It has been slightly under a year since my last visit to the Hilton Singapore's rooftop Italian restaurant, il Cielo, and so I was very excited to check out the new dining experience with newly-appointed Chef de Cuisine, Yohhei Sasaki. Chef Sasaki has culinary experience across one-to-three Michelin-starred Italian restaurants in Tuscany and Lombardia where he perfected his skills to combine the seasonal Italian and Japanese gourmet produce to create unique Italian dishes with a touch of Japanese flair. Two degustation menus (wine-pairing available) for dinner (also available during lunch) have been created by Chef Sasaki to showcase some of his signature dishes.
For dinner service, il Cielo opens officially at 6:30PM but I have always been the kind to arrive slightly ahead of time - there is nothing more annoying that having to rush or being late. The restaurant is located on the highest floor of the hotel (level 24) and it overlooks the swimming pool as well as some well-known buildings along Orchard Road. There is always something calming and enjoyable about a meal by the pool but I can't quite put my finger on it.
I decided to go for the 5-course Degustazione (Japan) Tasting Menu (S$118++) and wine-pairing by the glass is also available at a S$30++ supplement. While waiting for the first course, a small platter of fresh breads was served. I was also poured a glass of Prosecco from Zardetto which reminded me a lot more of a Champagne than a regular Prosecco.
The first course is an amuse bouche which was just visually stunning! Shaped and made like a tortilla, the saltiness of the cured meat encapsulates the creaminess of the burrata cheese inside perfectly. I really enjoyed the burst of flavours from the freshly shaven summer truffles as well as the zest from the lime as well.
The second-course of the degustation menu features the famous kinmedai (golden eye snapper) which is a key seasonal ingredient that is often found in great Japanese restaurants. While most of us traditionally associate the use of beef in a carpaccio, Chef Sasaki has married this prized ingredient with a madeira wine dressing and a pink grapefruit snow (I actually missed out on capturing the smoke but it is quite a treat for the eyes as well) which is served table-side. The seaweed tuile which is made from Japanese konbu and fashioned in a thin wafer is painstakingly prepared by the chef personally. One of the things I look forward to with eating kinmedai is the unique texture that is not commonly associated with raw fish - it is tender but yet the fibers are slightly more pronounced. I absolutely love how the natural sweetness of the fish is further complemented by the zest and tartness of the grapefruit snow.
The third course is the Spaghetti ai Ricci di Mare and it is a beautiful blend of homemade spaghetti, sea urchin from Hokkaido, Sardinia bottarga and yuzu. Firstly, I have to declare my love for sea urchin and bottarga separately - I absolutely love both ingredients and so when I saw this dish on the menu, I knew I had to try it! Both ingredients are commonly associated with Japanese and Italian cuisine respectively but I was quite curious to see how it comes together as the taste profile is succinctly different. Even though I am generally not a big fan of yuzu, it all came together perfectly in this dish - you get the bite from the al dente spaghetti, the distinctive briny and something caviar-like flavours from the bottarga and finally you get that custard-like creaminess from the sea urchin. What an absolute bliss!
The fourth course is a choice between the Giapponese Orata Grigliata and the Costina di Manzo 'Toriyama Wagyu A4'. Unfortunately you can't have both (unless you go with a friend!) but having tasted both, I highly recommend the Giapponese Orata Grigliata if you love fish. Fish is extremely difficult to get right and the Japanese sea bream was just done to perfection - the flesh is firm and moist but more importantly, the flavours were all sealed in without losing its natural oils. The protein is also served with portobello mushrooms, sautéed porcini risotto and green tea crumbles.
Meat-lovers will not go wrong with the Costina di Manzo 'Toriyama Wagyu A4' which utilises a highly-marbled A4 grade of Wagyu beef from Toriyama. The fork-tender caramelised short rib is served with sauteed saffron risotto, lemon gel and an Italian parsley sauce.
Finally for the last course, Chef Sasaki has created La Sfera which literally translates into "the sphere". The jelly-like outer casing is made from with yuzu and an acacia honey gel and it encloses a delicious lemon sorbet that is surrounded by an unexpected ricotta cheese espuma which has the consistency of whipped cream. The appointment of Chef Sasaki as the Chef de Cuisine of il Cielo is definitely an interesting (and somewhat unexpected in my opinion) one and I am extremely curious to see what else is to come. If you are a fan of Italian techniques with a slight Japanese influence, this place will not disappoint!
This was an invited media-tasting session, though all views expressed are my own.