When I left New York City to move abroad in 2009, the things I missed most were 1) my friends 2) the food and 3) the shopping. Six years on, things like Skype, Facebook and Whatsapp have generally enabled me to maintain my friendships from half a world away. Shopping independent designers during travels across Asia has been a pretty decent tradeoff from Barneys, Saks and all those amazing sample sales. But I’ve yet to find a place on Earth that can replicate two New York icons: pizza and bagels. So you can imagine my elation (and cautious cynicism) when I found out my favourite pizza restaurant in New York, Motorino, had opened a new Singapore location.
To be completely honest, Motorino isn’t exactly the greasy corner spot from which you’d grab a $2.50 slice on the go. The owner and Executive Chef is Belgian and previously worked in some of New York’s finest Michelin-starred kitchens. The original location, in super-hipster Williamsburg (Brooklyn), had strung fairy lights and a cool back patio. And with its gourmet toppings and pillowy, bubbly, oh-so-deliciously-doughy crust, a Neapolitan Motorino pie doesn’t fit the traditional New York model of thin-crust, foldable slices. But the pizzas are SO. DAMN. GOOD. Which is why Motorino is on every list of NYC’s best pizzas.
So how did Singapore stack up? Let’s start with the location. In New York, Motorino currently has outlets in Williamsburg and the East Village, two of the city’s cooler (and yes, most hipsteriffic) neighbourhoods. The equivalent here would probably be Tiong Bahru or Kallang or maybe Jalan Besar. Instead, it’s in…Clarke Quay. And right in the middle of it, too – like, right off one of the fountain spokes, next to McGettigan’s and across from The Pump Room. I’m telling you this because the website gives no indication and we spent 20 minutes pushing our way through drunk people on a Saturday night until I called the restaurant in exasperation. I’m not sure if they’re aiming for tourists, or are hoping to draw people via foot traffic, but needless to say the location doesn’t really do the restaurant justice in my opinion. It’s like if the New York location was in the middle of Times Square (where no actual New Yorker would ever go for a meal).
On the bright side, the restaurant is a simple, nicely lit space with photos of New York and pizza adorning the walls. There are black and white tiled floors, and an open kitchen anchored by the gorgeous, hivelike pizza oven. Only two or three tables were occupied at 8pm on a Saturday night (this place should be jumping!), so for the time being at least you don’t even need to make a reservation.
Service was friendly, prompt and eager. Our server answered our questions about pizza size (best to get one each – you’ll want to take the leftovers home with you), and brought our drinks snappish. The menu features a nice selection of Italian wines by the glass, with more by the bottle and some nice Italian beers as well.
My husband and I each enjoyed our appetizer; my salad ($13) was crisp and fresh with delicious shaved cheese, and avoided the limp, over-dressed heaviness you sometimes get at Italian restaurants. My husband gave two thumbs up to his “3 meatballs braised in tomato sauce” with Pecorino, basil and fresh mozzarella ($16), praising the flavourful sauce and moist, juicy meatballs.
But how was the pizza?! I’m relieved (and slightly amazed) to tell you it was just as good as I remembered it. The Singapore version still has that amazingly chewy and delicious crust. We both loved our pizzas featuring Motorino’s signature topping – Brussels Sprouts – mine with zingy white Anchovies, my husband’s with yummy cured bacon ($26) and a drizzling of extra virgin olive oil. Meat lovers will salivate over the “Soppressata Picante” ($24) with salami and fresh chili peppers, while those who prefer sauceless pies might want to go for the “Fresh Clam” pizza ($29) or the flavourful “Cremini Mushroom & Sausage” ($29). Or be a weirdo like me and pick your own toppings. I realise it’s on the pricey side but I promise you: it’s worth it. We each took half a pizza home and ate it for dinner the following night; somehow it managed to taste even better the second time around, with just a touch more char added to the equation.
The pizza is so good, in fact, that we both agreed it’s worth schlepping through Clarke Quay for on a Saturday night. If that doesn’t tell you this is the best pizza in Singapore, I don’t know what will.
Opening hours: Daily from 11:30am-11pm (til midnight Fri-Sat)
Motorino, 3A River Valley Road, Unit 01-01A Merchant’s Court, Clarke Quay, Singapore 179020, Tel: (+65) 8182 2205, www.motorinopizza.com/singapore