January 07, 2016

Ciao@ Italian Risto-Bar ~ Hearty Fare At Haji Lane, Singapore

"Ciao" is a casual Italian term which can mean both "hello" and "goodbye". My friend quipped, "why the restaurant choose this name? Very suay one leh (inauspicious)". Haha I think he thinks too much.

I visited Ciao@ Risto-Bar 2 months back when it just opened, and found it to be quite a suitable place for gatherings with friends and colleagues.

If you're in the Haji Lane vicinity and hankering for some hearty Italian fare such as pastas and pizzas, as well as cocktails and wines to go with it, Ciao@ is one of the places to satiate those cravings.

The restaurant is accessible by two entrances, one from 8 Haji Lane (front), and the other from 39 Arab Street (back).

Depending on whether you enter by the front or back, the feel can be rather different. The front is a bar bursting with energy where live sports matches are being screened, the back leads to a quieter main dining hall which also houses an open-concept kitchen allowing a peep at chefs at work.

Helmed by Chef Domenico who hails from Italy, he believes that food comes from the heart and must exemplify the fervent of a chef. Many of the items on the menu are his home recipes.

We went in anticipation of Italian perennial favorites, but was surprised with some unique offerings. Take for instance the Pizzawich ($15), which is a cross between a pizza and sandwich.

Available in 9 different flavors including Caprese di Bufala (tomato & bufalo mozzarella), Alicionno (tuna & achovies) and Provola e Salame (provola cheese & spicy salami), the Parma e Rucola which we had was a classic pairing of Parma ham and rocket salad with crisp flatbread that could go no wrong.

The Focaccia al Rosmarino ($15) topped with fresh rosemary and garlic was simplicity at its best. I'm also fond of the luscious Tartufina ($24) pizza that abounded with generous amount of mozzarella and truffle paste.

With over 10 variety of pizzas to choose from, finding something to suit every palate should be easy. But for you who like to expect the unexpected, do ask for Chef's Fantasy Pizza ($24), or the Chef's Fantasy Pasta ($24), Chef's Fantasy Salad ($16), Chef's Fantasy Finger Food ($14)..... you get the drift haha!

We didn't venture into fantasy of any sorts, but stayed on the safe yet no less exciting side with Fritto del Piceno ($16), which is a mixed platter of fried finger food from the Marche region. Those chunks of cheeses and vegetables encased in a thin layer of crisp batter were so addictive!

The next appetizer of pan-fried Calamari ($18) with pine nuts and cherry tomato had just the right bite and was pleasing with a light seasoning of olive taggiasche to accentuate the freshness of the squid.

Pastas are my must-orders at any Italian joints, but the recommended Sughe d' Magre ($23) failed to impressed. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that I'm not a fan of tuna in the first place, and the entire combination with anchovies, green olive an a tomato-based sauce did not resonate with my tastebud. It didn't helped that the linguine was cooked passed al-dente resulting in a soft texture. Quite unpardonable for an establishment which prides itself on serving authentic Italian fare.

Thankfully, the lovely Ravioli de Ricotta ($22) made me believed that the underwhelming pasta we tasted earlier could be an one-off unfortunate overlook of the kitchen. The handmade texture of the ravioli cooked to an ideal firmness undoubtedly made a positive difference. Stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese and served in a fresh tomato sauce, it was one of the better dishes of the evening.

Chef Domenico's rendition of pork knuckle, Stinco di Maiale Alla Birra ($38) greatly wowed us too! Marinated with beer, the flavor permeated the meat which was exceeding moist and tender, falling off the bone easily with a gentle prod of the fork. Though the skin could do with more crackling, it still had an adequate crunch that was pleasing. I would say this was overally notches better than some of the typical German versions out there which tend to be a tad dry.

Bistecca di Polipo ($32) was another main dish that was beautifully executed. The grilled octopus was chopped into small pieces before being shaped to resemble a steak, and served with sautéed spinach. Quite an unusual find on the menu, and a delectable at that.

Dessert selection is not extensive, but includes the classic Zia Luisa's Tiramisu ($12) which is made using the chef’s sister’s recipe. The layers of mascarpone cheese and finger biscuits soaked in coffee was creamy yet light enough without any surfeit afterfeel. Our group also shared a serving of soft and wobbly Panna Cotta ($9), rounding off dinner on a satisfying note.

Ciao@ Italian Risto-Bar
Address: 8 Haji Lane #01-01, Singapore 189201
Contact: +65 62969688 / +65 9726 3688
Website: http://ciaosg.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ciaosg
Opening Hours: Tue-Sun 11.30am-2am / Closed on Mon

Prices stated are subject to 10% service charge and 7% GST.

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