When I moved back to Brooklyn in 2009 following a glorious nine-month stint in Bangkok, one of the few things I actually looked forward to was Motorino pizza. Neapolitan-style, puffy-crusted, doughy, lightly burned, perfect Motorino pizza. As it turned out, while I was away the Williamsburg building that housed Motorino was condemned and later demolished. Drats. (To be clear, the restaurant was not to blame for the condemnation, and its staff was not in the building when it was leveled.)
As far as restaurant closures go, that one was a little heartbreaking. Yes, as you may have heard NYC does have a few other pizza joints, but Motorino was my favorite, not just because of its signature pies, but also because of its location within a drunken stumble from my apartment, and its lively, neighborhoody vibe, and its relatively cheap and cheerful wines, and its decent choice of craft beers. It was a place to celebrate special occasions, and it was a place to celebrate nothing more than being alive and having good friends and the means to go out for pizza and booze before going out for more booze.
I was thrilled when Motorino resurfaced a few years later down the road on Broadway, though it wasn’t quite the same.
I was doubly thrilled when a few more years later, after I’d left Brooklyn for good (I think) and moved to Singapore (for now), I heard that Motorino had opened its first overseas outlet on Hong Kong Island. I’m in Hong Kong two or three times a year, and believe I’ve dined at Motorino’s original SoHo venue (there’s now also one in Wan Chai) each of those times. Everything about it is legit, from the pizza to the Brooklyn-y design; I don’t drink there so as to save space for beers at nearby Roundhouse.
I was also thrilled, and surprised, when I saw that Motorino chose Manila for its third Asian venture. My wife and I made it our first stop in the city, and it, too, is legit, though I’m a little concerned about its long-term outlook.
And I was pleased, of course, to learn that Motorino would come full circle, at least for me, by launching its fourth Asian branch here in Singapore. It opened last month, we stopped by as soon as possible, and… I’m not sure when we’ll return. There’s certainly no rush.
Oh, the food is fine, which is to say the pizza is fan-fucking-tastic, as close to Brooklyn spec as one could hope; it’s the “1a” to Pizzeria Mozza’s “1b” in Singapore. (I’m clearly a sucker for Neapolitan.) It’s a little pricier than Brooklyn, but not egregiously so. No, the pizza and the food prices aren’t the problem.
The problem is the location; the offensive, annoying location. Motorino Singapore’s lazy, overpriced booze program is a downer, too.
Perhaps the team is banking on tourist dollars–tourists seem to love Clarke Quay–or on the boring locals whose idea of a fun night out is dropping buckets of cash in a loud, cheesy, pseudo-family-friendly environment packed with cornball bars and nightclubs. Perhaps whomever scouted locations actually thinks Clarke Quay is a cool place.
Clarke Quay is most certainly not a cool place; it’s in fact unbearable. Never been there? Its parent company, CapitalMalls Asia, accurately describes it as a “riverside festival village dedicated to good times, combining dining, shopping and a heritage inspired Disney-style adventure ride.”
If that sounds appealing, hey, go bonkers, and tell Lucifer I said wassssup while you’re there.
For me, as far as places in Singapore I’d like to be on a Friday night, Clarke Quay is up there with a drunk proctologist’s cold examination table; it does have a Hooters, though.
In Clarke Quay, Motorino is just another restaurant. Just as one Manila blogger (through no fault of her own) was mystified by the Williamsburg Bridge photo that is the centerpiece of Motorino Manila’s dining room, here in Singapore the Motorino brand has no context and no cache other than being a Brooklyn export, a fact which probably doesn’t mean much to many. Schlumping in next to a fucking Hooters and Shiraz does nothing to distinguish this world-class pizzeria from any of its dull neighbors.
A renovated Chinatown or Jalan Besar shophouse would have been perfect in so many ways for Motorino, like if they wanted a buzzy ambiance or, say, to attract the same types who made them so successful back in the States. There is no buzz in Clarke Quay and there never will be; it’s about the most uninspiring location Motorino could have chosen.
The restaurant didn’t even get a prime spot. It’s far too cramped, as the kitchen takes up more room than a dining area that’s kind of stuffed into the side, like a sagging fat roll. I’m guessing the rent isn’t exactly cheap, either, which might help explain the booze prices, if not the booze options.
In Brooklyn, glasses of house red and white wines run $8 and are poured generously; in Singapore, the cheapest glass is SGD$15, a difference of about US$3, and pours are predictably stingy. I get that wine is pricier here, but nevertheless some places, like the great Alt. Pizza, still have healthy glasses of house wines for SGD$8 (about $6). To be fair, it’s worth noting that Motorino Singapore’s cheapest glass of wine is still $4 less than the equivalent at Pizzeria Mozza–that’s right, $19 for the cheapest glass there. Bottles of Stone IPA are $17.
Speaking of beer, that is what rankles most. In Brooklyn, choices include pints from Brooklyn Brewery ($6.50) and bottles from Victory Brewing Company and Brewery Ommegang ($7 – $10); in Singapore, it’s–yawn–pints of Tiger or Erdinger (SGD$15/$16) and bottles of Peroni and Mac’s Great White ($16). The difference here isn’t just in price, but in selection: quality craft beers are just as available in Singapore as they are in Brooklyn, and to again reference Alt. Pizza, they need not be overpriced.
The pizza is too good to swear off Motorino, but all the other things that made it a special place in Brooklyn were left in Brooklyn, for in Singapore it’s just another restaurant lacking ambiance, charm, and decent booze at a decent price. It was a very bad thing when Motorino’s original Brooklyn building was condemned and demolished; in Singapore, such a reboot might be its only salvation.
Motorino Singapore is located in Clarke Quay. Open 11:30am – 11pm daily (until midnight Friday and Saturday). +65 8182-2205.
Lead photo credited to Motorino Singapore