Thursday, 17 April, 2014

Published December 07, 2013
Small plates, Italian style
2013 may have been the year of Spanish tapas but the Italians are swiftly striking back with small plates restos offering value for money eats. By Debbie Yong
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Morsi and Sorsi's cold cut platters round out signature items such as vitello tonnato, a classic Italian summer plate of veal slices topped with a tuna mayo sauce.

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Morsi and Sorsi

51 Telok Ayer Street, #01-02

Tel 6222 7530

Open 8am to 8.30pm, Mon-Fri

DON'T rush to the executive lounge the next time you're at an airport, for it could just be where you might hit upon your next, great business idea.

Lino Sauro should know. The chef-owner of Sicilian restaurant Gattopardo was holidaying in Italy this summer when a casual, quick service wine bar in the Rome airport caught his attention. Six months later, he's transplanted the concept to Singapore in the form of his latest venture, Morsi and Sorsi, in Telok Ayer Street.

Sited next to the entrance of China Square Food Centre, the 32-seater casual eatery serves up pocket-friendly fuss-free bites specifically designed for the harried CBD lunch crowd. A U-shaped glass counter indoors seats up to 28, and is perfect for voyeuristic foodies to get a full view of chefs at work.

And in keeping with its name - Italian for "bites and sips" - the food menu is padded out with small bites conveniently kept to a single, easy-to-browse page. At breakfast, choose from triangular Tramezzino sandwiches in three flavours ($6), organic cereals ($7), pancakes ($6), or fill up with a breakfast set of eggs with a combination of bacon, sausage and cheese or spinach, tomato and mushroom.

There are separate sections for hot and cold lunch items, as well as an all-day menu of sandwiches, cheese and cold cut platters. From the cold menu, the signature vitello tonnato ($14) of chilled veal slivers draped in a tangy tuna mayo and caper cream sauce is a classic Italian summer dish and a good option for a light lunch. Or if you're looking for something stodgier, fill up on the homemade beef or vegetarian lasagne ($13 and $9), deep fried calamari ($12), or a fluffy focaccia ($13) first topped with grilled zucchini, braised radicchio, toma cheese and tapenade and then lightly toasted to seal in all the flavours in one succulent package.

Also from the hot items section, a wagyu beef cheek with mash potato goes for just $18, while a daily special of uni pasta is only $12.

In the evenings, cold and hot tapas selections, such as the wine and vinegar-marinated fish in carpione ($12), grilled octopus ($15) and $5 oysters take over to placate the post-work drinking crowd, along with Italian-inflected cocktails such as campari spritz, rossini (prosecco with strawberry), manghini (prosecco with mango), martinis and negronis that go for $10 to $15. "I couldn't charge $30 a dish here, nobody will come," chef Sauro says candidly.

How are the low prices possible, you ask? Through a combination of thin margins and detailed planning, according to chef Sauro. "Even hiring one more staff beyond what was budgeted for in the business plan can send things downhill," he shares, adding that the target is to open two more outlets of Morsi and Sorsi in Singapore eventually. Flagship restaurant Gattopardo, meanwhile, will be relocating from its current Fort Canning site to Tras Street early next month.


20 Cross Street #01-19 China Square Central

Tel 6221 3937

Open 11.30am-12mn Mon-Fri, 5.30pm-1am Sat

BEPPE de Vito wants to build a neighbourhood bar in the heart of the Central Business District.

The idea may sound like an oxymoron, but the veteran Italian restaurateur disagrees: "I often see office workers in the area queuing for taxis at 10pm with takeaway dinners in hand - they don't just work here, they practically live here. I wanted to create a place for them."

Unlike his earlier ventures - fine dining outfit Il Lido in Sentosa and rustic-chic Latteria Mozzarella Bar on Duxton Hill - his latest 200-seater project in China Square is a trendy, upbeat watering hole that he hopes CBD-dwellers will return to three times a week - whether for lunch, dinner, or a post-work nightcap.

Think of &Sons as a chic, circa-2013 version of the Italian bacari - shabby, communal eating and drinking spots established by early wine merchants in Venice - hence it follows that the menu comprises only small plates spanning breads, pastas, grilled meats, seafood, vegetables and desserts. Everything is served pre-sliced and ready for sharing.

The name &Sons, likewise, is a play on the Italian tradition of suffixing business names with the term "e figlio" ("and sons", in Italian), and is also a phonetic reference to the word "artisans".

From the carpenters who fashioned the restaurant's custom-designed brass lamps and Venetian stucco walls, to the Il Lido-trained service and kitchen team who churn out homemade pastas and bread daily, "we are all artisans and sons of artisans taking something and transforming it into something quite different," Mr de Vito muses.

In the same vein, one of the eatery's highlights is an Italian salami bar that will feature a range of salami such as black pig capocollo ($9), smoked kurobuta lonza ($10) and pancetta potato salad ($8), all of which will be cured in-house and tantalisingly displayed within a glass chiller.

Dishes that pad out the rest of the menu will have "steady roots in Italian cooking," says Mr de Vito, yet bear subtle global influences to reflect Venice's long history as a global trading ground. A dish of spaghetti carbonara ($16) stirs in a dollop of sea urchin; a classic tomato bruschetta ($8) is slathered with creamy avocado. Most items - from lamb tenderloin to asparagus - will be given a quick whirl in the Spanish Josper grill for that extra smokey flavour.

Prices are kept accessible for daily diners too. The most expensive thing on the menu is a beef tagliata made with 120g of wagyu at $26, and a a wagyu carpaccio with shavings of Raspadura cheese costs just $18.

By the entrance, the restaurant's bar will ply Italian bottled beer, aperitivos such as bellini and aperol spritz, and a mix of classic and newfangled sippers fashioned with Italian liqueur and grappa - all at happy hour prices ($7 to $15) throughout the day.

"The idea is to make this such as fantastic deal that it would be really tough for people not to come here," laughs Mr de Vito. And given the incessant climbing of prices these days, it is not such a bad idea at all.


52 Kandahar Street

Tel 6292 5012

Open 12-3pm, 6.30-11pm Mon-Fri, 6.30-11pm Sat

IN a row of ho-hum apparel stores and nasi padang eateries, Cicheti sticks out. Not that it's a bad thing.

The week-old Italian-inspired restaurant joins street stalwart Maison Ikkoku in trying to ratchet up sleepy Kandahar Street's cool quotient, and judging by the expatriate corporate types and American-accented locals that have been streaming in to fill its seats at lunch, things are going just swimmingly.

Though the restaurant is christened after the finger snacks unique to the winebars of Venice, the menu isn't restricted to Venetian-style cooking, nor Northern Italian cuisine at all. A giant map of Naples is plastered across the restaurant's doorway and in a glass-encased open kitchen a few paces in, chef-owner Yew Aun Lim can be seen diligently kneading out Neapolitan-style pizzas on a marble counter top.

Chef Yew, it turns out, formerly manned the pizza station under the Japanese-Italian L'Operetta group, and Cicheti is his first independent restaurant venture together with cousin-turned-business partner, Liling Ong. To further seal their commitment to the venture, the 27-year-olds have shipped in a 2-tonne Acunto Forni wood-fired oven from Italy.

So what you get at Cicheti is a menu anchored by a menu of eight to 10 pizzas, which is then paired with a selection of panini sandwiches, salads and desserts at lunch; and cicheti and larger piati principali such as seafood cioppino ($27), lamb ragout with pappardelle pasta ($23) and salt-baked seabass ($35) at dinner.

The pizza dough is slightly chewier than at most pizza joints, and chef Yew reveals that the pizza bases get progressively thicker from the centre to the crust, making it easier to funnel the ingredients down your throat. The same dough is baked for a minute longer to create the sandwich bread, which come with Mediterranean-leaning fillings such as chicken with Greek yoghurt.

From the cicheti menu, the classic Venetian polpette ($11) are juicy home-made beef meatballs pan-seared then quickly braised in tomato sauce, while the herb butter-seared gamberi grassi ($11) or fat prawns, have a luscious smokiness to them. All the seafood is handpicked daily by chef Yew from a wet market in Marine Terrace. Desserts bear interesting twists: a molten chocolate cake ($12.50) is lifted with a subtle sprinkle of salt and the creme bruciata ($12.50) is a frozen creme brulee quirkily topped with candied bacon.

The 30-seat dining room downstairs is dotted with clever design details such as weathered oak tables and antique cameras and cowbells, while a 50-seater lounge upstairs (to open next Tuesday) features a stunning "chandelier" made with 1,500 light bulbs by Canadian designers Castor Design, and a slick island bar counter where Thai mixologist Pong will shake up a mix of signature Italian-inspired cocktails and bespoke sips in the evenings.

Knock them all back as you take in views of leafy greenery directly across the street, or on the second floor outdoor terrace with CBD skyscrapers and the iconic Sultan Mosque as a backdrop - all the while wondering why you never saw more potential in this street before.