Anthony Bourdain raved about it. J. Kenji López-Alt eats it out of the skillet. And Massimo Bottura riffed on it in a way only a famous Italian chef can. Introducing cacio e pepe, and where to get some best examples in Singapore.
Roman in origin and Italian for Cheese and Pepper, cacio e pepe is defined by its minimalism. There’s pasta, which can range from spaghetti to more fanciful shapes. Pecorino cheese is essential, and so is black pepper. But its simplicity means subpar ingredients and off-the-mark cooking have nowhere to hide.
Perhaps that’s why only a few restaurants in Singapore attempt to faithfully recreate the classic. Caffe Fernet is one, with distinct mafaldine pasta and Kampot black pepper. Bar Cicheti is another, preferring bucatini and black pepper from Sarawak. For Pasta Bar, it’s hand rolled garganelli and a shower of pecorino at the end.
Less pasta-centric venues also do cacio e pepe well. Gemma is an example, which applies the same dedication to the dish as it does to its steaks. Lucali BYGB joins the crowd with a fusilli rendition that’s just as popular as its pizzas. See below for more.
(Hero and featured image credit: AlexPro9500/iStock/Getty Images & Caffe Fernet)
5 best places in Singapore to order cacio e pepe from:
Jigger & Pony’s Italian concept turns to the striking mafaldine pasta for its take on the dish. The wide, flat, ribbon edged pasta is tossed with grated 24-month parmesan, pecorino D.O.P. and locally sourced cracked Kampot pepper, producing a sumptuous meal that’s big enough for two, or one ravenous individual.
Mondays to Thursday, 5pm – 11pm
Fridays and Saturdays, 12pm to midnight
Sundays, 12pm to 11pm
Bar Cicheti’s cacio e pepe starts off with bucatini, a thicker, hollow kind of spaghetti. It’s then twirled with freshly grated parmesan, Sarawak black pepper and marjoram, before a final squeeze of lemon brightens the dish up.
S$30; available for delivery only
Daily, 12pm to 2.30pm, 6pm to 10.30pm
Besides meats, Gemma Steakhouse knows how to manipulate pasta into a gorgeous cacio e pepe. A rich, velvety sauce clings to spaghetti from the storied Monograno Felicetti, which makes them from an organic, single-variety grain. Once the dish is served, a server comes round with a grinder the size of a small child and cracks black pepper over it.
Tuesdays to Sundays, 12pm to 2.30pm, 6pm top 10.30pm
Pizza may rule at Lucali, but their cacio e pepe is also a star. It starts with long curls of fusilli pasta, which are joined by pecorino and black pepper, then topped with more freshly grated pecorino. As a colleague describes it, it’s “creamy, velvety rich and highly addictive.”
Wednesdays and Thursdays, 5pm to 11pm
Fridays to Sundays, 12pm to 3pm, 5pm to 11pm
Pasta Bar takes pride in making all their pastas in house, and the cacio e pepe is no exception. Squares of dough are rolled into a short, tube-like shape to become garganelli, then tossed with pecorino, parmesan and black pepper. A shower of freshly shaved pecorino is the final brushstroke to the art piece.
Mondays to Wednesdays, 6pm to 10.30pm
Thursdays to Sundays, 12pm to 3pm, 6pm to 10.30pm