A rustic and intimate Italian eatery located in Craig Road, the inITALY Bar & Ristorante is helmed by Chef Mario Caramella – who whips up hearty Italian dishes with flavour akin to the Italian countryside, since it was started in 2012.
Prior to opening up inITALY, Mario, now aged 60, has previously headed the kitchens of some of the region’s most well-known and awarded restaurants. For example, he re-opened The Mistral in Hong Kong in 1991, and soon after, it became one of the country’s finest restaurants. Later, he served as Chef de Cuisine at Grissini, which is the flagship Italian restaurant of the Grand Hyatt – in Hong Kong. And in Sydney, he was responsible for opening up the Al Porto at the Star City Casino, and has also worked as the Executive Chef for Hyatt Hotels in both Thailand as well as in Bali.
And as the founder and president of a global community – the Virtual Group of Italian Chefs (GVCI), Mario today has established a network of more than 2,000 chefs working in 70 countries worldwide. Mario is well-recognised within the community of Food & Beverage leaders today, but still continues to remain true to his mission of retaining the authenticity of Italian cuisine and sharing it with the world.
Prides himself on his authentic Italian cuisine
At inITALY, Mario prides himself on his authentic Italian food. He said, “The entire Italian restaurant scene in Singapore is all cooking the same food, so I try to give my diners a different experience on what Italian cuisine is all about. That is why I have things such as raw fish, suckling pig and a 1.5kg of steak on my menu. Also we do not pre-cook anything and we cook for Italians – why should we cater our food to the local taste?”
He continued, “To me, taste and authenticity of food is all about perception. If you do not know what Italian cuisine is all about, your perception will be limited to what you do know. So then even a mediocre restaurant can make it and sell themselves as a fine-dining restaurant. That is what is happening in many of the countries of the world, not only with Italian cuisine, but with everything else too.”
As such, Mario buys the raw ingredients for his dishes from overseas, in order to retain the authenticity. He said, “We buy almost everything from overseas; there is not much local ingredients in Singapore that we can rely on. We have suppliers whom we can trust in Italy and Europe for almost all of our raw materials.”
I had been recently invited to a lunch time food tasting session at inITALY and here are my comments about the food there.
The Real Raspadura ($14)
This is a unique appetiser comprising purely of freshly shaved Lodigiano Cheese flakes. And according to Mario, this dish is quite uncommon in Singapore as very few restaurants serve it in this part of the world.
I felt that this is a very intricate and niche appetiser, that will certainly cater to cheese lovers. The shavings have been cut extremely thin and fine, and they are delicate to the touch. They also really melt inside your mouth. The flavour of the cheese is quite strong but at the same time, I find that it leaves you craving for just one more little piece, each time.
Crudo di Pesce ($38)
This appetiser is Italian style “sashimi” and comprises of scallops, Mazara red prawns, Boston lobsters and Mediterranean red tuna.
Said Mario, “This is a selection of raw fish that is a speciality of the Puglia region in Italy – they like eating raw fish.”
In this dish, I thought the flavours of the various seafood items had been brought out very well. My personal favourite was the lobster – this had been cooked but was served cold and with little seasoning, and as such I could really taste the freshness of the lobster.
The tuna was also rather nice – this had been marinated and it had a nice, spicy flavour that I thought was rather yummy. The scallops, which was a little squishy in texture, also appeared to have a slight tinge of the same flavour, but that had probably been because they were placed next to each other on the serving plate though.
As for the prawns, they too, seemed to taste quite fresh.
Pasta & Risotto
This is a pasta dish comprising of home-made spaghetti with Canadian lobster, tomatoes and chilli.
Said Mario, “This pasta is freshly made in our restaurant, with a tool that looks like a guitar – as such, you will realise that the pasta is not round, it has a square section in the middle.”
He added, “We serve a wide range of pastas at our restaurant such as Ravioli, Risoni with squid ink and Spaghetti Al Dente, but this one is one of my signature pastas.”
When I tried the pasta, I could immediately tell that it was home-made. The freshness was there – it was quite a contrast to the pastas from the supermarkets. Also, the tomato paste that was used to prepare the pasta, had a rich and home-made taste – and it seemed to have some cheese, followed by a very subtle chilli flavour at the very end, lingering in the mouth.
Maialino da Latte (From $70)
One of inITALY’s signature dishes, this is a 3.7kg crispy skin boneless suckling pig and is served with glazed onions, balsamic syrup and truffle honey.
Said Mario, “This dish comes from the Sardinia Region in Italy where they have a big tradition of suckling pigs. We debone the pig completely as this makes it easier to eat and improves the cooking standard of the meat. The skin is crispy and we make sure that every centimetre of the skin is exactly the same – that there is no one side that is more or less crispy than the other.”
He added, “And like the rest of our dishes, we do not pre-cook this. We have had customers asking us if they need to pre-order our sucking pig as they have to do at many of the Chinese restaurants; but I tell them to simply order it when they come here, and within 25 minutes it is ready. So I have conceptualised the perfect recipe.”
When I tried the pig, the skin was indeed very crispy and this balanced out the tender meat quite well. The dish was a little rich, but then again, I felt that this had simply added to the satisfying flavour as well as the moisture of the meat – and as such, I could see exactly why this is a signature dish at the restaurant. I would most probably come back here for the suckling pig.
Another signature dish at the restaurant, this is roasted boneless French quail, wrapped in pancetta and stuffed with foie gras, sage and raisin filling. It was served with mashed corn kibble at the side.
Said Mario, “The idea of this quail recipe came about when I was in Hong Kong and invited to three wine dinners within the space of two months. All three had quail on the menu, and at all of them, the quail was done miserably. I figured that I could do something better for this little bird, and that’s when I thought of cooking it in this way.”
He continued, “So I bought a quail, deboned it myself and prepared it with goose liver, sage and truffle and wrapped it in pancetta and cooked it in the oven, and it came out beautifully. It has since become a gourmet dish of my creation, easy to eat and cut without any bones to worry about.”
Indeed when I tried this dish for myself, I was completely blown away by it. Served with corn kibble, I thought that the pancetta wrapped around the quail meat really gave it a very nice and distinctive taste. The combination went very well together and it greatly enhanced the natural flavours of the quail. Also, I could detect traces of the foie gras stuffing in the quail meat itself – this was really yummy and did not overwhelm the dish, and enhanced the flavours further.
The corn kibble was tasty too and I could also detect a slight cheese flavour coming from it, as though some cheese had been mixed inside. This combined very nicely together with the quail too, and added some texture to the dish.
The quail was quite good so I helped myself to extra helpings, even though I had been feeling quite full by this stage of the meal.
Cannolo Aperto ($16)
This dessert consists of Sheep’s milk ricotta cheese mousse with Sicilian candied fruit, layered on top of crispy Cannolo biscuit and pistachio ice cream.
Said Mario, “Cannolo is a traditional Italian dessert, like a tube of pastry filled with ricotta and deep fried. The pastry dough is very crispy as a result, and this is usually an afternoon snack that Italians eat with their hands, or as street food.”
He added, “But in our restaurant I use the same recipe, but instead of deep frying, I bake it in the oven. It is still crispy but instead of preparing a round dough I do it in sheet format, changing the presentation of the dish, so that it can be presented on a plate. But the effect in the mouth is still the same though.”
This dessert was good. There were so many flavours and textures in the dish – the sweetness of the Sicilian candied fruit mixed in together with the savoury, strong and distinctive flavours of the Ricotta cheese blended in well.
At the same time, the cheese, together with the crunchy Cannolo biscuit and the smooth, melt-in-your-mouth pistachio ice cream, made a great combination.
In fact it was so delicious that I had even found myself unconsciously scraping the melted Pistachio ice cream off the plate, too.
But I must mention that the dessert must be eaten quite fast though, because the Cannolo biscuit sheets have the tendency to get soggy fairly quickly.
However, this was a dish that had tasted so good, that I would certainly like to order it again.
Zabaglione – The Italian Viagra ($16)
This dessert comprises of a Moscato Sabayon mixed with crumble and peach sorbet.
Quipped Mario, “Let’s take viagra together, and have fun!”
Upon tasting this, the first flavour that I picked up was a sour and acidic one, possibly coming from the peach sorbet. Later on, I could detect some sweetness though. Texture wise, the custard-based dessert was very smooth and it melted very nicely inside my mouth. Overall, I thought that it was a very interesting and very intricate dessert that had appeared to tug on my taste buds and senses, in its own rather special way.
Makes his own wine
Besides preparing authentic Italian food, Mario also added that he makes his own wine. He said, “I have a vineyard in Queensland, in Australia and I produce three types of wines – Viognier, Shiraz and Chardonnay.”
In fact, Mario also gave us one of his white wines to try. This one was the Bob&Pam Viognier – it had been named after Mario’s parents-in-law. The flavour was quite interesting – for instance, compared to some other white wines, it was semi-dry and fruity and was an easy wine to drink.
Squashing misconceptions about Italian cuisine
As a whole, the food at inITALY Bar Ristorante had been not just tasty and enjoyable, but coming here have certainly helped to squash those misconceptions that many, including myself, may have, about Italian food as being just pasta and pizza.
Said Mario, “Some of the most common misconceptions, is that carbonara is an Italian dish – actually it’s not; it is really an American dish. But this is a problem that we will never be able to completely solve, though exposing more people to authentic Italian food will help to minimise these misconceptions. In fact I think that the overall perception of Italian food has changed and improved a lot over the years.”
And more authentic restaurants such as inITALY will almost certainly, further help to debunk such misconceptions about real Italian cuisine.
Said Mario, “Customers who come here for the first time are usually quite surprised by the authenticity of our cuisine, especially those who have been to and travelled around Italy. They compare what they are having here, to what they have had in Italy and they say that it is great. They recognise that this place is truly authentic and that what we do is serious. When you come here, you get the true Italian experience and the right flavours as well as knowing the right way to eat.”
He continued, “For example, we do not drink Cappuccino after a heavy meal – if you have a big meal and then you drink milk after that, it is a recipe for disaster to the digestive system. To me, I strongly believe that being a chef isn’t just about preparing good food; it is also educating diners about eating and what to combine together in a meal.”
inITALY Bar Ristorante
38 Craig Road,
(Off Neil Road / Tanjong Pagar Road)
SUN to FRI 12pm – 2.30pm
Closed for Saturday lunch
SUN to THUR 6pm – 10.30pm
FRI & SAT 6pm – 12 Midnight
For reservations, call +65 6423 0918 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.