Our team goes undercover to suss out the latest and most talked about restaurants in town
Singaporeans are truly spoilt for choice when it comes to Italian cuisine. We have it all, from homey pizza joints run to impeccable Neapolitan standards, to five-star fine dining by the most exacting chefs. PerBacco – the name means ‘for Bacco’, the Roman god of wine – falls somewhere in the middle, but it’s no middling experience.
Chef Marco Violano, whom I’ve noticed since his stellar turn at OTTO Locanda, is a chef-partner at this deceptively casual and convivial space, next door to the superb Binomio Spanish restaurant. The industrial shelving and brick walls are offset by white linen tablecloths and suited waitstaff, neatly toeing the line between formal and informal – probably a nod to the comfort of nearby CBD cubicle dwellers.
The wine menu is proudly Italian aside from three Champagne labels, and features indigenous grapes such as Negroamaro (from the same south Italian region as the chef). At lunch, the sommelier half-heartedly tried to interest us in a glass of Prosecco, and when we declined, left us to navigate the menu ourselves. The same situation presented itself at dinner, leaving us to choose our own bottle of Barolo. We were better served by the veteran restaurant manager, who bantered warmly and confidently with all the tables.
The food menu, while small, is studded with crafty crowd faves. Pastas include a toothsome homemade durum wheat squid ink spaghetti with sea urchin and Hokkaido scallop ($24), and homemade black olive cannelloni stuffed with slow cooked duck ragout and saffron cream ($26), finished in the oven for a meltingly wholesome texture. A chilled room displayed various cold cuts such as salami and 24-month aged Parma ($22 for platter for two) to start off the evening, but we’d go straight for the juniper-cured Wagyu carpaccio ($20). The fragile round slices of beef were well complemented by the tang of mustard dressing, toasty hazelnuts and one precious yolk croquette – a battered and fried quail’s yolk that oozed unctuously when cut into.
Not knowing about the day’s grill specials – such as tomahawk – which were written up on a chalkboard by the bar, we dived straight into the main courses, which had two choices of fish and four of meats. A pan-roasted black cod with chickpea puree and Mediterranean black mussels ($30) did not impress with its simple treatment, but the charcoal-grilled rack of lamb ($32) and braised veal cheek ($30) showed chef Violano’s smart handling of meat. The lamb was tenderly burnished while the moist, almost delicate veal cheek burst with flavour with every chew. At prices that are not much higher than some small plate restaurants, we were pleasantly surprised at the generous portions and quality of the ingredients.
Desserts did not disappoint, with warm and freshly made Peidmontese chestnut crème brulee ($12) served with a milky chocolate truffle praline, and a traditional vanilla pannacotta with fresh berries ($10) – both petite but richly rewarding even after a large meal. The nonchalant tiramisu ($12) with a spike of ladyfinger paled in comparison but overall, it was a small grouse when the menu impressed as a whole.
While PerBacco’s chameleonic charm may not work on everyone – the fine dining connoisseur will find it too casual, the casual diner may find it too fancy; I suspect its concept and menu will stand the test of time in a fickle market that moves from one hotspot to another. Tried-and-tested traditions, a sprinkle of crave-worthy modern touches and value that punches above its weight – that’s a winsome recipe in my books. 20 Craig Road. Tel: 6635 7130
Average dinner bill for two, with drinks: $140
Must-tries: Juniper house cured Wagyu carpaccio, Piedmont chestnut crème brulee
Book a table at PerBacco with Chope.