The first time I stepped into Lucali BYGB for a sneak peek in March, there was nothing in there but a lonesome dining table, set prettily with quaint, mismatched tableware, and candles after candles of varying sizes. A single Devialet speaker was playing an eclectic mix of Frank Sinatra, Drake, and Morrisey. There was no kitchen, no flooring, no lighting overhead, no windows, no bathrooms.
But in that bare-bones space there was that magic of possibilities. Gibran Baydoun, who had been 1880’s maestro and Momofuku’s director of restaurant operations, envisioned a place where people could eat amazing time-honoured food, drink some excellent wines, feel taken care of and right at home at the same time. All these came together beautifully in the months that followed: the floor is now part tile, part concrete; each long wooden table has a hidden drawer that holds extra cutlery and napkins; vintage lamps from Brooklyn give the space a soft, amber glow; and on the walls are retro-style images of celebrities like Grace Jones, Gisele Bundchen, and Chloe Sevigny. The cheery, unobtrusive wait staff wear lab coats. There is a row of display fridges near the entrance where you can pick your wine like you would in a convenience store, except that the bottles here, sorted by price and not location, are far more interesting (like a pair of red and white made exclusively for the restaurant by Australian winemaker L.A.S. Vino House Wines).
Lucali BYGB opened its doors a little more than a month ago, and already it’s heaving with people clamouring for a taste of its legendary 18-inch pies. The hype is completely justified. Lucali in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens, founded by Italian-American Mark Iacono, is considered to be one of the best pizzerias in New York. It was where Jay Z and Beyoncé dined when they skipped the 2012 Grammys. David Beckham is also a regular, once exclaiming he “had the most amazing meal there” on his socials.
To be clear, you won’t get the exact replica of Lucali’s famous thin-crusted, New York-style pizzas here, though Iacano is said to be very involved. Pizza is a complex thing. But the ones made by chef Ariana Flores, formerly of the now-defunct Osteria Mozza, have the same structure: a light, blistery base, slathered with Lucali’s rustic four-hour tomato sauce and topped with buffalo mozzarella, Grana Padano and fresh basil leaves. If you like your pizzas with more, uh, pizzazz, throw in pepperoni, onions, olives, mushrooms and anchovies (just not all of them at once). We were greedy, so ours came fabulously dotted with pepperoni and mushrooms. Iacono’s grandmother’s tomato sauce recipe comes through like lightning with every bite, then dances around with the salty-meatiness of the pepperoni, the slight earthiness from the mushrooms, the creaminess of the cheese, and the distinct aroma of basil.
The pizza is undeniably restorative, but the Lucali gang has more up their sleeves. That unassuming cacio e pepe with long fusilli, pecorino, and black pepper is an orgasmic hit deserving of all of our gustatory groans of delight. The meatloaf, inspired by Baydoun’s mother’s recipe, is juicier and more aromatic than I remembered having pre-opening. Its decadent lasagne will knock your socks off. Even the Caesar salad, box-fresh and festooned with ‘crunchewy’ croutons, parmesan, and anchovies, is worth ordering again on return visits.
Some might be underwhelmed by the desserts on the menu: just a pie of the day and soft serve ice cream in a cone or sundae with all the candy works. They’re unpretentious, nostalgic, and slightly mischievous, which is, I think, exactly what Baydoun wanted his Singapore offshoot to be — a warm-hearted, take-your-friends-and-family kind of dining spot where you can eat with your hands and not worry about red sauce or wine dripping down your front. Hooray for that.
Lucali BYGB, 66 Kampong Bugis, Level M, Singapore 338987, +65 8284 1325
(All images: Lucali BYGB)