Sister restaurant to Burlamacco 2 streets away, Pepenero has been around for a while. Its management recently changed hands (to that of Burlamacco's), so the trattoria has taken on a new direction. One that's more in line with Burlamacco's casual style and convivial vibe.
I was first invited to Pepenero for a tasting, which I went with Ernie (he'd loved the food, but then again, he's biased towards anything Italian), and as per invited tasting S.O.P., returned incognito for a revisit, this time with my best foodie bud, andmorefood. I enjoyed myself thoroughly both occasions, and didn't find any major faults on both the food and service fronts.
That said, I couldn't say that Pepenero's traditional Italian fare blew me away; it was more than commendable for sure, but it was likely to get lost in a sea of about a million decent Italian restaurants in our little red dot; I found it difficult to pinpoint a distinguishing uniqueness that would make Pepenero an unforgettable standout.
Service was earnest, but can get a tad choppy, due to its lean staffing. Even so, Pepenero manages to exude a quiet charm. Much like its head chef, Daniel, I suppose. If you stay late enough, slightly past last orders, he comes out to mingle with straggling diners. I found his gentle, almost shy, demeanor so endearing (by way of background, I'm a big sucker for the strong silent type...just ask the Hubs!).
The week we conducted the tasting was just before the menu was refreshed, consequent to the change in management. Amendments to the menu, if any, weren't groundbreaking; merely minor tweaks to adjust for the local palate. More importantly, prices have stayed reasonably fair.
A classic starter off the old menu during the tasting, the Burratina Rocket Salad ($26 for 125 gm regular ala carte menu) with cherry tomatoes, was mildly milky, delightfully chewy, and wonderfully balanced paired with the Parma Ham (additional $10 on the regular ala carte menu).
We had the burratina's updated relative at the revisit, the Burrata ($42 for 300gm), massive dome of gorgeous cheese, set atop an arugula bed, and paired with juicy cherry tomatoes and pink sashes of Parma Ham (additional $10). This may be a smidge too much for two persons, we struggled to finish this.
I'm a sucker for mushrooms and risotto, and cannot resist ordering it off a menu, and at the tasting, the Porcini Mushroom Risotto scented with truffle was fantastic. A starchy yet flowy texture, rich earthy flavours, intoxicating aromas, all shone through.
Evidently a mainstay on the updated menu, we had the Risotto ($26) at the revisit, with fat carnaroli grains bursting with the essence of porcini and accented with white truffle. I love how generous Pepenero is with its mushrooms.
We had the Lamb Rack Milanese ($42 menu price) with arugula and cherry tomatoes, at the tasting, which was very well done, but it's been phased out of the updated menu. Beautifully crisp breadcrumbed crust, and moist, perfectly pink meat, even if it's a little too full-bodied for my liking.
The highlight of the revisit was the Grigliata ($38), a platter of white fish, half a Boston lobster tail, tiger prawns, scallop, mussel, squid, and asparagus, all grilled to perfection. I particularly enjoyed the squid, smoky, and soft, with the barest hint of chew.
We were told, at the tasting that the Chocolate Lava Cake with vanilla gelato was a signature. And for good reason. This was oozy and sweet but not overwhelmingly so.
Renamed as Cioccolata ($16) on the updated menu, the chocolate lava cake with vanilla gelato, was just as excellent at the revisit.
Complimentary Baguette, freshly baked and crusty and warm, was simple but delicious with olive oil. If you have the capacity, try the fritto misto ($36) and/or ossobuco ($34), both of which I took away for the Hubs. The ossobucco travelled well and was delicious as a supper supplement.
Many thanks to Petrina, Chef Gabriele, and Chef Daniel for the invitation, and being wonderful hosts.
14 Stanley Street
Tel: 6222 5808
Open Mondays to Saturdays from 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch; 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner;
Closed on Sundays