It was with much pleasure that me and my two dining partners were at Hilton Hotel’s Italian restaurant il Cielo for their Japanese Degustazione Tasting Menu on a Friday evening. We were literally offered the best seat in the restaurant with an awesome view of the pool and ION Sky in the prominent background.
il Cielo, which means ‘The Sky’ in Italian, is located on the top level (Level 24) of Hilton Singapore. They have recently welcome Japanese Chef Yohhei Sasaki of Aomori as their head chef some 4 months ago, and he rejuvenated an entire new menu with a Japanese touch! Chef Sasaki isn’t new to Singapore, having previously helmed Forlino at One Fullerton, and had honed his skill at Michelin stars restaurants in Tuscany and Lombardia, and of course, Tokyo.
To start with, I have to admit I am quite unfamiliar with Italian cuisine apart from pizza, pasta, Gelato, and Tiramisu. From what I know, Italian cuisine doesn’t sell that kind of presentation a glamourous French cuisine does, and at best, we can probably expect Mediterranean ingredients to be used. But Chef Sasaki is able to fusion all that. Being Japanese, he possesses a meticulous aspiration on quality and setting, integrating Japanese ingredients into Italian cooking, and presenting the dishes in very eye-watering manner.We were promptly served bread assortment upon seated, and I believed I tried every single variety there. I must say, although these bread aren’t the spotlight, they tasted absolutely great. The crispiness, fluffiness of respective bread naturally offer a very interesting flavour that I feel, anything better would have to be straight out from the oven. Olive oil was also provided to offer an option to appreciate the bread in typical Italian’s way.
Amuse Bouche is a single, bite-size hors d’œuvre. Over here, there are some macarons, to be savour as it is, or can be dipped into the accompanied sauce for an alternate flavour. Also on the wooden platter are Burrata cheese with cured meat, topped with caviar and roes. This was my first time trying Burrata cheese actually, and I was overwhelmed with its texture, its complexing taste with the cured meat and caviar was absolutely marvellous!
Carpaccio di Kinmedai has got to be one of Chef Sasaki’s most notable signatures, comprising Kinmeidai Carpaccio, Seaweed Tuile, Madeira wine dressing, and graced with pink grapefruit snow. Carpaccio is a Venice invention of thinly sliced raw meat or fish usually served as appetiser. Right here, Chef Sasaki uses typical Japanese ingredients to re-create it with a touch of Japanese flair, somewhat refreshing in my humble opinion, and what absolutely memorable was when Chef Sasaki personally sprinkled the pink grapefruit powder in front of us, it created an instant mist that reminiscent the cloud, and with the green seaweed tuile representing the earth, what an awesome impression of heaven and earth!
il Cielo’s spaghetti is specially house made, and tasted al dente. Nevertheless, the focus is definitely on the sea urchin, which hailed from Hokkaido. I understand from the chef that the restaurant is also using ingredients from his home town Aomori as well as from Sanriku region, the latter famous for the Japanese serial Amachan (あまちゃん). In addition, the spaghetti is blended with Sardinian bottarga, a type of salted, cured fish roe, as well as a zest of Yuzu. Overall, this is a beautifully fusion Japanese and Italian cuisine at its very best, it’s savoury but not overpowering.
The main course is a choice between Giapponese Orata Grigliata (Grilled Japanese Seabream) or Costina di Manzo ‘Toriyama Wagyu A4’. The latter comprises of caramelized Toriyama wagyu A4 short ribs, sauteed saffron risotto, lemon gel, with Italian Parsley sauce, while our chosen grilled seabream came with Portobello mushroom, sauteed Porcini risotto, with green tea crumbles. But whichever option you chose, both courses involve risotto, and again, the Japanese ingredients here seamlessly integrated with Italian risotto in generating a rather unique flavour, at least I can say that for the Giapponese Orata Grigliata I tried. The tender mushrooms are tastefully sauteed yet not excessively salty, while the leek tasted so fresh I could feel the moisture inside was as juicy as I can taste from a freshly pluck. The crispy rice crumbles provides additional dimension to the seabream, which was truly delicious even without the sauce. I need to reiterate, the risotto here is certainly the best I have ever tried, far far better than what I had tried from a certain local celebrity chef here.
To cap a fine evening, dessert was La Sfera (The Sphere), and you think it’s just a perfectly rounded ice cream? It’s actually sorbet. But it ain’t ordinary sorbet, it’s a Lemon sorbet coated in Yuzu sphere and Ricotta Cheese Espuma with Acacia honey gel. First and foremost, it’s visually a flashy interpretation, giving me a static impression of our galaxy surrounding the sun. But most significantly, it was absolutely appetising, suppressing my burp and by then a bloating stomach with its citrus zest.
Our meal was also accompanied by three glasses of Italian wine in 2015 Lunae Colli di Luni Vermentino (Liguria), 2015 Valpolicella, Rio Albo, Ca’ Rugate (Veneto), and 2012 Nebbiolo, Barbaresco, Reyna, Michele Chiarlo (Piedmont).
Apart from the bread assortments and the Amuse Bouche, all the courses we tried here are actually Chef Sasaki’s signatures. I have to confess my vocabulary skill ain’t doing sufficient justice to the quality of the food here, in part complemented by the crew’s excellent service. They took the trouble to explain every dishes, but frankly speaking, most of the names are strangers to me and I needed to Google them before I can pen this post, and even then, I probably missed out a lot, and quite humbly, many blog posts you can find on il Cielo (under Chef Sasaki’s tenure) are more well written than yours truly’s. The waitress, as well as Chef Sasaki himself, asked us on the food quality after the meal. Well, what could we say? Terrific! I also understand from the waitress that il Cielo’s bookings have picked up significantly ever since Chef Sasaki’s arrival, and he thrives to revise his menu every couple of months to entice diners to return.
Last but not least, before ending this post, I understand some Italian cuisine evangelist may be critical of such fusion concept of losing authenticity. Well, firstly, il Cielo still serves traditional Italian cuisine. Secondly, evolution is an important aspect in culinary scene, particular for the French, notably at the pinnacle of all cuisines in the world. Even modern day Japanese cuisines are very much modelling after the French, with some innovation of their own. So long as the foundation of the cuisines is retained, anything else should be regarded as creativity. Even Leonardo da Vinci might not be the genius he is if he was restricted by conventionality.
Level 24, 581 Orchard Road
Tel: +65 67303395
Mon~Fri: 12:00hr – 14:15hr, 19:00hr – 22:15hr
Sat: 19:00hr – 22:15hr