Now Open: Wild Child Pizzette
Built on a decade-old promise and dough-making philosophy, The Cicheti Group’s latest opening defies all conventions of a traditional Neapolitan pizzeria with big swings—on smaller canvases—at modern tastes.
Neapolitan pizzas. That was all chef co-owner Lim Yew Aun wanted to be rolling, kneading, and slinging out from his two-tonne, Hershey-shaped wood-fired oven when the first Cicheti concept was being dreamed up alongside his cousin and restaurateur Liling Ong in 2013—almost a decade ago.
“We’ll open a pizzeria… when we’re ready,” was the promise Ong made then. With that, the fresh-faced duo went on to mark their debut on the local food and beverage scene with a safer, albeit relatively unknown trattoria concept, slowly earning a reputation for its unlikely proposition: an all-local kitchen team serving up Italian regional specialties that don’t fall short including authentic, wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas in an unpretentious, rustic-chic setting tucked in Singapore’s Arab quarters.
Nine years on, the duo has gone on to become a trio, inoculating top sommelier Ronald Kamiyama into the leadership team as business partner, and along with him a treasure trove of illuminating wine discoveries and dad jokes to be had and told. The humble trattoria has grown from strength to strength into a full-fledged eponymous restaurant group, serving as the blueprint for its sister concepts that each offer their own distinctive perspectives—with a shared homespun appreciation—on Italian cuisine. 2019 saw the opening of Bar Cicheti, Singapore’s first pasta and natural-slanted wine bar; followed by Caffe Cicheti in 2020, a modern-day osteria peddling fresh, bright flavours found up and down the coasts of Italy with highly quaffable wines.
“When we’re ready”, as it turns out, came in August 2021 when the doors finally flung open to its fourth outlet and long-awaited pizza-focused concept – Wild Child Pizzette.
"We’ve been ready and ramping up towards the opening for some time now, but the pandemic forced us to shift gears and focus on getting our existing outlets past the hump. The extra time, however, gave us the perfect opportunity to encapsulate all the lessons we’ve learned over the years, and devote them into refining a pizzeria and bar experience that is the sum of all our wildest imagination and best parts.”
Ong, on the decision to open amidst a frenzied industry finding its footing in the transition to a new COVID-19 endemic landscape.
All good things come in 10 inches
As its name suggests, Wild Child centres its food menu around Neapolitan style pizzette. Typically used to reference smaller sized pizzas, each pizzetta in Wild Child measures right up to a snug 10 inches – the ideal size for a single diner, and the perfect excuse to order a variety to share across the table. The heart and soul of each pizzetta is baked on a slow-fermented, Neapolitan style crust that starts with a traditional Italian pre-yeast Biga and undergoes two stages of fermentation that takes no less than 60 hours each time. The dough-making philosophy is one that chef Aun and his team of pizzaiolos have spent the better part of the last decade perfecting at Cicheti, and lends itself to a crust that—with mere minutes blasted in the wood-fired oven—seals in a unique flavour, imparting an irresistibly moist, light and airy texture that yields to a bite that’s chewy yet crisp, all at once.
10 INCHES, FOUR SLICES, MORE CHOICES
Departing from the traditional toppings that Cicheti’s pizzas are known for, Wild Child chooses to adopt a more modern flavour profile, while remaining decidedly and authentically Italian. While the menu still has a soft spot for a conventional Margherita D.O.P. (S$19.50) which offers the holy grail of tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil, grana padano, and extra virgin olive oil to keep traditionalists in check , it also deviates into more playful variations such as Crispy Fried Margherita (S$21) which unabashedly dunks the pizza dough into a deep fryer before topping it with creamy clouds of stracciatella, sweet bursts of semi-dried San Marzano tomatoes, fresh basil and thick shavings of aged parmigiana.
Flavour bombs come in all forms—three, to be exact. A simple Marinara ($15.50) packs its punch from Cicheti’s famed “mother sauce”, a hand-milled, slow-simmered house tomato sauce loaded with chef Aun’s favourite ingredient—heaps and heaps of garlic—that’s further accentuated with a judicious sprinkling of Sicilian oregano, slivers of fresh garlic and trusty basil. Old is spun into gold with Trio Formaggio (S$19), a three-cheese deviation from the traditional four cheese classic that swaps out the funkiness of gorgonzola with taleggio’s mild, fruity tang, while caramelised onions lend an irresistible sweetness to every bite. On the other end of the spectrum, Spiniata Calabrese ($19) is a feisty number named after a spicy salame from Calabria characterised by its fiery pepperoncino flavour. Topped with fennel seeds on a bed of fior di latte, the salami is blasted in the wood-fired oven till crisped at the edges, its intense heat sparing no subtlety with a heavy-handed drizzle of Sichuan chilli honey.
Eating your greens come easy with options such as Cavolo Nero (S$18.50), a pizzetta that bring out the deep and earthy sweetness of Tuscan kale with bright bursts of lemon and pickled onions – resulting in the perfect contrast needed to counter the sharp, intense flavours of bagna cauda and garlic confit. Peperonata (S$18.50) brings to the table a grilled summer medley of roasted seasonal peppers, onions and spicy jalapeño brought together with a nutty pesto spread.
PRE AND POST PIZZETTE VICTUALS
With the pizzette selection front and centre, an array of hot and cold antipasti (anti-pizzette) and homemade desserts (post-pizzette) are available to round off the meal delightfully. Standouts to start include Bikini (S$18.50), a slow-braised beef cheek marmalade layered with melted taleggio and provolone sandwiched between toasted pizza dough bread; and Kurobuta (from S$17 for 200g)—or as chef Aun endearingly refers to as “siew yoke”—which sees the black pork belly seasoned with a secret blend of spices and roasted until it forms an ASMR-inducing crackling, served with house-fermented giardiniera and a crackerjack chilli oil. Vegetarian options once again don’t fall short with Cauliflower (S$14.50) roasted for a beautiful char, served with coriander, mint and a fistful of chopped pistachios on a bed of creamy labneh. Caesar-ish (S$15.50) goes beyond just questionable naming conventions and into an upgrade of the oft-overlooked salad staple by dressing nuttier, crunchier endive spears in lieu of crisp romaine lettuce, finished with focaccia croutons, shavings of aged parmigiana and a cured egg yolk begging to be broken into and join in the fun.
End your meal on a satisfying burp and literal high with a slice of homemade Pecan Tart (S$13). Freshly baked every morning, a brown sugar-bourbon pecan filling rich with complex praline flavours without being cloyingly sweet is firmly encased into a perfectly flaky and buttery shortcrust pastry shell, sliced to order, and topped with a boozy whisky gelato and drizzles of caramel and bourbon sauce. Keep it PG-13 with an unbelievably creamy Pistachio Gelato (S$7), sweet where it matters while allowing the nutty savouriness of chopped pistachios and sea salt to come through.
Take a sip of the wild stuff
As with every Cicheti concept, Kamiyama has devised a beverage programme built around the brand’s identity, the locale and its audience, and an innate ability to go hand in hand with the food offering – all while favouring a more “natural” selection from producers that adopt organic, biodynamic, and sustainable practices. Keeping in line with the all things “wild”, Kamiyama has chosen to do away with your run-of-the-mill, insert-number-strong wine list, and go off-the-book and on an almost nerdy tangent.
TO TRUST AND TO DISCOVER
Wine drinkers are asked to take a leap of faith by ordering from a by-the-glass menu as vague as something Bubbly, Macerated (rosé or orange), White (light and citrus or round and fruity), or Red (light and fresh or round and fruity). This new-fangled approach allows Kamiyama to keep the wine curation fresh and drinkers curiously on their toes, with fun surprises at every turn. A listed bottle selection, La Enoteca, is available, with enlightening categories such as Italy’s lesser-known Native varietals to the Famous Bordeaux’s and Barolo’s; bottle-fermented Bubbly varietals to long skin macerated Orange wines; an International selection of wines outside Italy and even a Wild wine option which lets the sommelier choose from one of Kamiyama’s favourite “fermented grape juice”.
TO GUZZLE AND TO NURSE
Noting its proximity to the CBD and the busy Boat Quay stretch, Kamiyama has chosen to also widen the beverage offering beyond wines and delve into ancient nihonshu and funky craft beers – good times guzzlers that can easily be enjoyed after work or nursed late into the night, while never seeming out of a slice of pizzetta in hand. The sake selection reads like a page straight out of Kamiyama’s wine bible – favouring traits such as indigenous and organic rice strains; or ancient cultivation methods such as native yeasts and self-cultivated kōji, all prized for their high polish rates. A menu of six craft beers—one of each style and each from a different brewery from around the word—keeps the experience fuss-free and hopheads humble. Happy hour, or “The Smackdown Hour” as Kamiyama declares, runs from 5.30pm to 6.30pm every day of the week with a straight 10 per cent discount on all bottles, or—for the winos feeling lucky—a “Blinder” quiz where a blind taste test on a mystery bottle of wine followed by their best out of three answers on the wine’s origins will determine tiered discounts winners can enjoy that range from a 25 per cent off to the entire bottle on the house. Diners and bar seat warmers can also choose from two “Sommakase” options (S$39 a la carte, S$32 per pax for parties of 4 and more) that allow the sommelier to choose a flight of three pours of wines that best complement their meal ahead.
An unlikely oasis of creativity and calm
Situated along a winding row of conservation shophouses on Circular Road—where the hustle of the CBD, like clockwork and the sun, melts away into the bustling Boat Quay riverfront—Wild Child stands out at first glance for its clean, minimalist aesthetic and brightly lit interiors, juxtaposed by stacks of bright red pizza boxes in overhead shelves that can’t help but catch the eye. Step in for a meal and you’ll meet a curious cast of Keith Haring-inspired doodles scattered throughout touch points that pop up at every turn, while old-school hip hop gems streaming from a twin set of Devialet Phantom speakers blend seamlessly into the background. The unlikely setting was dreamed up by Ong, who commissioned Amsterdam-based interior design firm Studio Königshausen, local art collective Ripple Root, and DJ wunderkind Mr. Has—all of whom are long-time collaborators of The Cicheti Group—to help bring her vision to life.
Minimal Japanese Modernism
Slip under a striking red awning and past the five-foot way, where every expectation of what a pizzeria might begin to look like is best left behind a pair of tatami-style lattice sliding doors, which reveals a narrow ground floor shophouse unit wrapped in a crisply detailed cloak of white Japanese oak from wall to wall. Elsewhere, black terrazzo flooring grounds the pale wood composition by way of contrast, while wooden ceiling baffles add a clean, complementary character and enhanced acoustics perfect for a buzzy restaurant. Sharp, clean lines carve out a bar counter that extends into a semi-open kitchen, occupying one-half of the restaurant while offering up to 36 diners seated on the other half unfettered views of the team at work, including an authentic wood-fired oven specially shipped in from Naples that peeks out at the dining area as it burns brightly all day long.
The bad boys of pizza and pop art
A closer look into some of the visual branding elements and key touch points might suggest that American pop art icon of the eighties Keith Haring—an artist widely credited for putting street art on the global map—was the inspiration for Ong, who indeed drew parallels between Haring’s unconventional rise to fame in the art world and her rule-breaking, oft-stubborn cousin and chef, Aun. She explains further, “Similar to Haring, Aun’s independent journey to express himself through his craft wholeheartedly, despite it going against every convention and norm, is something that has always inspired me and I wanted to translate that across somehow.”
Having worked with Ripple Root through the years—she commissioned one of their earlier Peranakan murals on the walls of Cicheti and a custom oil painting at Bar Cicheti—Ong entrusted the duo once again to create a visual identity for Wild Child that pays homage to Haring’s energetic and carefree icons. She went insofar as approaching local ceramics studio ves.studio to produce a custom series of raw porcelain sconces with the designs etched on, adding a distinct character to the warm glow against the walls
Hip hop's defining age
Taking cues from Haring’s well-documented love affair with the burgeoning hip-hop scene of New York City in the eighties, a sublime curation of old-school hip-hop influences all the way from New York to Japan put together by music maverick Mr. Has was the final touch to pull the entire concept together, culminating in an experiential sweet spot that marries the sleek planarity of minimal Japanese modernism and American-cool aesthetic of Keith Haring’s exuberant art and influences.
“Wild Child, as the name suggests, is essentially a platform for Aun, Ronald and myself to explore and get creative with our own tropes, and put it all behind a product that we’ve spent the past decade perfecting, and are committed to continue growing on all fronts. It's a deeply personal project to us that started with a simple promise almost a decade ago. We're extremely fortunate to be able to collaborate with our friends we’ve met along the way who happen to be some of the best in their craft, in creating an authentic, engaging Wild Child vibe and experience that was inspired by one of our own, and now reimagined for every guest who walks through our doors. We’re beyond excited to see what the future holds from here on out.”
Liling Ong, Restaurateur, The Cicheti Group