[This post has been edited due to reporting inaccuracies.]
In the heart of the Singapore University of Technology & Design (SUTD) in the Expo area, new bistro Aria touts itself to be a hangout that champions the budding artiste, among a selection of food and drink.
Set up less than a month ago, the bistro is tucked at the back of SUTD Building 2, providing an oasis and congregating point for singers and visual artistes to shine in a performance space.
(How to head there? It’s right behind The MAX Pavilion at Expo. A bit of a walk, but hey, you’re not complaining when walking down Orchard Road, no?)
The layout is spacious and well-curated when Popspoken visited its premises recently. Walk in and it looks like the floor is giving way; nope, that’s just a 3D mural on the floor that provides an entry point to the raw vibes of the place.
We were informed by the Aria team that the many murals that adorned the walls and floors were hand-painted by artiste Ceno2, with the bar ornaments done up by the Aria team themselves. Take a look around and it’s hard not to be blown away by the intensity of the artwork juxtaposed with the raw, whimsical decor. Nifty indeed, for the focus on the artiste is best felt in the rawness of the works on display, whether it be from the invited artiste or the Aria team themselves.
The focus of the artiste is truly felt in the weekly programme for budding talent to showcase their mettle. While the stage is open on Monday nights for any form of performative talent, Friday nights are specially for a singer-songwriter open mic. The Aria team tells us that the focus is to find fresh talent — those that have little or no performing experience and want to try out in a raw setting. Even if that means the acts are slightly unpolished, it is the sincerity that oozes through the performance.
A four-fold is also set up behind the stage (which comprises of a casual sofa and coffee table set-up) for any visual artist to showcase their work. The Aria team tells us there are plans to hold music workshops for artistes spotted through the open-stage programmes, in the hopes that they will be launched into regular fixtures in the Singapore music scene.
The seats in the space best fulfill the artiste focus — a selection of seats wrap around the stage (including seats behind the performers) if you are there to soak up the performances. If you are there for a good ol’ cider (prices start from $10 — you listening, Expo yuppies?), perch yourself up on the high-stool seats. If you are there for a dinner of 6, bench seating alludes to a communal dining experience.
Aria’s full bistro menu is an innovative take on fusion cuisine: think Bandung-style grilled beef ribs and a rendang sausage & mash. (That’s the classic bangers & mash dish, reinvented with an Asian twist.)
While the beef gumbo ($5.90) was addictive with the right dash of spice, the arrabiata ($7.90) had a liberal amount of tomato-based sauce (although, that is what makes up the pasta dish) which ended up dulling other additions such as the turkey bacon. Same goes with the spicy BBQ half chicken ($9.90), which was delectably doused in a layer of sauce but could have had more flavour in the meat.
The truffle fries ($5.90) were served as hearty chunks of steakhouse fries. (Nobody likes thin fries. Nobody.) Although the fries were a tad light on the seasoning, this was balanced well with the chilli mayonnaise sauce, offering a nice yin-yang to the dish. The team explained that steakhouse fries were chosen so that it could absorb the truffle oil enough to taste it, but not to drown it out, as is the case with other thinner variants at food establishments elsewhere.
Aria’s unpretentious, homely vibe is a big draw though, and the nifty touches from the masks on the table number mini-stands to the honest service from staffers does make one feel like staying for a bit longer than just a quick bite. And we did, for dessert.
It is in the desserts that Aria truly was a runaway hit. Have you tried the meringue at Da Paolo Gastronomia? The baked strawberry pavlova ($4.90) is nothing like the dried, flaky version of the former: break into the pavlova from the centre and the chewy tenderness is still kept intact on the inside. Coconut cream and strawberry slices make this dessert addictive and light.
Other hits included the insanely light coconut cake ($4.90), with a layer of diced coconut flesh sandwiched in between vanilla sponge cake. Slice it down with the side of your fork and the cake does not crumble. The kaiserschmarrn (below, $6.90) was a delightful melange of warm pancakes with sandwiched mixed berries and custard sauce. Skip the maple syrup on this one: the pancakes ooze natural sweetness.
But what we see will make Aria a hit is the affordable prices. For the ciders, at $10 a pop for an amber cider, it is an affordable escape for business executives working in the Expo area, tourists staying at the hotels nearby and students in the SUTD building to unwind and relax in the company of good vibes and honest music. And it stays open all the way till 1am on Fridays and Saturdays.
It is still early days for Aria and it has some tweaking to do with its bistro food offerings, but its thoughtful programming, raw decor and honest vibes spell interesting days ahead for the entertainment arm of this joint. We’re keeping our ears close to the stage.
This was an invited tasting.
8 Somapah Road
SUTD Building 2
#01-204 (next to Owl Cafe)
Mon – Thu: 10am – 10pm
Fri: 10am – 1am
Sat: 12pm – 1am
This bistro has a Halal-certified kitchen.