The Naked Finn
41 Malan Road, Gillman Barracks #01-13
Hours: 6pm to 12am Mon-Sat
THEY say that people who live in glass houses shouldn't walk around naked - so even though the walls of The Naked Finn's new permanent digs are entirely see-through, perish the thought of seeing any Scandinavian man prancing around in the buff here.
The "Finn" in the seafood and cocktail bar's name is really a reference to a main character in the 1998 movie "Great Expectations", a favourite of the founders Ken Loon and Willy Tay.
The "Naked" refers to the unadulterated approach to the food and drinks served here.
The smallest of the three dining spots in arts enclave Gillman Barracks, The Naked Finn opened last September as a cocktail bar; it began introducing food only last month, with seafood making up almost 90 per cent of the menu.
The founders were previously behind the now-defunct Klee in Portsdown Road.
Mr Loon, who left his IT job in November to do this full-time, is a seafood fanatic so geeky that he has a collection of biology books on marine critters - rather than cookbooks - stacked up behind his bar counter.
He says: "It's important for us to know, for example, the growth cycles, the seasonality, the rate of decay and industry practices such as chemicals used and harmful by-products to look out for for each species, so that we don't just order the seafood blindly from our suppliers."
All seafood is delivered either live or frozen, and the items go into the restaurant's chillers for not more than Mr Loon's self-imposed limit of 24 hours, after which they are either disposed of or given to staff to take home.
The Naked Finn's menu thus varies according to their stock for the day.
The easiest way to sample everything is to order the Finn's Set For One ($88), which typically comes with blanched kangkong, succulent and tender razor clams from Scotland, a soup made with Japanese little neck clams, Atlantic diver-caught scallops, African lobsters and Spanish gamba carabinero prawns.
The Estelle's Set For Two ($128) features similar dishes, but with the addition of tiger prawns, lightly-grilled inky baby squids and a pan-fried barramundi fillet.
A la carte items range from $8 for the best-selling baby squids to $65 for a large, whole lobster.
Also offered are a range of bar snacks such as baked escargot, dried puffer fish and jamon iberico.
Don't expect thick gravy or heavy dressings here; everything is lightly grilled or comes with an option of four dips - Thai sweet chilli, Vietnamese salt and pepper, Malaysian ketchup and sambal belachan.
Mr Loon says he has been wanting to open a seafood restaurant since his Klee days, but that location was not built with a kitchen in mind.
Now, at The Naked Finn, he has given a good half of his current 1,000 sq ft space over to bar and kitchen use.
The glass house glows beautifully at night when approached from afar, but up close, you realise the glass walls are in fact overlapping plastic sheets and the roof of the structure is made out of metal foil.
Mr Loon says: "With a limited budget, we decided that anything that contributes to the quality of our end-product - our food - we'll spend on. Everything else, like aesthetics and tableware, we'll go cheap."
It explains why he splashed out on cast iron grills that are allegedly the same as those used in Joel Robuchon's kitchens.
He will also invest in two tanks to keep live seafood in the coming weeks.
A Pacojet machine churns out ice-free sorbets from fruits like coconut and Japanese white peach. These go into the bar's signature cocktails ($16 to $20).
He adds: "We never thought of pairing seafood with cocktails. That wasn't the intention. I just wanted to serve food that I personally like eating."
Luckily for the rest of us, then, that Mr Loon is a bona fide seafood geek if we ever met one.
By Debbie Yong
Le Petit Navire
18 Ann Siang Road
Hours: 12-2pm (Mon-Fri),
FIFTEEN years and five restaurants after opening their flagship French restaurant, L'Angelus, on Club Street, the people behind the L'Angelus group of restaurants are braving new waters.
Three weeks ago, they set up a Brittany-style seafood bar, Le Petit Navire, on the former premises of local bakery The Patissier along Ann Siang Road. It is the first seafood joint in their stable, which includes French steakhouses Les Bouchons and three-month-old Greenwood Avenue brasserie, L'Assiette.
"Most people only know French cuisine as being fine-dining or bistro food, but we French people eat so much more," says the group's spokeswoman, Orlane Fagnoni. "We have casual food, mountain cuisine like fondues and raclettes, and of course plenty of seafood."
Le Petit Navire - "the little boat" in French - is the title of a popular French folk song for children. Old ship parts, antique sailing maps, and paintings of ships by French artists keep the 30-seater's interiors to theme.
All the seafood at Le Petit Navire (save the Norwegian salmon) are imported from France, along with the spread of more than 30 French wines available, largely champagnes, roses and whites picked for pairing well with seafood.
Customise your own seafood platter by choosing either five ($38) or 10 ($75) items from a list of items, such as smoked salmon, whelk, fish roe, octopus salad and prawn cocktail. A la carte orders range from $10 for a single-portion of each item to $58 for a whole Brittany lobster. Or go the whole hog and top it off with French Sturia caviar from $198 (30g) to $298 (90g).
You can order by selecting the items directly through the glass chiller on the bar top - a design which Ms Fagnoni says was put in place to encourage interaction between diners and French head chef Alexis Knecht, who previously headed a French brasserie in the Intercontinental Hotel Dubai. His home-made salmon rillette is a tasty melange, but the smoked salmon could do with less salt. Another must-try is the tarama, a creamy pink dip made from cured codfish roe common in most Parisian seafood bars.
Should you prefer some hot food, mussels comes in three flavours, all served with fries: the typically French moules mariniere with white wine, onions, and cream; green curry mussels; or if you're a spice-craving Singaporean, extremely peppy hot and spicy mussels.
And if you aren't satiated after all that, the lobster pasta is a worthy venture. The flat noodles are made from scratch in the restaurant's basement kitchen - evident in its rustic, uneven appearance. The pasta is topped with a sunset-coloured briney bisque, and generous chunks of lobster meat and large fish roe.
Adds Ms Fagnoni: "Singaporeans love seafood and it's not hard to find here, but we wanted to show people that you can have it in another way - the French way."
By Debbie Yong
72 Boat Quay Z 62229068
Hours: 12-2.30pm (Mon-Fri)
SIX months after its move to its current digs on Boat Quay, fine-dining French restaurant Absinthe has more tricks up its sleeves.
Just this Thursday, the restaurant unveiled the second of its two-unit shophouse space, which was still under renovation when the restaurant soft-opened last July.
In the new extension comes two more private rooms for 25 and 10 diners on the top floor, 25 more seats in the general dining room on the second floor - and a brand new French-style seafood counter on the unit's ground floor.
"I've always wanted to do a seafood counter. All the other Chinese restaurants here have their seafood, I was jealous," jokes Absinthe's chef-owner, Francois Mermilliod. "Besides, it's a nice option for tourists to have something different - French-style seafood - while taking in stunning views of the Singapore River and the Marina Bay Sands."
While chef Mermilliod clarifies that the seafood bar and the restaurant are one integrated space and not two separate concepts, the dark wood and grey slate interiors give the open-air, street-facing section a more hip, underground bar feel than the restaurant's luxe dining rooms upstairs.
Local chef Koay Hock San, who previously worked at Japanese restaurants such as Aoki and Goto, mans the seafood counter that fronts the space. Up to four diners can perch on bar stools by the table-top glass chiller for dinner, or simply rest their elbows for a pre-meal tipple. A chef's table in the middle of the restaurant seats six.
Along with the additional space comes a further page on the food menu: fresh seafood platters come in four affordable sizes, and the larger the set, the more value-for-money it gets. The smallest L'Assiete Matelot ($32 per person) comes with three Fin de Claire oysters and three Irish oysters, while the Le Plateau Admiral on the top of that range has both items, as well as three tiger prawns, whelks, three Brittany clams and half a Boston lobster for $78 per person.
All items come with three dressings on the side, including a perky soy and Ponzu concoction. Seafood can be ordered in a la carte portions as well, and range from $5 per piece of Brittany clams to $28 for half a Boston lobster. If you're feeling so inclined, the French Aquitaine Sturia caviar is served with warm blinis and sour cream and come in 30g to 100g portions ($138 to $428).
Diners seated upstairs can order the seafood platters to their table, just as patrons at the seafood bar can order from the rest of the restaurant's menu.
And while the seafood is served French-style, it isn't limited to only French produce - Malaysian tiger prawns, New Zealand wild snapper and Boston lobsters all fall within his mix.
"The beauty of being in Singapore is that we import our seafood from all over the world. In every season, you can get anything you want, so why limit yourself?" he says.
By Debbie Yong
The Boxing Crab
80 Siloso Road
Hours: 11am-11pm daily
AS far as local seafood restaurant stereotypes go, you would expect The Boxing Crab to be loud, showy and full of unsavoury-looking fish tanks. Thankfully, there's none of that tackiness here. Its dimly lit interiors and minimalist decor channel the modernity of a Western bistro instead.
Opened last September by the Food Junction group, The Boxing Crab is the latest in the group's attempts to shed its food court operator image and take on a more upscale sheen. It also counts Mediterranean restaurant Medzs and year-old French-Japanese restaurant LP+Tetsu by Michelin-star chef Laurent Peugeot in its stable of eateries.
The 250-seater casual dining restaurant spans an impressive 11,000 sq ft and sits just behind Underwater World. It claims to be Sentosa's "first seafood restaurant by the sea", where diners can choose between eating inside the air-conditioned premises or having their food alfresco on the outdoor balcony, to take in views of the South China Sea.
Though the chopsticks and Chinese soup spoons in its table settings and its Lazy Susan-topped dining tables indicate more traditional Chinese leanings, the menu spans a global collection of cooking styles. There are separate sections for Balinese-style seafood dishes like charcoal grilled marinated squid and Indo style deep-fried butterfly fish, to Western creations such as baked king prawns with garlic butter sauce ($18 per piece), as well as conventional local dishes like chilli crab and cereal prawns. Prices of mains range from $14 for a small portion of squid to an average of $60 to $80 for one lobster.
While the chilli crab is a popular favourite, the braised claypot crab with pumpkin (price ranges around $70 per kg) is a worthy contender. The crab is soused in a umami-laden pumpkin-based gravy, leaving its meat tender and tasty. But the winning factor lies in the broth, which is not too sweet or cloying and goes well with the fried mantou ($3 for four buns).
Another standout dish is the steamed bamboo clams with minced garlic ($12 per piece). The clam meat is soft and chewy, and its natural sweetness marries well with the light soya-based sauce, generous topping of garlic and the accompanying portion of glass noodles served in the shell.
Food Junction group executive chef Martin Woo says The Boxing Crab aims to give its patrons some respite away from the hustle and bustle of the city. "We also hope to attract families and give them the opportunity to bond over great food while enjoying a magnificent view," he says.
By Sara Yap