PepeNero means black pepper in Italian.
Ristorante PepeNero is a quaint little restaurant housed in one of the conservative shophouses along Telok Ayer, on Stanley Street to be exact.
As opposed to its appellation, black pepper does not take centre stage at this Italian restaurant. I reassure you, you won’t get a choke-inducing profusion of black pepper that overwhelms each and every dish.
PepeNero is helmed by chef Marco Violano, whom hails from Apricena, a small town on the Southern East coast of Italy in the Apulia region, where its long coastline brings large quantities of seafood and inspires seafood-dominated dishes. He creates authentic Italian dishes with a modern twist with more than 15 years of experience.
Occasionally, chef Marco Violano comes out of the kitchen, greets new guests in the dining room, exchanges short conversations with diners who are halfway through their courses, and pops back into the kitchen. This interaction builds rapport with the customers –glance around and you could spot regular patrons and loyal fans ordering old favourites.
The small restaurant is well appointed with crisp white tablecloths, warm lighting and plush seats –swanky with a rustic and cosy touch.
After making our order, a rustic breadbasket was served in quick succession –a welcome relief to our rumbling stomachs.
Arriving to the table warm, the homemade bread has a crisp crust with a soft airy interior, while the breadsticks were dense and crunchy. The rustic elements and freshness gives a simple breadbasket much more appeal. Accompanying the bread are two condiments – sundried tomato pesto and olive paste – that are leagues above the usual olive oil or butter.
Yellow-fin Tuna Tartar and Crunchy Crab Meat with Tuna Sauce and Roasted Pistacho ($23)
We ordered the Yellow-fin Tuna Tartar and Crunchy Crab Meat with Tuna Sauce and Roasted Pistacho for starters, as mum and I both love fish.
The breaded crabmeat patty adds a crispy contrast to the tender fresh cubes of tuna, while the dressing elevates the fish’s flavour and allows its freshness to shine. This dish was light on the palate and was a perfect start to the meal.
Millefeuille of Organic Eggplant and Buffalo Mozzarella Cheese with “San Marzano” Tomato Sauce ($21)
The other starter we ordered was the Millefeuille of Organic Eggplant and Buffalo Mozzarella Cheese with “San Marzano” Tomato Sauce. It is essentially alternate layers of lightly charred eggplant and gooey melt-y cheese, doused in a light tomato sauce that brings the whole dish together. Perfect combination of flavours.
Homemade Ravioli Filled with 8-Hour Braised Duck Leg with Meat Jus and Shaved Smoked Ricotta Cheese ($29)
Pasta dough is made in-house. I highly recommend the Homemade Ravioli Filled with 8-Hour Braised Duck Leg with Meat Jus and Shaved Smoked Ricotta Cheese –it is ambrosial.
The ravioli skin is thin without being fragile; encased within is shredded duck meat, braised for 8 hours to achieve tender perfection. One of the best raviolis I’ve ever had.
“Carnaroli” Risotto in Squid Ink with Seafood Ragout ($33)
I urge you to try the squid ink risotto, even if you’re on a date. Think: you end up giggling at each others’ stained lips and teeth, wiping each others’ mouths, and exchanging remarks on this supreme dish –unless your date is so shallow and grim, you should just never see him/her again. Sounds like an idea.
The squid ink base has a saucy consistency, enriching every rice grain that wears it like a dark briny coat. The complementing seafood ragout burst with succulent juices of the ocean in every bite.
12-Hour Slow Stewed Squid Stuffed with Altamura Country Bread, Clams and Prawns with Fresh Basil and Pachino Cherry Tomatoes ($26)
Squid isn’t something that I would ever order in a restaurant, but I heeded Nicholas (a cook at PepeNero)’s recommendation and I am glad I took a chance. Generally speaking I’ve never liked squid very much, as it turns tough and chewy often too easily. Here, it is executed to my liking –succulent and tender. The stuffing adds bounty of flavours and textures to this dish. I never knew I would enjoy squid this much.
PepeNero Tiramisu ($12)
To end the meal on a sweet note, we had the PepeNero Tiramisu. Don’t worry, there’s no black pepper in this dessert –or rather I can’t detect any trace of it. PepeNero’s rendition is richer and denser than usual; it is one of the most decadent tiramisus I’ve had. I found the sweetness to be just right. It left me wanting more.
Thanks Nicholas for the great recommendation. Mum and I enjoyed dinner, with every dish scoring high points.
Note: Do make reservations to avoid disappointment.
For reservations, book online at Chope for instant confirmation anytime of the day and any day of the week.
PepeNero Italian Restaurant
14 Stanley Street
Telephone: (65) 6222 5808
Lunch: 12pm – 2:30pm (Mon – Fri)
Dinner: 6:30pm -11.00pm (Mon – Sat)
Bar Hours: 12pm – midnight