Stepping into bar Milano felt almost surreal.
Maybe it’s because it’s the first bar we visited after months of social isolation. Or maybe it’s got the look of a classic Milanese trattoria right down to the ground — with its vintage European lighting, restored wooden furniture, Italian hand-painted tiles, red brick walls, and ham legs hanging above the bar.
There’s something transportive about this new kid on the block, and it’s exactly what we need to soothe our pain of wanderlust. To create that romantic, amber-hued Italian cafe setting, the folks at SJS Group, who also run Pasta Bar, Lulu’s Lounge, Employees Only and Papi’s Tacos, hired a movie set designer to realise their vision. More than that, they spent months curating the playlist featuring 1960’s Italian pop. If Sophia Loren walked in, you wouldn’t be surprised.
Of course, the food and drinks play a part in the whole experience — but the Italian-leaning menu deviates from the usual wine-pasta-pizza formula. Yes, there are some lovely bottles of red, white, rosé and sparkling wines here, but the spritzes are the stars of the show. It seems fitting for this calamitous time, too, to embrace the Italian ritual of aperitivo now that bars can only serve alcohol until 1030pm.
The Bianco Spritz, the Lambrusco Spritz, and the Negroni Sbagliato all make great kickoffs to the golden hour, depending on your mood. If you want to start light, go for the sprightly Bianco, with Cocchi Americano, prosecco, Italian basil, and a dash of housemade sweet and sour tincture. If you’re hankering for something punchier, the lush and highly sippable Lambrusco is essentially the Italian equivalent of Sangria: the Italian red sparkling wine, a helping of housemade cherry syrup and Mancino Chinato vermouth. Then there’s the Sbagliato, a negroni-spritz hybrid for those who’s thirsty for both — made with Rinomato, London Dry Gin, Cocchi Vermouth Di Torino, Cocchi Chinato (which replaces Camapri) and prosecco.
In most Italian establishments, the antipasti menu will likely have a cured meats, olives and cheese platter, some crostinis, a Caprese salad, Proscuitto con Melone, bruschetta, and carpaccio. You’ll find none of those at bar Milano — well, not in their traditional forms but wonderful enough to go back for. The addictive deep-fried pork-stuffed olives are not made for sharing, because we’re pretty sure you can pop all six in no more than 10 minutes. Instead of carpaccio and crostinis, there’s a luxurious steak tartare on sourdough and slathered with salty anchovy cream, giving raw beef a strangely-good fishy oomph. And happy were we to also find burrata amongst the antipasti: here, it comes with sweet honey-roasted peaches, basil, and aged balsamic.
If it hasn’t quite sunk in that this really isn’t your typical Italian joint, the “pizzas” will set you straight. Deep-fried (not baked) and topped with a variety of cheeses, vegetables, and fungi, these pizza frittas (otherwise called “the other Neopolitan pizza”) are doughy and flavoursome. Think your regular pizza, but with more bite. Should there be room for another main, order the Chicken Milanese, in which chicken breast is pounded, breaded, deep-fried, showered with shredded parmesan and served with apple and fennel ‘slaw.
Italian aperitifs are created for summertime day-drinking, so Singapore is most certainly primed for the spritz life that bar Milano is championing. With its impressive repertoire of amaro and vermouths, we’re looking forward to more exciting spin-offs of the bubbly, low-ABV cocktail on the drinks list. But for now, this new Keong Saik resident is sprinkling air of jocundity over this gloom and doom hanging above our heads.
(All images courtesy of bar Milano)