20 Cross Street, China Square Central #01-19 Tel: 6221 3937
Open Mon to Fri: 11am to 12am. Lunch from 11.30am to 2.30pm; Dinner from 6pm to 10.30pm. Sat: 5pm to 1am
TALK to any restaurateur and they will tell you: You can boast the finest ingredients; a chef who's got everyone from (Heston) Blumenthal to (Rene) Redzepi on speed dial; or a menu of such mind-bending proportions that even the napkins are auditioned before they are allowed to grace your lap.
But the real money has never been on what your customers eat - it's how much they drink. Ever notice a change of demeanour in your server/sommelier when you order the most expensive tasting menu but ask for mere sparkling water (or worse, hot water) to accompany it? It's not your imagination.
Which is why veteran F&B man Beppe de Vito may well be on to a good thing with his latest venture &Sons - a drink-centric but food-centred outpost in the Chinatown/CBD neighbourhood, with its captive market of work-frazzled, bar-loving office drones.
In Singapore, bars and restaurants tend to be mutually exclusive - watering holes can have great or cheap drinks but middling bar snacks, while restaurants have better food but often with over-priced alcohol. De Vito hits a nice middle ground with wines priced as low as $7 a glass and a small-plates menu that offers more than just spicy chicken wings and truffle fries.
Styled after the Venetian bacaro (wine bar) in the faux-conservation enclave of China Square Central, &Sons certainly looks the part with its huge - 200-seater - indoor and outdoor premises staffed almost entirely by friendly Italians. The nice Italian girls who show us to our table; the friendly if awkward guy we call over to make recommendations who turns out to be one of the many chefs; the manager; even the chap who swipes your credit card.
Add the enticing display of home-cured salamis and expensive interiors and you're ready to say "ciao" ("hello" in Italian).
Concept-wise, &Sons hits all the right notes. It's open all day till midnight. It's got the requisite hipster vibe and the clientele to match, nursing their beverage of choice in the al fresco area. The homemade salami (tasty and not too salty), imported hams and wide array of cheeses add to the artisanal aspect of the menu which suggests homemade (or at least well-chosen) goodness.
The hot food section leans towards comforting Italian favourites - pastas, simple grilled meats, seafood and the like. Prices are terrific, with vegetarian dishes pegged below $10, and everything hovering around the $15-$18 range, with the most expensive being the $26 wagyu tagliata with salsa verde - a beef salad by any other name.
The cooking is satisfactory, and while nothing really shines, everything has a minimum standard in taste and, more important, fresh and good quality ingredients are used. Take the tagliolini in nduja sauce and crabmeat.
This perfectly decent portion of skinny pasta dressed in a mildly spicy creamy sauce with a generous portion of crabmeat is a steal at $9, and you won't complain about paying $15 for al dente spaghetti carbonara with crisp chunks of pancetta and a gratinated blanket of fluffy, barely discernible sea urchin cream.
You might express some alarm at how rich a lot of the food is, with a liberal use of cream and heavy meat sauces. The paccheri ($15) is a veritable pasta swiss roll, its layers filled with a pork and truffle-scented sauce where the shredded meat is pretty much drowned in cream.
Some respite comes from the fresh, meaty cod ($18) painted with a light smear of salsa rubra (a spicy Italian ketchup) and passed through a Josper grill so it's seared on the outside but milky soft within.
Even then, that respite is shortlived once you dive into the cloud of cream and meringue bits that form the base of the salted caramel strawberry jubilee ($12), together with plump chewy cooked strawberries and vanilla ice cream. But this is dessert, so different rules apply.
This is by no means a dining destination that you make a special trip to because of the cooking. But as a convenient "working-class" hangout that you can afford to go to regularly where you're assured of affordable and quality food and drink whenever the urge strikes, &Sons had us at "Ciao".
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good