At last, the 12-metre pool perched atop IHG’s voco Orchard Singapore (formerly the Hilton) is more than a pretty feature of the rooftop view.
Its neighbour – the 28-seater il Cielo, once a fine dining spot – has since reimagined itself a casual, laid-back restaurant, the kind where one could conceivably take all of five steps after a swim to pop in and fuel up on such classic Italian favourites as pizza, pasta and calamari.
At the old, white-tableclothed il Cielo, that would have been unfathomable. But gone is chef Yohhei Sasaki, who once enraptured guests with fine dining fusion of the Japanese-Italian variety. Now, Marco Fregnan, formerly of Perbacco and Otto Ristorante, holds court, serving up such hearty things as fries and meatballs. It’s casual, as advertised, but elevated.
The two-week-old menu is heavy on the truffle. Generous quantities of fresh shavings garnish the Truffled Fries, delightfully fluffy spuds well-salted enough to spare the need for sauce. No truffle oil is employed; the fungus’s earthy fragrance alone carries the dish, as it should. One gripe? It’s not really casual Italian, it’s a poolside snack. But that’s on brand.
Other dishes one could well tote out of glass-walled comfort to the handful of deckchairs by the water are the fried seafood, meatballs, and pizza. The Burrata e Tartufo Pizza boasts a thick, creamy lick of burrata and Fior de Latte Mozarella on a cheese-coated base that leans doughy instead of crisp. Juicy mushroom slivers finish off the predominantly chewy texture. There’s truffle, of course.
The Impossible Meatball is pleasant and trendy, breaded plant-based beef encasing a fun little blob of mozzarella and slivers of sour olive. The ball sits on a bed of vegetables, braised soft in a robust tomato reduction.
It’s a healthier choice than the Fritto Misto. But the calorific Amalfi favourite (the selection here: squid, prawn, soft shell crab, whitebait, broccoli) comes accompanied by an outstanding lemon aioli. Speckled green with lime zest, it’s tangy and playful and rescuciates the seafood, weighed down by batter that’s a touch dull.
For more classic Italian fare that feels less like a poolside munch, try the carpaccio. The clean-tasting but gnawy angus tenderloin’s sliced thin, paired with mascarpone and liberal shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano, aged 24 months, finished with delicate greens.
Or explore the Manzo Tartufo, a sophisticated interpretation of wine and cheese that’s sneakily luxe. Broad, flat tagliatelle ribbons slither in a silky, faintly tangy emulsion of red and parmesan, studded with nuggets of soft, savoury wagyu. On top: more black truffle.
The handmade pasta – so bouncy and smooth – is such an achievement, it’s almost a pity angel hair was chosen for the Granchio & Asparagi. Mixed with threads of crabmeat in a politely spicy tomato sauce reminiscent of chilli crab gravy, the squid ink noodles are thicker and more squarish than typical, but still lose out on texture. Still, it’s a crowd-pleaser.
More squid ink – this time in the tasty Al Nero, a risotto of creamy and distinct grains. It’s companions are a devilishly sweet pumpkin croquette with the same heavy breading as the meatball, and an artistic cross-section of octopus leg that resembles a stegosaurus and chews like duck breast, releasing ocean flavours with each bite.
For meats, the Pollo al Tartufo, a whole roasted organic yellow chicken stuffed with truffle and mushroom, is promising, but paired with smoother-than-smooth truffle mash, longs for something to give it lift.
For dessert, several can share the Panna Cotta alle Nocciole. The hefty pudding – a sumptuous, jiggly beast packed with hazelnut flavour and accompanied by crisp, fresh specimens – is a delight, but for your waistline leave aside the cloying citrus marmalade and caramel fudge.
Since il Cielo hasn’t rebranded, several regulars from its Hilton days – mostly Japanese, we hear – have dropped by, only to discover an entirely new concept (and then departed, presumably never to return). Still, the place is booked solid on the Wednesday we visit.
It’s a strong start to a new culinary identity, one that’s actively distancing itself from its original concept. But though the service and presentation’s less daunting, and the pool ties in nicely with the theme, a flicker of that fine dining flame is still there in the food, floating these ‘poolside bites’ to a cut above the crowd.
il Cielo is located at Level 24, voco Orchard Singapore, 581 Orchard Road, Singapore 238883.