SINGAPORE — My visit to Santi’s started with asking a friend to join me for dinner there one day. He declines, citing that he will be visiting Sarnies with his partner sometime next week as if Sarnies and Santis are one and the same. They are not, I assure you. Are they both under the same management? Yes. Are they next-door neighbours? Yes. Are they the same? Absolutely not.
To start, the mise en scene. Whereas Sarnies is dark, brooding, and a little rough around the edge, Santi’s is defined by clean lines, light wood furniture, white chair frames, and quaint terrazzo tiles that run the length of the indoor seating. At the end of this is a huge dome oven that reaches up to 500 degrees celsius for a lick of char on the pizzas, sides, and mains that Santi’s churns out.
The food philosophy here is minimal waste, which is always a good thing in my books. They’re also big on fermentation, be it developed in-house or in the ingredients they use for the dishes, like the Kosho and Shio Koji in the Grilled Squid (S$21++), which lends an intensely savoury overtone to the beautifully grilled seafood. The squid sits in a nutty brown butter gravy that demands judicious and shameless slurping. I also appreciate that the squid retains a slight bite, which is so hard to do for produce as temperamental as a two-year-old. Cooked too long, it becomes rubbery; undercooked, and it’s rubbery—you just can’t win with Squid. But now, at Santi’s, you can. Plus, at this size, how can anyone complain?
This paean to fermentation extends to the pizzas on offer. There’s fermentation on fermentation action in the Cremini (S$25++) with a sourdough pizza base topped with Asian fermented Shimeji for a particularly arresting sour undertone. But beyond that, there’s also a gamut of complex flavours lent from the Parmigiano cream, fior di latte (a soft cheese), and the roasted garlic oil. What you get from such an unassuming pizza are complex flavours that an ordinary diner might find hard to appreciate. Thankfully, I’m not a typical diner, so I know exactly what this was trying to achieve. Do you know what would make it even better? If the filling went a little closer to the edges.
In stark and almost poetic contrast, the cheekily-named Baby Don’t Herd Me (S$30++) offers up the complete opposite of the Cremini with a San Marzano Tomato sauce on the same sourdough base. On this goes the intensely smoky cubed leg lamb mixed with Harissa that gives it a nice, slow, and fiery burn that reaches your scalp. It’s exhilarating, to say the least. There’s also a peculiar smattering of fried Coriander, which I reckon, is there to mimic the more common fried Kale. It gives the pizza a slightly bitter edge, which I guess means it’s doing what it was assigned—balance.
From the pasta selection, I had the Octopus & Bean Ragu (S$28++) which I wish I could love more than I did, especially when served with the Sourdough pici, a pasta type that is so rare to see, and even rarer to have in a menu. My reticence stems from there being too many things happening in a bowl than what the sourdough pici could handle—burnt octopus, guanciale, Barlotti ragu, hazelnut, and beans. They’re all wonderful things that should work when cooked in the same pot, but that pasta is simply too distracting with its extremely al dente texture that calls for some serious chewing work. Is it then any surprise that I finished the gravy and ingredients, but not the pasta?
For desserts, there’s a Leche Flan (S$12++) that’s tightly packed, dense and makes for an intense custard-like experience. From the outset, this plate looks incredibly imposing what with all that golden syrup languishing at the base. You’d expect this to be overwhelmingly sweet but surprisingly, it isn’t—it’s quite tame. There’s an impeccable balance from the macerated raisins, soaked judiciously in Chardonnay and the Yuzu which, if I were to be honest, could have been more forward. Still, it’s a great dessert to end the night at buzzy Telok Ayer. Sarnies took some time to get this concept up and running and by the looks of it, it’s well worth the wait.
138 Telok Ayer St, Singapore 068603
Mon to Fri: 11am – 10pm
Sat: 5pm – 10pm