Despite its popularity, Italian food is a tricky topic. Ask any native about the food and their answers usually gravitate towards things like “authenticity” and “nonna’s cooking”. What happens then, when you’ve got no Italians in the kitchen? For one, rules are sometimes thrown out of the window.
At Bar Cicheti, this happens as the place is jointly owned by restaurateur Ong Liling (who also runs the pizza-focused Cicheti and modern Australian Fynn’s), chef Lim Yew Aun, and Japanese-Peruvian sommelier Ronald Kamiyama. Step into the pasta-and-wine bar, and the first thing you notice is that it’s more New York brasserie than traditional trattoria. Smoothly being piped out of the speakers are American jazz and swing set against shades of mahogany and the same trendiness most restaurants in the area seem to possess.
Catering to local palates
Flavours too, have levelled by Lim to fit closer to local palates. While dishes still maintain a respectable level of authenticity; there are a couple of clever tweaks to classic dishes that are only possible without the bias of sentimentality. Some examples of this appear in their seasonal — now spring — menu. Lim takes pesto spaghetti, a Ligurian showcase of fresh, fragrant basil, and turns it into quite a different beast with the addition of charred jalapenos. There’s still a hint of basil, but the pepper and chopped pistachios of the dish turn what would normally be an exercise in balancing herb, oil, pine nuts and cheese into a punchy, moreish pasta.
It’s not all strong flavours though. There’s also bucatini, which gets cooked in osmanthus-scented water before being tossed in a saffron-butter sauce alongside sweet, barely-cooked chunks of Hokkaido scallop and spring peas that give the dish a fresh green lift.
It’s also a point of pride that the restaurant makes many of the pastas themselves — hand-rolled pici that goes into a Sarawak pepper cacio e pepe; and agnolotti, stuffed with 10-hour braised beef cheeks that they somehow manage to turn into an almost-airy meat filling.
Moving on to cicheti
While getting a carb fix is more than enough reason to visit, Bar Cicheti does hold other delights. The restaurant’s namesake cicheti, refers to the Venetian equivalent of tapas, usually served with wine — two things that the restaurant also does with certain finesse. One finds snacks ranging from addictive fried sage leaves, to a Jewish-Roman specialty of deep-fried, flattened artichokes that they serve with a truffle horseradish aioli.
Other, more meaty highlights on the menu include intensely-beefy brisket meatballs in a piquant tomato sauce; and pull-apart tender braised beef tongue, which comes topped with sweet caramelised onions and tonnato aioli, a creamy, tuna-based sauce traditionally served with cold slices of veal.
With the snacks you’ll want wine, and Bar Cicheti has one of the more interesting vino programmes out there thanks to sommelier/partner Kamiyama, whose experience spans places like Bar Boulud in NYC and Tokyo’s L’effervescence. Instead of cramming the menu with the usual Italian suspects like your Barolos and Chiantis, he’s gone with a more educational, and exploratory slant.
There might be a fresh, spicy 100% syrah from Northern Rhone (from celebrated vigneron Éric Texier) with mouth-watering acidity and tannins that cut through, and complement a rich beef dish; or a natural Nerello Mascalese blend with plenty of red fruit, smoke, and liveliness that hits all the right notes with their dish of slow-braised octopus with paccheri in tomato sauce.
Sometimes, the wines go so far left that you’ll even feel compelled to take notes: bone-dry Rioja with manzanilla sherry blended in for a nutty, savoury edge; as well as hazy, unfiltered and biodynamic pet-nats that toe the line between juice and bubbly in the best ways possible.
10 Jiak Chuan Road. Tel: 6789-9801