. Senso Ristorante & Bar opened in 2000, with executive chef Diego Chiarini and maitre d’ Stephane Colleoni creating waves on the Club Street scene. While The Senso Group would go on to create beloved brands Spizza, La Nonna and Spizza Mercato, Diego and Stephane combined forces to open modern OSO Ristorante in 2004, with various other forays after that.
The Singaporean entrepreneurs of Pasta Mania (originally Mario’s) capitalised on making Italian accessible, taking flight in the Middle East and locally with seven stores in 2002, as well as abroad in other regional countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and India by 2007. InItaly by head chef Mario Caramella, formerly from Forlino restaurant, opened our palates to items such as the ravioli di ossobuco in gremolata and the risoni al nero.
@Ciao, helmed by chef Domenico Cicconi, installed his ’home’ in Singapore, as he doesn’t just welcome guests into his restaurant in a bar, but into his home, like family. The front entrance from 8 Haji Lane depicts the bar area, while the back entrance from 39 Arab Street hosts a family-friendly space, complete with an interactive Battleship game on the flip side of the menu. Savour hearty dishes like the signature beermarinated pork knuckle ($32), ravioli di ricotta ($22) and Zia Luisa’s tiramisu ($12) inspired by his sister.
Italian goes to the heartlands too, such as at Ah Bong’s Italian, tucked away in a small corner of Tiong Bahru, and opened by the humble chef Chris Ng who trained under chef Bruno Menard, or Concerto by Saveur started by Joshua Khoo and Dylan Ong, which originally operated at a coffee shop stall in Joo Chiat. Celebrity restaurants also landed, with offshoots of Jamie’s Italian by Jamie Oliver, and Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza by Mario Batali reaching our shores.