For your next Italian fix, would you consider the new-to-Singapore Bar Cicheti?
A stablemate of the Neapolitan pizza-anchored Cicheti, Bar Cicheti is set in a narrow shop house space on Jiak Chuan Road, just steps away from Esquina. A passion project by Cicheti’s co-owners, restaurateur Ong Liling and chef Lim Yew Aun, in conjuction with Peruvian-Japanese sommelier Ronald Kamiyama, Bar Cicheti bypasses the formality of Italian dining to bring you a curated menu of just pastas and wines.
Yes, you heard it right. Instead of structuring its offerings around antipasti, primi, secondi, etc, Bar Cicheti dives deep into a menu of mostly hand-made pastas and a roaming collection of about 50 labels of wines, mostly French, Italian and minimum-intervention wines (think wines by Gut Oggau and Anders Frederik Steen), with a shortlist of anti-pasti thrown in for good measure.
An alum of L’operatta during its glory years under then chef de cuisine Seita Nakahara, Lim’s Italian-style cooking is unconventional, reflecting a unique restraint uncharacteristic of native Italian chefs. Perhaps it’s the fact that he’s never set foot in Italy?
From the a la carte menu in spring, spaghetti ($28), the only pasta that’s not freshly made in-house, is tossed in a pesto prepped, uniquely enough, with grilled jalapeno and topped with pine nuts. Apart from lending a touch of spice, the jalepeno pesto is refreshing as it is mildly sweet, with a spot-on flavour that makes the ubiquitous basil pesto seem so yesterday.
The agnotti ($19/$29) is also a standout. Its simple appearance belying the intensity of effort in preparation, it takes 10 hours to braise the beef cheek, after which the meat is hand-shredded, cooked down in its own jus and blended before being stuffed into the pasta with Parmigiana. As if to highlight the richness of these pillowy pockets, Lim serves them in a contrastingly light butter sauce diluted with pasta water, with a dash of the beef jus added just before serving. Heavenly.
At Bar Cicheti, they don’t call themselves a pasta and wine bar for nothing. Yes, the selection of wines, of which seven to eight labels are available by the glass daily, is alluring. But the allure is just as great for the array of pastas. Serving his take on cacio e pepe, Lim replaces spaghetti with a hand-made pasta of pici ($18/$28) and in place of pecorino, Parmigiana comes to the fore, interrupted by nothing but the subtle heat and intense aroma of Sarawak pepper coupled by the lightness of a fresh squeeze of lemon juice. For the simplicity of its design, any potential flaw could have been magnified two or triple fold but such is the finesse of the cooking.
It would be easy to dismiss the pasta hits as mere ”accidents” if not for the equally strong hits from the antipasti section. Sage ($8++), served simply but quite stunningly, in a light and airy deep-fried tempura batter with nothing more than a sprinkle of Maldon salt. So simple that you wonder why no one in Singapore has thought of it until now?
Better yet, spears of Dutch green asparagus ($15++) are grilled until slightly charred and drizzled with a sauce of salted butter with bacon and soffritto (onions, carrots, celery, garlic, onions and olive oil). Its deeply savoury flavour gets a lift with a finishing ”snow” of ricotta blitzed with olive oil.
If you are feeling hungry and thirsty, opt for the Feed Me option ($68++ or $88++ for one antipasti, four pastas and one dessert) and load it with wine pairing ($58++ for 6 glasses). With the food and drinks options left to the restaurant-bar, the only choice you need to make is ”where to sit” – the bar counter, the dining counter or the dining room.
Some restaurants win you over with great food, others with good wines but Bar Cicheti has these, plus affordability and buzzy vibes. What’s not to like?
10 Jiak Chuan Road, Singapore 089 264; +65-6789 9801; www.barcicheti.com