A Passion For Italian

A Passion For Italian

Italy is number one in my heart amongst the European cuisines. However, Spain and France put up a hard fight for that position sometimes.
Veronica Phua
Veronica Phua

(Media Tasting) I had been waiting eagerly to this as I’ve been a huge fan of Yum Hwa’s @benfatto_95 private dining for a few years. His obsession with making true-to-heritage Italian pastas, produces results so sublime, a bite of it can transport you straight to Italy. By him joining forces with The Cicheti Group to open @formasg, you can expect your tastebuds to traipse merrily across Italy even as your geotag shows Singapore.
Officially opening on 3rd May 2022, the upscale trattoria located along the quieter Tembeling Road in Joo Chiat, is a beacon - even more so once the sun sets as its tall glass frontage allows for a fantastic golden-lit view of Sfoglino (that’s the proper title for a maker of a family of pastas) Yum Hwa and @sfoglinadenisa at their craft. Young and old, an audience inevitably gathers to ogle in fascination as they work.
The menu is led by #BenFatto95’s pasta programme but I recommend not stopping there because the Secondi and dessert sections deserve stomach real estate too. Although concise, the former offers a selection of proteins including ever-changing meat options from neighbouring @butcherboxsg. And based on what we swiftly made disappear that night, the dessert game is also strong at #Formasg.
Then there’s the wine list. Curated by @ronaldkamiyama, it has over 150 labels spanning Italy’s 20 wine regions from Valle d’Aosta in the north to Campania in the south. Native and unfamiliar grapes such as the likes of Cesanese from Lazio, Nero di Troia from Puglia, and Schiopettino from Friuli, are showcased. That’s how @dominicswj ensured we paired every course with an exciting and unconventional pour.
We began with four Antipasti, led by Gnocco Frittos (fried parcels of lard-enriched dough with lardo and pink peppercorn) and braised baby artichokes in stracciatella with mint salsa verde, balsamic, braised blackcurrants, pine nuts and breadcrumbs ($21++). My faves though were the Cured and Cold-smoked Speck Ham plated with pan-roasted medjool dates, sea salt and extra virgin olive oil, and the Polpette di Baccalà ($21++) - lemon aioli-crowned Sicilian style fried salted cod and mashed potato balls with alepo and chilli.
After which we plunged into a parade of pastas.
Yum Hwa presented the Tortellini in Brodo, the “purest form of pasta” ($34++) first. An emblem of Emilia-Romagna's cuisine, each pork-filled parcel in the chicken broth contained exacting ratios of Mortadella di Bologna, Prosciutto Crudo, and Parmigiano Reggiano DOP. Knowing how much time and effort went into making enough Tortellinis to fill a bowl had me savouring this with mindfulness.
Next, the Struncatura Ammollicata ($32++). Long, bronze-extruded pasta cooked with simple ingredients of anchovies, taggiasca olives, chilli and Mollica di Pane-sauteed breadcrumbs that imbued it with a Mediterranean flavour profile. Fun fact: Before achieving cult status in Lucanian gastronomy, it was considered a “poor man’s dish” due to its origins.
Our third, the Pappardelle e Coda alla Vaccinara ($36++) has its roots in Rome, Lazio. The satisfying creation comprised of long and broad hand-rolled ribbons in a braised oxtail ragu of tomato, pecorino romano DOP and red wine.
Pasta number four, the Linguine al Limone ($29++), tied with the Tortellini in Brodo for top spot in my heart. Like the classic Cacio e Pepe, this seemingly simple dish has two key ingredients besides the bronze extruded pasta - the Amalfi Coast’s famous lemons and distinctively-shaped Provolone del Monaco DOP cheese. Along with a bit of garlic, they are what formed the luscious sauce. It is not a pasta for everyone but if you adore lemons and appreciate purity, do try it.
We were very impressed by our Secondi - the Merluzzo alla Scafata ($38++). The Umbrian-style pan-seared blue cod was a dream with its shatteringly crispy skin and moist flesh. It arrived in a lip-smacking cucielo vermouth-butter sauce with fava beans, English peas, cipollini onions and prosciutto.

Rediscovered an Italian restaurant that had wow-ed me many, many years ago, thanks to the @ourgrandfatherstory video I co-hosted with @cheahwenqi. When the Producer @jialinng mentioned that @portaportaitalianrestaurant was one of the places we would be filming at, the name rang a bell in my head. During the shoot, we got to meet Chef-owner Rosie and I recognised her at once from my visit to Porta Porta when it was at its first location, directly across from Changi Prison. After stuffing my face on a few of her restaurant’s specialities on camera, I vowed to return for a proper meal. So last Sunday, that was where I took my parents for dinner.
As usual, I decided to order us a few dishes to share, so we could try a variety. One of these was the “Tagliatelle Al Nero Di Seppie” which had me and my mum floored with its overwhelming tastiness. Memories of when I last ate this dish of squid ink pasta suddenly flooded back - it was during the early days of the restaurant’s opening and I recalled meeting Rosie‘s now late Italian husband who had come over to chat during our meal. If time has had any bearing on this dish, it’s only for the better because honestly, words fail to describe how helluva spectacular it currently is. I loved the perfect al dente-ness of those eggy ribbons of tagliatelle, and the midnight-black sauce was unbelievably umami. Chef Rosie’s unconventional addition of chilli for spiciness only propelled the pasta to stratospheric deliciousness.
Warning: Eating this leaves you with black lips and teeth. There is no way to avoid that. But trust me, it is worth the weird looks you’ll get when you grin in supreme satisfaction.

I was surprised to see Golden Pomfret on the menu because it’s more commonly found in Chinese restaurants. But Executive Chef David Tang did the fish justice with his New Italian style of Pompano Piccata ($42) which had it pan-seared for a crisp skin and moist flesh, then served in a delectable sauce concocted from white wine, lemon juice, shallots and capers. The final touch, a scattering of briny trout roe. By the way, Chef personally prepares the pomfrets himself each morning after @ahhuakelong delivers them.

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Executive Chef David Tang has been busy creating a slew of new dishes. A native Californian, he’s looked to his formative years on the West Coast of America for inspiration while at the same time, shifted to using more ingredients sourced right here in Singapore. The result - light, fresh yet delightfully moreish creations. Exemplifying this were the small plates we kicked off our meal with. One of which was the Burrata made locally by an Italian, its creaminess cleverly offset by an appetising acidity of green tomatoes, lime juice and fermented chillies.

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This is completely new on the menu. The housemade squid ink pasta is sautéed with sweet and fresh flower clams in a lip-smacking sauce of lemon butter, toasted garlic and roasted local dried chilli. My friend and I were so besotted with that sauce, we had to ask for bread to mop it up.

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If you can recall, Caffe Fernet was where the Cacio E Pepe trend started in Singapore. And if you’ve ever had theirs, let me tell you, Chef David Tang has taken it up another level. Although still rich, the plate of frilly Mafaldine pasta felt less heavy and seemed a touch “wetter” than its previous iteration. I also thought there was a more pronounced fragrance thanks to four kinds of pepper and extra virgin olive oil.

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My ex-JC mate and I met for lunch at @barcicheti a couple of weeks back, and decided to share two pastas for our mains, so a bigger serving of each was necessary.
It has to be said that as good as the “Gnochetti Sardi” (large: $28++) with pork fennel sausage meat was, the Tagliatelle with Crustacean Broth (large: $32++) outshone it.
What a truckload of umami goodness the new pasta revealed itself to be. Juicy prawns joined those perfectly cooked fresh ribbons in a fantastically tasty kombu butter-rich broth finished with crumbled fried kale. I highly recommend giving this a go on your next visit here if you like seafood-based carbs.

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G I F T
The new bakes by Executive Pastry Chef Alex Chong at “Dolcetto by Basilico” are very, very good and definitely worth the calories!
For mocha lovers, the Cornetto Doppio Chocolate ($6) is sure to please as his rendition of the Italian equivalent of the French croissant is a delight of double chocolate with strong espresso.
Although seemingly basic next to the others, the Italian Croissant ($5) was a fragrant, crisp yet not overly flaky marvel as it’s made using Beppino Occelli butter (a traditionally dairy farmed butter), skimmed and fresh cream. I found it delicious on its own but spread with the accompanying whipped vanilla butter and housemade strawberry jam, managed to blossom further.
The Tortino in Sfoglia ($5) which means “thin leaf” in Italian, is the bake that resembles stacked leaves. Woven into a handy muffin shape, it’s filled with an espresso ganache and coated in Amalfi lemon-scented sugar. I enjoyed this uncommon flavour combination immensely too.

Highly recommend you give them all a try the first time round, so you can suss out your preferences. Do have a look at the link-in-bio at @regentsingapore’s Instagram account to order.

G I F T
“Tortino in Sfoglia” means “thin leaf” in Italian, a name earned from its resemblance to stacked leaves. Woven into a handy muffin shape, this bake is filled with an espresso ganache and coated in Amalfi lemon-scented sugar. I enjoyed this rather uncommon flavour combination immensely.

G I F T
For years I’ve been a fan of the wonderful fresh bakes by “Dolcetto by Basilico”, so I was thrilled when @maria_hannah emailed me to say she was sending over a box of their newest pastries. By the looks of it, Executive Pastry Chef @_alex_chong of the @regentsingapore has clearly been busy because there were four different items in all and each was truly impressive; more so when you take into consideration their affordable price points.
What completely blew my socks off was the La Sfogliata Al Caramello ($18). Three days is how long it takes to make this large, round creation with its 81 layers of buttery #pastry dough. A time-consuming task no doubt but that’s how its ethereal lightness is achieved. With a hidden heart and dollops of salted caramel milk chocolate ganache, plus a crown of toasted hazelnuts, this is an outrageously good bake you should not miss.

M E D I A D R O P
Dining in at @beppedevito’s One MICHELIN Starred @braci.sg restaurant last year had exposed me to the exacting exquisiteness of Head Chef @iammirkofebbrile’s style of progressive Italian cuisine which I love. So when @lylatheeatgirl contacted me about sending over the “Set Menu for 2” ($208) from their newly-launched Takeaway Menu, I was elated and a little curious at the same time as I was keen to see how their casual-luxe brand and cuisine would translate.
Clearly, the Braci team has thought of everything because there’s a ready-to-eat and a D.I.Y. option for most of their dishes. While the former spells convenience, the latter allows for the finishing of the food to be done in your own home so it is perfect if you prefer your food as freshly-cooked as possible.
I received the latter which I must admit, felt a little daunting initially for your truly who’s quite useless in the kitchen. But once I read through the instruction cards (they come with beautiful photos for visual cue and to inspire), I felt calm and am proud to announce that the heating up and plating process went very smoothly. And the effort I invested was MORE THAN WORTH IT.
I started with the easiest, and coincidentally, it was the appetiser I had selected - “Stracciatella with Root Vegetables, Tomato Vinaigrette and Toasted Nuts”. It was extremely delicious and I think my presentation looked pretty acceptable too (*she says it with some smugness* 😁😂).
Instead of beginning my meal with the “Altamura Bread” (it’s Italy’s oldest bread from Puglia) with the EVOO and garlic herb oil (these came in a gift box of mini glass bottles) which is the proper service flow in the restaurant, I decided to enjoy it with the Stracciatella, and discovered they were wonderful together too.
The two pasta courses of “Tagliolini with Grilled Mozambique Scampi” in an astoundingly umami uni sauce and the “Pappardelle with White Asparagus and Summer Truffle” were equally amazing in different ways. You can colour me highly impressed.
For the mains, I chose a seafood and a meat.
The “Cioppino” which starred a big piece of cod fish, and arrived with an entourage of young radish, peppers and a tube of fennel oil to be drizzled on, was superbly fresh and tasty.
As much as I loved every item from that menu, it was the “Wagyu Beef Short Rib” that shone brightest for me. Its texture was UNREAL and I say that with heartfelt awe. The accompaniments of romanesco, mushrooms and a swoon-worthy truffle potato mash cemented the dish’s status in my mind as truly outstanding. If you are fond of red meat, I highly recommend ordering this to try.
The signature Tiramisu (not shown) was my dessert that evening. Do note Braci’s style is firmer rather than “wet” and has a lot of dark chocolate to complement the coffee and alcohol elements.
All of the dishes I’ve mentioned above are available a la carte as well. Please tap on @braci.sg’s link-in-bio on Instagram to check out the entire menu and to place an order.

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T R E A T
Recently, the kind folks from The CICHETI Group, with the help of their PR @bydanieleng, arranged to have lunch sent to me from their latest-to-open establishment, Caffe Cicheti. As I had been there a few months ago for a hosted tasting, I was familiar with the menu and knew what I wanted to have again. Ranked at the top was the Brussels Sprouts coated in pomegranate molasses and tossed with candied pecans ($12). The moreish creation didn’t disappoint - remaining smoky, sweetish and crunchy after the journeying from the restaurant.
What surprised was the Marinated Iberico Pork Rack ($31.50) which I found to be even tastier than the last time. The subtly smoky, juicy meat hit the bullseye between tenderness and enjoyable chew. Served on the side, a refreshing Kale and Granny Smith Salad that helped with cut-through.
The Lasagne ($27) was a big and heavy block of pasta sheets layered with plenty of chunky beef cheek ragu, cheese, bechamel and tomato sauce. Naturally, it had cooled and hardened slightly by the time I took it out of the box. But that was nothing a couple of minutes in the oven couldn’t fix. Once heated up, the #Lasagne softened and became really tasty.
Owner-Sommelier @ronaldkamiyama had included a lovely bottle of 2015 Rioja for us to pair with the food too, complete with tasting notes since he couldn’t present the Spanish wine in person. Very smooth move, I must say.
The “Crack Pie” ($11) was the selected dessert and it pleased in terms of size and a none-too-sweet taste. Coming together were almond frangipane, a cookie base and cocoa crumble. Worth every calorie it was.
Just so you know CICHETI and @bydanieleng have made total dining pleasure their priority, they even have a @caffecicheti playlist as well, curated by the one and only @trustmrhas.

To place your food orders, please click on the link in @caffecicheti’s bio on Instagram.

Follow me on Instagram (@veronicaphua) for richer content of videos and Stories! 😊

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