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The young and the daring
By The Fire
125 East Coast Road
Tel: 9185 4824
Mon to Fri, noon - 3pm, 6pm - late
Sat to Sun, noon - late
AFTER a year of serving affordable French fare in a coffeeshop in Bukit Merah, 28-year-old Immanuel Tee of Immanuel French Kitchen is ready to start on his next venture. Just last month he launched his second hawker stall in a coffeeshop-cum-bar named Alibabar in Katong.
By The Fire is a Western grill primarily run by Mr Tee's business partner and fellow chef-owner Alexander Chong, 29, whom he met four years ago while working at the now-defunct Guy Savoy. They also worked together at Keystone restaurant, where Mr Tee was head chef and pulled his friend in to be his sous chef.
By The Fire was inspired by barbecue restaurants that he's eaten at, such as Burnt Ends and Lolla, says Mr Tee. He explains: "I think Burnt Ends is a very good grill concept, but it's not affordable for the mass market. So I had an idea to give the masses access to this type of charcoal- grilled food that you can't easily find elsewhere."
According to him, that's the reason he serves things like scotch eggs, which are hard to find in Singapore. even at cafes or restaurants, because they require a lot of work. Some other less common items, such as grilled octopus, have to be kept on the backburner for now as he acknowledges the need to first appeal to the masses with dishes they can recognise.
Says Mr Tee: "This concept is a very bold move because the kind of food we are serving is not the typical Western food in coffeeshops. So people need time to digest our menu to understand what we are doing here, and I believe eventually they will become more open to it. Then slowly, we will evolve the menu."
For now, the eatery is sticking to safer staples like a grilled hanger steak with shallot confit and garlic potatoes (S$19), pork ribs glazed with a sweet barbecue sauce served with macaroni and cheese (S$14.90), and spicy Keystone seaweed angel hair pasta with sakura ebi (S$8.90). Down the road, Mr Tee intends to expand his menu by adding some tapas to cater to the drinking crowd that comes by at night.
In the long run, he hopes to go back to his fine dining roots by opening his own place in a "proper" location. In fact, he reveals, he had initially aimed to do so by the end of this year, but decided to postpone the move.
"I didn't feel good about it because there are too many restaurants opening now and the market is too saturated. So I told my investors that it's not the right time. This type of stall, on the other hand, is very sustainable compared to a restaurant, so I'm going to focus on this first," he says.
#01-23, 261 Waterloo Street
Tel: 6694 2361
Opening hours: Mon to Fri, 11am - 3pm, 6pm - 11pm;
Sat & public holiday, 11am - 10pm, Sun, 11am - 8pm
FOR many chefs or F&B owners, the ultimate goal is probably to run an award-winning, high-end fine dining restaurant. But 23-year-old Shaun Gian's dream is a little different. The Shatec graduate hopes to some day expand his three-month-old cafe at Waterloo Street, The Betterfield, by opening three stalls in hawker centres - one in the north, one in the east, and one in the west of Singapore.
"I'll be diversifying the risk, have different sets of clientele, and cook in a central kitchen so more people will know the brand," says Mr Gian. That's all part of a long-term plan, however, as he is still busy with his 36-seater cafe, where he runs the kitchen with the help of his father.
He says he started out with a cafe because he wanted to use better-quality ingredients but couldn't justify charging for them at a hawker centre just yet.
"Here, I can serve higher-end food than what a regular cafe would serve, but at decent prices that people wouldn't pay in a hawker centre," he says, pointing out that his menu features duck confit with duck flown in from France (S$21), black Angus ribeye steak from Australia (S$21 for 200g), and two different types of risotto (S$20 each).
His insistence on using better ingredients comes partly from his background working in establishments such as Absinthe and the Ramada & Days Hotel in Balestier, and heading the kitchen at Prince of Wales. The other reason is a little more personal.
Explains Mr Gian: "Back when I was in the army, I was always faced with budget constraints when I wanted to take my girlfriend somewhere nice on special occasions. I made only a few hundred dollars, so my budget for a nice meal was only about S$20-S$30. That's why I keep my prices around this range. This cafe is the kind of place I would have wanted to bring my girlfriend to."
So far, business has been doing well, too, and Mr Gian seems to be on track to building his kopitiam "empire".
"Of course I hope business will do well, but if it doesn't, then it's okay," he says. "I'm still young, so it's still a learning experience. So I'll hold on to the first outlet for quite a while and see how things go before doing anything else."
In The Brickyard
119 Bukit Merah Lane 1
Tel: 9644 8124
Opening hours: Tue to Sun, noon - 3pm, 6pm - 10pm
WHEN it comes to having dessert in a hawker centre or coffeeshop, the options are pretty standard - ice longan, ice kachang, tau suan (mung beans soup), chin chow (grass jelly) or maybe French toast and kaya. But at Salut Coffeeshop in Bukit Merah, dessert has gotten a little more sophisticated.
This "hipster" coffeeshop is already known for its upscale hawker stalls such as Immanuel French Kitchen, German eatery Stew Kuche and burger joint Jack The Ripper. Now, diners can have their "hipster" cafe-style treats there, too, with the opening of a dessert stall-cum-bakery, In The Brickyard.
The business was started last year by three friends, and at first it only operated online selling cakes and pastries. In March, they opened their first brick-and-mortar shop after the owners of three-year-old Drury Lane in Tanjong Pagar approached them to supply desserts to their cafe.
"Actually we had never thought of opening in a coffeeshop," admits Phua Jia Min, one of the co-founders of In The Brickyard. "One of the owners of Drury Lane is a friend of this coffeeshop's owner, and they wanted to partner us after tasting our cakes. It was more an opportunity at the right time than anything else."
Even the birth of the business was an unforeseen opportunity, adds Ms Phua. Her co-founder and baker Darren Olsen received an unexpectedly large order last year, and they decided then that it was the perfect time to start the business they had been talking about for a while.
In The Brickyard offers a range of rotating cake flavours such as salted caramel mango, matcha oreo, yam-tiramisu and mint chocolate Guinness (S$6.50 per slice). On top of that, it also has desserts such as chocolate lava cakes in flavours like lavender or raspberry with a scoop of ice cream (S$10), sticky date pudding with toffee sauce and ice cream (S$7), and banana bread with kopi butter (S$2.50).
Down the road, Ms Phua and her friends intend to open a standalone place of their own as well and reveals that this might happen before the end of this year.
"We're hoping to have this (upcoming) one properly calculated, though, and don't intend to jump straight into it like we did with this coffeeshop space. After all, the coffeeshop has manageable rent, but the new shop space will need to be something that we're confident will work," she says.