Restaurant Review: Enter Rebel Chef Bjorn Shen’s Personal Test Kitchen At Small’s, Singapore

Many people have been talking about the new pizza bar, Small’s, by homegrown chef extraordinaire Bjorn Shen. But Bjorn, who’s also the chef-owner of the popular Middle Eastern-inspired restaurant Artichoke, tells us that it’s not all good publicity. For one, Italian websites have called him a douche for charging so much for pizza. And while we might have headed over with a bit of skepticism ourselves, we left feeling very convinced.

For March, bookings for a group of four are priced at S$650++, but Bjorn tells us he intends to eventually raise the number to S$800++. Before you open your mouth in indignation, you have to understand that Small’s isn’t simply a pizza place. Think of it as Bjorn’s personal test kitchen where he cooks whatever he feels like. In other words, it’s an omakase experience — one that we’d happily pay private dining prices for.

Bjorn prefers to use fior di latte, which is made from fresh cow’s milk, instead of buffalo mozzarella for its milder flavour

When you are there, he will tell you about his visit years ago to a place in Osaka called I Love Pizza, a simple Italian outlet serving cheap pizzas and beers from a blackboard menu. It was there that he discovered the beauty of Neapolitan-style pizzas, with bubbled crispy crusts and a small semblance of chewiness. One of the things he ate there was a squid ink margherita pie that now serves as the basis for his signature Pizza Black (it’s still too early to say that Small’s has a signature pizza, but if we had to pick one, it’d be this).

It is wet in the middle, but there is nothing wrong with a wet center when it comes to Neapolitan pizzas. Smoked octopus and baby zucchini sit on a rich black San Marzano tomato sauce with amazing umami flavour and sea saltiness from squid ink and shaved octopus bottarga. Eat it fast with your hands, or the juices seep under or even worst, saturate the crust.

Daiso plates feature heavily at Small’s – a result of Bjorn’s cheeky sense of humour

As anyone familiar with Bjorn’s cooking can guess, his pizzas are far from traditional. There are pizzas based on pastas — a garlicky starter inspired by Aglio Olio that’s not much more than expertly blistered (we’re talking about ‘leopard spots’) pizza and a few cloves of confit garlic. Or the Pizza Vongole, inspired by the first dish Bjorn learnt to cook at his first kitchen job in the early 2000s. Think extraordinary juicy sunset clams from Lombok loaded with fresh acidity from tomatoes and a healthy speckling of rendered pork lard for good measure — the stuff is full of fragrant butteriness.

There are five exclusive cocktails at Small’s, from the sour White Kalimotxo (S$19, 7-Up, Prosecco, lime) to a scruffy Dark Donut (S$15, Asahi Black, cinnamon sugar)

Then we get the Pizza Banh Mi, which is a lot stiffer than the others. Bjorn makes this folded in half — “it looks exactly like Subway’s flatbread” — with a crackle of fresh greens, pate, Maggi sauce, mayo, chilli, and a blast of umami from all the protein he adds inside: Italian mortadella, Vietnamese mortadella (cha lua), and kurobuta pork cutlets. It’s arguably the most expensive banh mi on the planet, and tastes like a miracle.

And no, you’re not only eating pizzas the entire night. One of the first dishes you get, and perhaps the only healthy-ish thing on the menu, is a Bagna Cauda-style platter with endive leaves and a creamy anchovy dip loaded with sakura ebi. There is also a Dirty Board where you use leftover pizza crust to mop up a wooden board slathered with prawn butter, nutritional yeast flakes, duck fat, beef fat, and black winter truffle shavings. Or Hot Ass, Bjorn’s tasty take on buffalo wings with fatty chicken butts.

The most expensive banh mi on the planet

For March, he is bringing out a salty and briny plate of store-bought crinkle cut fries topped with uni crema, bafun uni, and a whole tin of caviar from Kairos. He calls it Chip Supreme — the juxtaposition is ironic, and it is worth its weight in caviar. As the proverbial saying goes, all good things must come to an end. At least, this ending comes in the form of an oven-hot Neapolitan Cookie and a cup of orangey Wall’s vanilla ice cream – sweet and happy.

Small’s is located at 161 Middle Rd, Singapore 188978. Available slots are released each month on the 24th.

Deputy Editor

Gary is one of those proverbial jack of all trades… you know the rest. When not writing about lifestyle and culture, he dabbles in photography, graphic design, plays four instruments and is a professional wearer of bowties. His greatest weakness: spending more money on clothes than he probably should. Find him across the social world as @grimlay