SINGAPORE — Reset. That's the word I throw around to anyone who deigns to listen to me wax lyrical about the state of dining in Singapore. Like COVID-19, the fate that has befallen restaurants and dining outfits on this island is swift, unexpected, and to put it simply, handed over on a silver tray of 'it-is-what-is'.
Many restaurants whose leases are up for renewal in July have made the painful decision to shutter. While we bemoan the loss of our favourite restaurants, it is worthwhile to think about how restaurant closures not only impact the immediate food family of servers and Sous chefs but also affect the many people further down the chain—suppliers, transport riders, warehouse packers.
But rebound and reset we must, which is why I'm back with dine-in reviews if only to reignite the joy and conviviality of group dining in the social setting of food. And what better place to start than Cicheti, a proudly Singaporean establishment helmed by chef co-owner Lim Yew Aun, restaurateur Liling Ong, and sommelier-partner Ronald Kamiyama.
Cicheti, like most beloved restaurants, is a well-kept secret amongst purveyors of Italian cuisine delight in having authentic food from the homeland crafted, planned, and executed by a tattoo-clad chef who is unabashedly Singaporean. In fact, for a long time, Cicheti deigns to put up a signboard announcing its presence, further reinforcing the 'if-you-know-you-know' vibe, like a literal hole in the wall for the discerning few.
After close to 8 years of faithfully doling out dishes from the first menu he created since Cicheti's opening in 2013, Chef Yew Aun is back with a revamped selection of food, this time crafted by a team of stellar food stalwarts that include group sous chef Dylan Cheong of Gattopardo and Osteria Mozza fame, and junior sous Chef Reisuke Kiyose.
This being my virgin trip to a Cicheti hyphenate (there's Bar Chicheti and Caffè Cicheti), the menu, I observed, is, on the whole, designed with a decidedly pleasing refrain. Not that that's a bad thing—hardly. A conversation with a colleague in the industry had us talking about how some restaurants are just too chef-centric meaning to say, the only people who would enjoy the food are the chefs themselves. Not here, though. Here, the food is a delicious wormhole of familiarity such that this food writer doesn’t have to ask stupid questions like, 'Eh, how you spell orecchiette, ah?'
It starts with a story—well at least in my head. There's a chopped salad (S$16++) that's the textbook definition of an antipasto with salumi, pepperoncini peppers, buffalo mozzarella, and radicchio carelessly strewn amongst fresh, roughly chopped iceberg lettuce and dressed in a bright oregano vinaigrette. There's no shame in generous seasoning here, every bite a celebration of saltiness and savoriness that, turns out, will be the running thread of everything I eat here today.
The aubergines in the Melanzane (S$16++) come beautifully charred, fragile, but a tad too soft for my taste. The sauce on top, however, is nothing to turn your nose down at with bold flavours of anchovy, garlic, capers, butter, and a hint of acidity from what I gather to be lemon. There's also a trio of sea prawns (Market price), which, any regular readers of my food reviews might have already guessed, is an offensively weak spot of mine.
I love me some prawn—cholesterol be damned. Here, it is served with a glimmering golden sofrito of butter, garlic, cheese, and all other good things that could make a lover of prawn sigh and cry. I was told that the prawns came fresh from Tekka Market daily—and it shows through the brininess and the sweet, sweet flesh synonymous with a catch-of-the-day, just fished straight out of the sea moments ago, kind of feel.
And then, there's the seafood stew (written in the menu as Zuppa Di Cozze E N'duja (S$24++) that embodies the whole spirit of minimal waste with the inclusion of off-cuts of salumi (used in salad previously) in a huge bowl of sizable Aussie mussels mixed with house-made spicy sausage, swimming in a tomato sauce that, when dipped with the long slices of bread, feels like a comforting hug on a particularly stressful workday. There's a kick of heat that lifts the entire presentation which makes me love it even more. It's moreish and gob-smackingly tasty—and we're only at starters. Oh, what fresh, culinary heaven have I gotten myself into?
No pilgrimage to a Cicheti hyphenate would be complete without a taste of Chef Aun's handmade pasta. First to arrive is the Paccheri (S$28++) pasta, so named for its sizeable tubular shape, best suited for heavy-duty meats. Here, it is cooked with fork-tender strands of beef cheek with all the glorious hefty flavours of red meat.
And then there's the Casarecce (S$28++)—short twists of pasta that look like tiny scrolls. I thoroughly enjoyed my plate, finding myself lost amongst the sea of food but always coming back to this medley of tomatoes, spicy pickled peppers, and chunky guanciale that lends a certain Je ne sais quoi to a presentation as simple as this. Again, the seasoning is bold, honest, and never disappoints. I dare say I will never again accept food that is not as deftly seasoned as that by Chef Aun's hands.
Dessert comes by way of a square of strawberry parfait (S$14++), delicately dressed with fresh slices of strawberries, dollops of whipped cream and sprigs of mint. It's a right-angled work of art that is served semifreddo with layers of creamy ricotta mousse for a delightful tang and chopped pistachios for a slight bite. But what truly brings it all together is the drizzle of balsamic honey reduction which, though its moniker sounds a tad confusing, actually makes for a great dessert sauce with its overtones of sourness and sweetness that neither fights nor claims victor in a presentation as delicate as this. It’s a dessert that perfectly encapsulates a Chicheti dinner of great food, faultless service, and a spirit of joie de vivre to mark the start of Phase 2 and more wonderful nights out of gastronomical merriment.
Daily: 12 pm - 2.30 pm, 6.00 pm - 10.30 pm
Balancing the New Normal: