Off the beaten track. Business Times (BT) weekend find out if neighbourhood European restaurants can survive and thrive in out-of-the-way locations. PocoLoco were part of BT on 5th March 2016 title ‘Humble beginnings”
408 Ang Mo Kio Ave 10, #01-779
Tel: 8436 3363
Opens 12pm-3pm, 6pm-10pm daily
THE Saveur group may have given up on its casual Italian concept Concetto, but new contender PocoLoco might just take its place. As with Saveur’s humble beginnings in a Joo Chiat coffeeshop, PocoLoco is starting small in the Ang Mo Kio heartland.
“We try not to enter enclaves like Bukit Timah, Holland Village, or Siglap – there’s too much competition,” explains co-owner Alvin Chew, 34. “Established brands like Da Paolo and Michaelangelo’s have been there for years, not to mention the lack of parking.”
Being in the suburbs means lower rentals, so they can offer authentic fare at zi char prices. Says the ex-engineer: “Every common man in the neighbourhood can try our food – we’re competing with S$8 sweet and sour pork and S$15 fish.”
That’s why their appetisers, such as the baked scallops with capsicum puree, are capped at S$12, while pasta dishes range from S$9 to S$12. Other items such as the beetroot spaghetti make interesting alternatives to ubiquitous offerings like alfredo or aglio olio.
There’s also no fixed preparation for the meats (around S$18) – the kitchen makes recommendations based on your preferences, so you can get fish done acqua pazza style, or choose between chicken milanese and parmigiani. They also offer chef’s specials such as oven-roasted pork belly or uni risotto, subject to availability of ingredients. Don’t be fooled by the PastaMania price points – many ingredients are imported from Italy, and most components made from scratch, including dressings, focaccia, tomato sauce, and stock bases.
This attention to detail requires significant expertise, so Mr Chew has partnered with F&B operator Lee Tiong Leng. The 35-year-old has been in the industry for seven years, with kitchen and management experience at several Italian eateries. He also owns eight mookata outlets under the Singa Gourmet brand and fine dining concept Ristorante Tanaka, which serves Japanese Italian fare.
The dishes thus have some Japanese influence.
“Japanese chefs do very good Italian food – their style is more refined, and they are meticulous even with basics like dicing vegetables,” says Mr Lee.
But he’s had trouble retaining top talent – one of his Japanese chefs was poached by an F&B magnate. “I can’t compete with someone who can just buy over a building in Boat Quay and offer him a job.”
Now, rather than banking on brand name chefs, he’s focusing on training loyal staff, some of whom have been with him for seven years. “We want to expand, but we’re not running a franchise – so the challenge remains in churning out dishes with consistent quality,” he says.
Article by: Tan Teck Heng Business Times (5th March 2106)