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First-timers lead the charge
Solo flight of fancy
Pistachio Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Grill
20 Ah Hood Road, Zhongshan Mall, #01-15
Open 11.30am to 10pm daily
IN his 20 years in F&B, Egyptian-born chef Khaled Elelimi has opened multiple Middle-Eastern restaurants in various countries, including Egypt, India and the Maldives - mostly for the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.
So earlier this year, the now-Singapore-based chef decided to strike out on his own, to launch a 30-seat eatery called Pistachio Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Grill at a shopping mall in Balestier about three months ago.
"I really, really love cooking. That's why I opened my own restaurant not just for business reasons, but because I wanted to be able to create food the way I like it, and to give my guests what they like to eat. It's an opportunity for me to do exactly what I want with my life," says the 47-year-old chef who runs the restaurant with his Singaporean wife.
So at Pistachio Grill, chef Elelimi serves his own healthier versions of Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean food, influenced by his formal training in Ayurveda (an ancient medical system that originated in India) from his days at Four Seasons Resort Maldives.
"Healthy cooking is important to me, that's why a lot of my customers come back for my food. And I always make sure I use high-quality ingredients because if I give people lousy ingredients, they would never come back," says chef Elelimi.
For instance, he chooses to use a higher-quality, low-carb basmati rice grain for the saffron rice, which comes with dishes such as the lamb shank tagine (S$28). The result is fragrant, light, and fluffy, and the chef also attributes this to the fact that he doesn't use any butter or ghee, and instead steams the rice with cinnamon sticks, onions, and sunflower oil.
Chef Elelimi first started in F&B when he was 16, by attending culinary school in Egypt and working part-time in hotel kitchens there to gain experience. With the extra money he made, he saved up to buy cookbooks and try out those recipes at home.
From there, he joined hotel groups such as Marriott, Four Seasons, and eventually worked at the banquet and events section of Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore, for five years before leaving that job in May this year to open Pistachio Grill.
"I told myself, sometimes in life you need to take a risk. If you don't take a risk, you won't know the outcome. I believe that if you focus on what you are doing, you don't need to be afraid. Because if I make something of good quality with reasonable prices, people can judge that for themselves," he says, adding that his restaurant has been doing considerably well since it opened - it's fully-booked most weekends - despite its out-of-town location.
In fact, chef Elelimi already has plans to open a second one once he finds the right location, except this time, he hopes to sell healthy Mediterranean-style wraps.
He concludes: "I actually quite prefer owning my own place because I like to be able to do what I want. Once there are investors or more partners, there are bound to be arguments. It's like if you have a car, you can't have more than one driver at a time. I feel that opening a restaurant is the same thing."
48 Peck Seah Street
Open Tues to Fri, 8am - midnight, Sat, 10.30am - midnight Sun, 10.30am - 3pm
Opens Sept 12
IF you thought kebabs were only limited to the doner variety, think again. Fat Prince, a new Middle-Eastern eatery opening next week on Peck Seah St, will have around 10 different kinds of kebabs - none of which are doner.
Instead, other than one traditional kebab known as the Adana kebab, the other nine are original creations from Canadian head chef Hunter Moyes.
"In Turkey, there's something called Anatolian cuisine, and outside of that, there are many different culinary regions, all related to a type of spice, ingredient, or technique. So, it just took research and respect for the various regions, and I based each of my kebabs on a different region," explains chef Moyes, who was based in Vancouver before coming to Singapore to helm Fat Prince.
In other words, the kebabs at this "cafe-kebabery" were inspired by various styles of Middle-Eastern cuisine, the same way the food at its sister establishment, Neon Pigeon at Keong Saik, serves small plates inspired by Japanese cuisine.
Creative director Michael Goodman says that their choice of cuisine was partly moulded by a week-long research trip where the team visited Turkey and tasted dishes from both traditional and modern restaurants.
He says: "We went out to where these new, young generation Turkish chefs were putting a creative spin on their food. They didn't just want to do things the way their grandparents did, although they still respected it. So, we ended up with a lot of great traditional flavours but also a lot of interesting new ways people were looking at their food."
That's exactly what they intend to do at Fat Prince as well. Some of the kebab options to choose from are okra falafel with eggplant puree and tahini tomato jam, or duck and pistachio kofte with fig compote, duck crackling and rocket. The kebabs come in a set of a minimum of two pieces, at S$17 for two; and S$25 for three.
Mr Goodman adds: "I think one of the biggest misconceptions we want to shatter is that a kebab is not just one thing. There are countless varieties and types of kebabs that are completely different from one another. It's like if we opened a noodle bar, and someone who's never been to Asia might not be able to differentiate the noodles, but there are actually so many nuances and differences between them. I think kebabs are the same."
Keeping up with its casual cafe-style vibe, Fat Prince will also serve a Turkish brunch menu on weekends, and the 40-seater space will be combined with the 46 seats that make up its higher-end conjoined sibling - Ottoman Room, which will open in October.
Regarding the latter, Mr Goodman says: "Ottoman Room is going to be a high-end concept that's completely different from what we already have in Singapore. The food will be based on the same Middle-Eastern-inspired flavours, but the experience itself will be worlds apart. More to come on that as we get closer to opening, because for now we'll be focusing on Fat Prince."
Fire and smokiness
Ash and Char
21 McCallum Street
Opens late October
NOT a morning person? Neither is Charles Yoshida. At least, not anymore. The 33-year-old founder of the aptly named brunch cafe Rise and Grind Coffee Co will be temporarily hanging up his eggs and bacon skillet to focus on his brand new concept - an Asian-inspired small plates gastrobar called Ash and Char.
"The word 'Ash' comes from how there's a bit of a trend for chefs to purposely burn food and blend it to use as powder to give a dish an added dimension of smokiness. And 'Char' comes from char-grilled, because we want to experiment with grilling our ingredients," says chef-owner Yoshida, who runs both F&B outlets with two business partners. Their second venture is slated to open by end-October at Telok Ayer.
He explains that their second venture came about because they came across the location and found the opportunity too good to resist.
While the menu hasn't been confirmed yet, chef Yoshida explains that customers will get to choose from 20 different small plates, with flavours inspired by Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, and even Filipino cuisines.
He will also be using some off-cuts such as beef tripe or pig ears, and one example is a king prawn-version of the Hong Kong Chinese dish called Typhoon shelter - crab with fried garlic, chilli, and black beans. Each small plate will likely cost from about S$6.
"I think European cuisine is everywhere, and to me, running a business is about setting ourselves apart, that's why we decided to take the Asian route. And this is also a challenge for us to run something beyond a cafe," says chef Yoshida. He came from an F&B background spanning a decade, and worked mostly in hotels such as Resorts World Sentosa, Sheraton Towers, and Raffles Hotel after studying at Shatec.
"I've been working part-time since I was 13, and I feel that I am ready to head a proper kitchen. Plus, when you spend eight years working for various hotel kitchens, you learn a lot because there are many different aspects to it," he says.
Of course, it helps that he's had some experience from the year spent running Rise & Grind Coffee Co as well. One of the main things he learnt is how to deal with people.
"When you run operations, you tend to meet different kinds of people . . . But you learn to build relationships with them, and that's how 70 per cent of our customers at the cafe are regulars. Apart from that, you also learn to be consistent with what you serve, while always trying new things," he says.
In fact, though the doors to his second establishment aren't even open yet, there are already plans in the works for a third eatery that will most likely launch by the end of this year.
"I don't think I'll stop opening outlets, to be honest. Because as a chef you always want to push yourself to see what you can achieve. If you open just one or two and sit back and relax, then you'll be bored by the time you're 50 or 60 years old. And because food is ever-evolving, there's always so much to learn," says the chef.
'New American' frontier
SPRMRKT Kitchen & Bar
The Singapore Tyler Print Institute,
#02-01, 41 Robertson Quay Z9736-4170
Open Mon to Fri, 11.30am-3pm, 6pm-10pm, Sat, 9am-4pm, 6pm-10pm, Sun, 9am-6pm
ZJUST like NTUC, which has Fair Price and Finest, local lifestyle brand SPRMRKT at McCallum Street is launching an upscale restaurant, SPRMRKT Kitchen & Bar.
This 30-seater restaurant is located on the second floor of the Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI) building in Robertson Quay, and comes four years after founders Sue-Shan Quek and Joseph Yeo first started the SPRMRKT brand.
Helming the kitchen is local chef Jonathan Ong, a 29-year-old who has had stints in restaurants such as Iggy's and Waku Ghin, and prides himself on making almost everything on the menu from scratch - from soup stocks to pate, sambals, and mayonnaise.
"It's been stressful to head my own kitchen. You don't get very much sleep," says the chef with a laugh.
He adds: "Plus, the food I do is not really mainstream . . . I would like to think I am ready and confident enough to have my own chef's voice, but I don't do standard French or Japanese fare, so I don't have a specific direction and that's difficult to be confident with. But I think I'm at least confident enough with my food."
He defines the food at SPRMRKT Kitchen & Bar as "New American" cuisine that's "globally influenced", and some dishes include a hake with miso, risotto and charred romaine lettuce (S$26), corn "Jambalayed" with bacon, sofrito and sausage (S$10), as well as a Spanish octopus with romesco, deep-fried water spinach, and bulgur (S$65).
Chef Ong has been in the F&B industry since he was 16, and spent some time studying at The Culinary Institute of America before working in New York for about a year. After his work visa expired, he came back to Singapore and took on the job with SPRMRKT.
"We decided to open (SPRMRKT Kitchen & Bar) because Joseph and I felt quite ready to explore a different standard of dining," says Ms Quek of her two-week-old restaurant.
"To be honest, now in this economic climate, it's not the right time to be expanding and opening new restaurants, so we're quite wary about that, but we love the location and building so much. It's an opportunity too good to miss. Plus, Joseph has a fine-dining background so we're kind of revisiting where he came from," she adds.
Aside from SPRMRKT Kitchen & Bar, they have also opened another eatery on the first floor of the STPI building - SPRMRKT Daily, and its premises also contain a retail section for fresh produce, local artisanal products, and a selection of wines.
For chef Ong, the experience of heading the restaurant has proven to be quite the challenge so far. He says: "On the first day of our soft launch, both my air-conditioner and pasta machine broke down. I had to bring in my own pasta machine from home. A lot of people want to open restaurants but they don't understand that crisis management is more important than just the food. When you're heading your own kitchen, it's no longer just about food anymore."