The equatorial sun glistened through the canopy of green leaves above our head as the light breeze swayed to the tune of Italian music, bringing with the aroma of freshly baked dough. As close to the streets of Italy as this may seem, it was miles away geographically. Nestled amidst the sprawling courtyard of Chijmes, what was once a Catholic Convent, was an Italian gem in Singapore; Pizzeria Giardino. I was invited by my gracious host, Jean, during my 2 day stay in Singapore last month. Literally and metaphorically, you can tell Italian cooking is the heart and soul of this restaurant, with the entire layout, including the bar and seating created around the kitchen.
On a warm summer day, sitting outdoors basking in the sunlight, soaking in the breathtaking atmosphere created by the Gothic-style Chapel and breathing in fresh air, along with whiffs of fresh dough was simply surreal. The rectangular courtyard encloses the buildings, separating it from its maddening urban surroundings. As I got off the taxi, all I could see was the facade of the church and thought I had the wrong address. A few steps inside the gate opens up the hidden gems of Singapore.
The casual atmosphere enhances the beauty of this place, where the focus is on the food and quality of dining. Instead of a menu, I was handed a newspaper. It was as if I was reading the morning paper in my garden. Since I met Jean and Francisca at about 5pm, we thought a tasting menu would be more apt. Little did I know the surprises Jean had in store for me. She ordered a whole spread, lucky for us, my husband joined us later and helped to finish the food.
For starters, Jean ordered the Caprese Salad, Fried Calamari and Melanzane Alla Parmigiana. As the food started to make its way to our table, my appetite began to make space for the delicious culinary treats. The beauty exuded by the contrasting colors of the caprese salad, splashed of green pesto and red tomatoes painted across the white background of fresh white mozzarella, led my eyes to feast on the salad before I could wet my appetite. The salad was simple but exuding flavor, sweet cherry tomatoes paired with earthy pesto and the piece de resistance was the thick chunks of fresh mozzarella. I could have eaten the whole plate had it not been for other people on the table. Generousl sized calamari was cooked to perfection, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.
Melanzane Alla Parmigiana was essentially an eggplant lasagne with tomato sauce, parmesan and mozzarella cheese. Not a big fan of eggplant, unless its in the form of a dip, I tried this antipasto with trepidation and a sinking feeling that the bitter taste of eggplants would overpower the dish. The first bite was enough to prove me wrong and dispel my fears. The well spiced tomato sauce baked with mozzarella and parmesan cheese complemented the layers of grilled eggplant. It actually was a harmonious concoction, enough for me to experiment with it at home.
The main course was still to come and my appetite had begun its descent. Instead of ordering 2 pizzas, we though it would be a better option to do a half and half. This, however, is not a norm but they adhered to our special request. Jean ordered Mushroom Ravioli, Pollo Chicken with Mushroom Pizza and Pizza Costeria (Seafood Pizza). Both pizzas were baked on fresh thin crust and were loaded with cheese. The Pollo Chicken was slightly more piquant with dried red chilli flakes, but there was something distinct about their pizzas; when pried, it was the mixture of melted mozzarella and parmesan cheese atop the pizza that gave it really bold flavors.
The Mushroom Ravioli were little pockets of surprises. Laden with parmesan sauce, these small pockets were an epicure’s dream. Filled not just with porcini mushrooms, but with a fine paste made from ground parmesan cheese and spinach, each bite was heavenly. The tiniest twists that were added to each dish, created wonders in terms of flavor. One word of advice, the ravioli is heavy hence it is best to order and share.
Jean’s hospitality was boundless, hence my numerous pleas of not ordering dessert fell on deaf ears. But in a way I was excited to try the sweet endings to a fabulous meal. First to arrive was the noted Italian dessert; tiramisu. Soft, laden with mascarpone cheese and topped with ground coffee; it was truly a masterpiece.
My favorite, however, were the profiteroles made in true Italian style. Round choux pastry filled with ricotta cheese (instead of sweetened cream) bathed in a nutty chocolate sauce. Flavorful yet light to eat. The best part about both deserts was the use of sugar; neither of them were too sweet but just right.
As night began to fall, we were immersed in comparing culinary notes about Singapore and Malaysia. The courtyard started to fill up with people coming to relax over and after-work drink and tourists flocked to eat dinner amidst historical surroundings. According to me and my palate, it was an evening well spent in Singapore, which was enhanced even more by the company I had during the meal. If ever in Singapore, Pizzeria Giardino is a must visit.
30 Victoria Street