iO Italian Osteria is more Italian than its name suggests. The rapid flow of Italian in the kitchen followed by the all-too-familiar pop of the cork, enhances the vibe and surrounding atmosphere of the restaurant. Paired against a minimalist interior of glass, stainless steel and whitewashed wood furnishing, there’s also a sense of style that one only gets from the Italians.
Before going into any specifics, here are some quick details about this amazing restaurant:
Address: 4 Hillview Rise, #02-01, HillV2
Cuisine tags: Italian, minimalist, industrial chic
Good for: Large group gatherings, Sunday brunch, slow-it-down-weekends
Summary: Generous amounts of authentic Italian fare with a hint of the home-made touch
From what I learned, the owner of the iO group appears to hail from Rome. As a Permanent Resident of Singapore, she’s decided to add flavor to the local pot with this outlet at Hillview. On this particular visit, I was fortunate to pick the brains of JoDi (the owner’s nephew) over a well-paced weekend lunch.
Throughout our conversation, JoDi pointed towards various wait and kitchen staff stationed throughout the space. In heavily accented English, he named a number of Italian towns as he described each figure. Truly, iO inherits its genuine taste of Italy through the members who play an integral part in its day-to-day operations. Judging by the steady stream of new and repeat customers, iO seems to have found a sweet spot in attracting a growing pool of loyalists. Perhaps, that is why plans for a regional expansion haven’t been removed from the drawing board. As our conversation drew to a close, the starters began to arrive, at which point my fellow eaters and I felt the need to take a stab at it for ourselves.
Fresh out of the oven was the porchetta. Butterflied and re-folded to create a roll, the slice of pork before us was a treat in itself. Stuffed with bits of fennel, the porchetta was generously thick and maintained an even juiciness on the inside. It was the crackling however, which added a different dimension to the dish. The golden exterior was seamlessly bubbled and crisped, and cracked with a crunch and certain sense of satisfaction. Paired with a touch of mustard, it set the tone and the standard for the rest of the meal.
Since no Italian affair is legitimized without any form of truffle, the second starter ordered was the stuffed Roman Schiacciata ($15.00). While presentation of this rather simple grilled sandwich didn’t score many points, the flavor all but made up for it. Filled with pecorino cheese (made from sheep’s milk) and bits of black truffle, it added a rustic touch to the meal. I found that the use of pecorino added intricacy without overpowering the main truffle feature of the dish.
At iO, a combination of daily specials is lovingly handwritten on their chalkboard. This makes each visit come alive with something new available off the menu. On this particular day, the recommended special was cannelloni stuffed with minced meat and spinach. Baked through, it arrived amidst a sprinkle of crumbling feta cheese.
To complete the plating, a dab of freshly pureed tomato paste grazed the side of the cannelloni. While plus points were given for the attention to detail in plating (see the celadon-colored plates smudged with a touch of tomato rouge), taste was what concerned us more. Upon first bite, the filling — though cooked through — leaned towards the drier side of the scale. Adding a dab of tomato puree did little to balance out the moisture either.
Bemused, we turned towards the baked risotto, in hopes it would be on par with the consistency of the appetizers. Fresh out of the oven, the risotto compensated in taste for what it lacked in presentation. Copious amounts of quality cheese bubbled and popped around mounds of Arborio rice, with each bite earning a well-deserved nod of the head. At $16.00, the baked risotto was also the lowest priced main menu item ordered.
By this point, most of us were feeling the fullness of the meal. Yet, the sight of pizza at every table meant that we had to factor it into consideration. Available in three sizes, the assorted medium-sized pizza was ordered. Four different flavors were served on a wooden chopping board, with each slice cut into three segments.
From the broccoli and cherry tomato to the tuna and olive combination, each slice was unique in its own right. With pockets of air bubbles in between the lower and upper crust, the dough maintained a delicate balance of both crisp and chewy textures. A particular favorite of mine was the slice served with oodles of streaky pancetta. Shaved in thin slices, the cured pancetta seemed to melt into the upper crust, leaving behind a delicately salted aftertaste.
As the saying goes, “In Rome, do as the Romans do”. Taking the cue, our fingers found themselves running down the drinks and dessert section. While a negroni or a shot of limoncello would have added yet another (literal) dimension to the meal, rounds of “un caffÃ¨”/espresso ($4.00) were had instead. If there’s one thing to note, it’s to never mess with the coffee at any Italian joint. Requesting for caramel shots or cinnamon powder is akin to rubbing Sichuan peppers in the barista’s eyes. Simply a no-no.
Paired with the coffee was a flourless chocolate cake ($14.00) and a slice of pistachio tiramisu. As with the special of the day, the flourless chocolate was dry and not much to shout about. On the other hand, the blend of coffee, mascarpone and pistachio turned out to be a pleasant surprise. While it fell short in liqueur, the finely chopped nuts added a complex texture to the dish.
Overall, my experience at iO was far more than satisfactory. While some hiccups found their way into dishes such as the special of the day and the flourless chocolate cake, there was little else to doubt. In fact, I was thoroughly impressed by the quality and consistency of the flour used in the schiacciata, pasta and pizza, so much so that I visited their in-house bakery to purchase a few baked treats for the day after. Just to shout out, the bakery also sells pizzas ready for takeaway, along with snacks such as custard and jam-filled sugar donuts. This is in addition to the ad-hoc corner of olive oil, sundried peppers and Tuscan wine all available for purchase.
While prices at iO aren’t exactly inexpensive in nature, you hand over your card knowing that you’ve enjoyed quality, quantity and that distinct sense of Italian hospitality. It is after all, what makes this place more than just “bene.”
*All opinions and images are that of the author’s. This was not a sponsored review.