Lucali BYGB is a partnership between famed pizza guy Mark Iacono from Brooklyn’s Lucali and Gibran Baydoun of BYGB Hospitality.
It started many years ago with a weekly ritual. While Gibran lived in New York, he would travel to Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn most Sunday nights to have a pizza and calzone with Mark. Fast forward to Singapore, and the time and moment is right to bring a new kind of good time to the little red dot.
Before Lucali BYGB opened its doors to the public, everyone who was in the know was buzzing with excitement.
After all, if Jay-Z and Beyonce could skip the Grammys in 2012 for some Lucali pies, there must be something magical about the pizzeria.
Now, we have to make it clear. Lucali BYGB isn’t the exact replica of Lucali at Carroll Gardens. The restaurant is a collaboration between Mark Iacono, creator of the original Lucali in Brooklyn and Singapore-based hospitality pioneer, Gibran Baydoun. The goal? To marry Iacono’s famed pizza pie recipe with Baydoun’s thoughtfully curated service and design philosophy.
Nestled in an industrial building that once housed Kilo Kallang, the last thing you’d expect when you first step out of the old, factory-like lift is an indie, effortlessly cool space that’s crooning out tunes from the likes of Blood Orange, Tina Turner and The Pharcyde.
That, coupled with long wooden tables flanked by the soft glow of taper candles and blown-up, retro images of celebrities like Grace Jones donning its walls, it became absolutely clear: this isn’t your regular hole-in-the-wall pizzeria.
The pizza might be one drawing eyes from the crowd, but the pasta options at Lucali BYGB doesn’t falter too far from the pie. The Cacio e Pepe, for instance, is a comforting bowl of perfectly al dente long fusilli seasoned with a shower of pecorino and black pepper that’s creamy, velvety rich and highly addictive. Other choices include the modest Spicy Rigatoni, complete with a vodka-spiked sauce that’s perfect for those who enjoy a bit of heat in their dishes.
Then feast on the pizza
Unlike the off-the-mill pizzerias with row after row of pizza options, there’s only one pizza you can have here on the menu: Lucali’s 18-inch Pizza Pie. The original pie is a humbling one for sure: tomato sauce, basil and cheese form the basic option, but diners can always opt for additional toppings like anchovies, pepperoni and olives.
If you think the pizza seems too modest for all the hype, think again. The scarlet sauce is a ‘four-hour tomato sauce’ recipe that’s passed down from Iacono’s grandmother’s recipe and the cheese is a quintessential ‘Brooklyn combination’ of buffalo mozzarella, low-moisture mozzarella, and a smattering of Grana Padano.
We know some who are fanatics of margarita pizzas that’s doused in cheese, so if you’re one of them, then the rustic Calzone is for you. The “folded pizza” is stuffed with a generous serving of ricotta and buffalo mozzarella that oozes out as you attempt to pick it up from the plate, and served with a warm bowl of tomato sauce to dip into.
Wash it all down with a tipple
Right by the entrance of the restaurant, diners will find a row of convenience-store style fridges to pick your drinks out from. Instead of commercial bottles of green tea, you’ll be introduced to a whole range of wines and bottled cocktails for your perusal.
Here, find some interesting wines like the Skin-Contact Sauvignon Blanc and the Malbec, a white and a red that’s bottled solely for Lucali BYGB by Australian winemaker Nic Peterkin from L.A.S. Vino House Wines.
We however, settled for a bottle of NON, an alcohol-free wine alternative that was light, refreshing, and paired wonderfully with the more decadent dishes on the menu.
Once restaurants here are given the green light for dine-ins, Lucali BYGB – a collaboration between the founder of famed Brooklyn pizzeria Lucali and a Singapore-based hospitality partner – will open its doors along the Kallang riverfront.
But before the 70-seater Lucali BYGB at Kallang Rivergreen Building opens its doors to the public, Lucali’s Mark Iacono, 52, and Singapore-based Gibran Baydoun, 31, are rolling out a takeaway and delivery menu from today – sans pizza – to give diners a taste of what they can expect.
Mr Baydoun, who has been living in Singapore for the past four years, says in an exclusive interview with The Straits Times in a conference call: “In time, we will deliver pizzas, but the reality is we want people to experience it when it’s fresh out the oven – with its generous sprinkling of basil and that famous crispy thin crust and burnt sides.”
His credentials include director of restaurant operations for famed New York-based restaurant group Momofuku and being part of the opening team of Adrift restaurant at Marina Bay Sands.
The BYGB in the new restaurant’s name stands for “By Gibran Baydoun”.
Considered by many to offer one of the best pizzas in New York, Lucali was founded in 2006 by Italian-American Iacono, who started out wanting to replicate the thin-crust, by-the-slice New York pizza he loved as a kid, according to the New York Times story.
It drew long lines around the block, even before appearing on British football icon David Beckham’s Instagram feed and American restaurateur David Chang’s 2018 Netflix series, Ugly Delicious.
Best known for its hybrid Neopolitan/New York-style pies (thin crust in the style of New York pizzas, but with dough that puffs up around the side and dotted with gobs of mozzarella in the style of Neopolitan pizzas), expect to find on the Singapore menu signature dishes such as its supersized 18-inch pizzas and decadent calzones.
To maintain the same high standards, the hand-built, partly wood-fired brick pizza oven here is being built under the guidance of the same person who made the oven at the Brooklyn flagship.
There will be a rotating menu and the toppings will change based on what is seasonal and fresh.
“We want to make sure the menu stays fresh and agile, so you can come a few times a week and you won’t see the exact same menu,” adds Mr Baydoun, who used to be a regular at Lucali’s in New York.
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“It’s the sort of place you can go for a special occasion or on a weekday when you don’t feel like cooking.”
“It could either be fine dining or fun dining,” adds Mr Iacono, speaking from New York on the same conference call.
“When people come to Lucali, there’s such a great demand for the pizza, but when I opened up in Miami in 2013, it was a different story, where it had all the bells and whistles, the salads and meatballs. We gave it to them and it worked,” he says.
Lucali has outlets only in Brooklyn and Miami.
Hence, for his first venture outside of the United States, he wanted to experiment with the menu. “So I told the guys, ‘Do whatever you want. Let’s just have fun with it.'”
Having always wanted to open in Asia, he chose Singapore on the advice of friend and customer-turned-business-partner Baydoun, who convinced him that “the Singapore market will appreciate it more than anyone else”.
Mr Iacono hints that off-menu signatures, such as its housemade meatballs in four-hour sauce, could make their way here too.
The kitchen will be helmed by executive chef Ariana Flores, 38, who was formerly executive pastry chef at Osteria Mozza at Marina Bay Sands.
The pre-opening delivery menu includes pasta dishes such as Norma’s (rigatoni with eggplant and pecorino) and Lasagna priced from $24 to $28; house salads such as Caesar, Cobb and The Big Salad (radicchio, endive, asparagus and salami), ranging from $18 to $26; and nostalgic favourites such as Meatloaf ($30).
The nostalgia extends to the desserts, which include American childhood favourites such as Rice Krispy Treats and Apple Hand Pies (both $6).
Opening a restaurant in the midst of a pandemic – with travel bans, global lockdowns and restaurants having to pivot to delivery model – has been challenging, including trying to get Mr Iacono to Singapore to start making pizzas.
“Our goal is that we’d like to be open the very first day of phase two of the country reopening,” says Mr Baydoun.
“In the light of everything that’s been going on, we feel that people need something new and fresh and a place to safely celebrate a kind of ‘new era’ of restaurants.”