Some of the best pasta dishes you’ll ever have in Singapore is not even really Italian; Bar Cicheti on Jiak Chuan Road is that place to bring a pasta- and wine-loving date.
Bar Cicheti was swarming with customers when we arrived. Pretty much every table was filled, and the disappointment on the faces of the multitudes without reservations yet hoping to score a table were palpable as they were politely turned away.
There’s good reason why. There’s a youthful vibe and energy in the air in this Singapore’s first homegrown pasta and wine bar, and the younger offshoot of Italian restaurant Cicheti in Kandahar Street. Much of it is down to effervescent co-owner Liling Ong, who flits prettily busing tables while engaging diners in effortless conversation. Then there’s co-owner and sommelier Ronald Kamiyama, who is single-minded in ensuring his patrons know of the wines they’re drinking, and then religiously topping up every (wine and water) glass.
The service is so attentive we can (almost) forgive the wait – ours took at least half hour before the first appetiser arrived – for the food. Then we realise why. Pretty much every dish is cooked to order – which takes time and effort – but Chef Lim Yew Aun, the third and final co-owner of Bar Cicheti will have it no less.
For example, the afore-mentioned appetiser of Salvia Fritta ($8++), a dish of sage leaves fried in a tempura batter, came crispy fresh and piping hot. So did the Polpette di Manzo ($15++), delectable meatballs rendered from brisket and cooked in a spicy tomato sauce. The redolent sauce was so delectable we desired to lick the dish it came in clean if not for polite company we’re in.
A la minute cooking is tedious, but when it comes to making good pasta, is absolutely necessary. And that dedication transpires on the plate – Chef Aun’s Paccheri ($20++/$34++) featured the tube-like pasta in a puttanesca-like sauce with slow-braised Spanish octopus, the al-dente pasta an interplay of textures with the tender, well-braised pulpo.
Same goes for the Pici Cacio e Pepe ($18/$28++), one of the most difficult pasta dishes to get right. But the slick, almost creamy cheese sauce coating each pici strand is testament to proper time and temperature control. It’s not the best Cacio e Pepe we’ve had in town – that honour goes to the one at Caffe Fernet – but it’s still a darned good rendition.
The Agnolotti ($19++/$29++) here, on the other hand, was utterly splendid and even puts to shame many versions in the most authentic of Italian restaurants across town. The crescent shaped parcels were each filled with tender beef cheek that’s been braised for ten hours, and when bitten into is an explosion of flavour. It’s almost a transcendental experience.
Kamiyama’s wine program at Bar Cicheti also reflects the verve of the pasta bar. He’s a big fan of off-the-beaten-path regions, unknown varietals and different vinification techniques, and factors a number of biodynamic, organic and sustainably-farmed labels in his cellar. Even better, wines are available here by glass, quartino, or bottle, and so fits any party size.
You’re looking at the likes of the 2017 Pojer & Sandri, Zero Infinito Frizzante, a small-batch pét-nat from Trentino, Italy, or the 2015 CVNE Monople Clasico, from the Rioja producer, made from Viura blended with a touch of sherry.
But to stay on theme, a great bet is the 2016 Frank Cornelissen Contadino Etna Rosso from Sicily; this Nerello Mascalese-led blend is smoky and mineral, and pairs perfectly with the polpette and agnolotti.
As we sit back satiated after our meal, we’re pretty much convinced that Bar Cicheti is packed precisely because it defines the meaning of hospitality. There’s good food, great wine, attentive yet casual service, and a youthful energy that most of its contemporaries can only dream about. And stuck as it is in the brutally competitive stretch that is the Keong Saik F&B enclave, that’s exactly what it needs to thrive.
We just need to remember to make our reservations for the next visit.
Address 10 Jiak Chuan Rd, Singapore 089264 (Google Maps link)
Opening Hours 6pm to 10pm on Mondays; 12pm to 2.30pm and 6pm to 11pm on Tuesdays to Saturdays; closed on Sundays