Rise of the celebrity chef
This was the year of celebrity chef sightings - and not. Gordon Ramsay popped in at Bread Street Kitchen, Jamie Oliver didn't at his second eatery. David Thompson toiled at Long Chim, while Wolfgang Puck may or may not have turned up at the opening of Spago. On top of that, Spanish Michelin-starred chefs Carles Gaig and Juan Amador (a culinary UFO whom some claimed to have seen but was never proven) who opened La Ventana and Alma respectively. Singapore diners also lapped up foreign hipster imports including UK brand MEATLiquor SINgapore, and The Butchers Club from Hong Kong. While the question of hype over substance remains, one thing's for sure - more stars are in store.
Roast duck wars
Fat ducks from a London stalwart and a Singapore newbie trying to claim a false English heritage ruffled each other's feathers this year. In one corner is Four Seasons Chinese Restaurant - hailing from Bayswater in London. In the other is London Fat Duck - a joint venture between local players Akashi and Fei Siong. Both claim to have the best roast ducks from The Netherlands and Ireland respectively. But as it turns out, roast duck is not the star on either restaurant's menu. Four Seasons' soya sauce chicken is better, while the char siew at London Fat Duck is a hit. Time to change names, maybe?
Marriage of art and food
The idea that man cannot live on art alone is one perpetuated by the many big-name art centres which spent as much time curating their restaurants as their Rembrandts and Georgette Chens. National Gallery Singapore has the biggest array of culinary stars with the likes of Odette by Julien Royer and Aura by Beppe de Vito. Singapore Pinacotheque de Paris lured Balzac Brasserie to relocate there as a more appropriate match than the jarring Mexican-Indian joint next to it. And most recently, Asian Civilisations Museum replaced the old Indochine with a new Chinese restaurant Empress. However, the jury is still out on whether art makes food taste better.
Mad about tapas
The tapas craze is like a bad habit - just when you think you've kicked it, it comes back, by another name or in another form. This was the year when tapas went global to the point that even dim sum became small Asian tapas. Contemporary Asian, Western, Peruvian, Japanese, or fusion-style - you name it, they've made it small. But small plates at close to normal plate prices is becoming a bugbear for diners who are discovering that 'sharing' portions can add up to pretty big individual bills.
Japan at your doorstep
First it was the Japanese restaurant frenzy. Now it's the Japanese produce boom with a slew of Japanese online and brick-and-mortar stores to cater to every Japanese cooking whim you may have. New players include the massive Emporium Shokuhin at Marina Square with live seafood tanks and dry-aged wagyu; and others such as Ethan's Gourmet, Zairyo, and Rakuten offering delivery to your doorstep. With Isetan putting its Japanese supermarket through a major makeover, the land of the rising sun isn't about to set anytime soon here.
Michelin stars land in Singapore
Just who is deserving of a Michelin star will be cause for debate next year, as the Michelin Guide is finally set to launch in Singapore. Already, pundits have started rallying for their favourites even as the real inspectors make their rounds as stealthily as possible. Will the Guide really raise the profile of Singapore's dining scene or create more controversy than Asia's Best50? Check back in November to find out.
Sustainability and urban farming are two of the biggest buzz words on the dining scene this year as restaurants and chefs clamber on the responsibility bandwagon. Restaurants like Open Farm Community grow their own vegetables while others like Cocotte, Burnt Ends and Bacchanalia work with an organic farm in Cameron Highlands to minimise carbon footprints and serve pesticide-free vegetables. Still others such as Portico Prime source what they can from local producers, and Artemis Grill imports most of its produce only from organic and sustainable sources. It's still a small movement, but hopefully it's one with legs to grow - in quantity and especially quality.
Wanting a space to call their own and give full vent to their own creativity has lured chefs like Andrew Walsh and Julien Royer from their comfort zones into new exciting territory. Coming out of Jason Atherton's shadow as the head chef of Esquina, chef Walsh now has Cure, a "fine-dining bistro" just around the corner at Keong Saik Road. More recently, Julien Royer came down to ground level from Jaan to open one of the most highly anticipated restaurants, Odette at National Gallery. The posh fine-dining eatery is a partnership with the Lo and Behold Group. If you haven't tried it yet, be prepared to wait - Odette is almost fully booked until February next year.
Less is more
Downsizing was a way for Ivan Brehm to get closer to his diners - which is the main reason for the head chef of Bacchanalia to move his operations out of the Freemason building earlier this year. One of the most original-thinking chefs to emerge in Singapore, chef Brehm now works out of an intimate 26-seater in Hong Kong Street, where the kitchen is part of the dining room. His reasoning is that there should be no barrier between the chef and his guests so you are literally watching him cook. Just hope he doesn't ask you to chop vegetables for him between courses.
Upscaling for the mainstream
Following in the footsteps of the folks behind Astons and Saveur, former fine dining chef Immanuel Tee, 30, opened Immanuel Tee of Immanuel French Kitchen in Bukit Merah as a way of continuing his haute cuisine in more affordable (for him and his customers) surroundings. It worked so well that he opened another two earlier this year.
One of them is By The Fire at the corner coffeeshop Alibabar in Katong (where Astons and Saveur first started out), and the other is Garcons at Essen food court located at The Pinnacle @ Duxton. They all follow the same concept of affordable European cuisine in a casual "kopitiam" setting, and are part of his vision to bring "upscale food" to the masses.
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