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Hit List 2018
Restaurant of the year
It just barely made it to Singapore before December, but Swedish import Restaurant Zen has hit the ground running, leaving all other new entrants this year gasping after it.
It's also the most expensive debut in town at S$450 a person (not to mention an eye-watering S$250 for wine pairing) for its dinner-only menu, but if you're willing to pay, the pain is worth it. The Singapore flagship of Stockholm's three Michelin-starred Frantzen is every bit as slick as the original, turning the old Restaurant Andre premises into a three-level house of fine dinner entertainment. It's still in its honeymoon period with Frantzen's head chef Marcus Jernmark seconded here till February but with Zen's head chef Tristan Farmer directing the small army of chefs and servers with military precision, you can tell they're in it for the long haul.
Restaurant Andre and the two Robuchon restaurants were some of the more high-profile eateries to close this year, but certainly not the only ones. Among the bigger names were Mario Batali's Mozza and Osteria, Aussie import Blackwattle and Singapore's first mod-Sin eatery Wild Rocket. Other mod-Sin eateries like the fine dining Restaurant Ards failed to make it to its first anniversary, and neither did the casual but fun Jiakpalang. Not quite hitting its one year mark too was also Circa 1912 which made it its mission to bring back traditional Chinese recipes from the early 20th century. It closed last month. To cap it off, the one Michelin-starred Whitegrass chef-owner Sam Aisbett announced he would serve the restaurant's last meal on Dec 22, one month before its third anniversary. As the lease on its Chijmes space is up, he's taking the opportunity to look for a smaller place that will allow him more time to create. However, he's not saying whether it will be in Singapore or elsewhere.
First came the news Singapore's only three Michelin-starred Restaurant Joel Robuchon and its two-starred L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon would close in June, ending months of rumours that the fine dining restaurants hadn't been doing well in Resorts World Sentosa, where it opened in 2011. But the double whammy kicked in when the legendary chef Joel Robuchon himself died unexpectedly on August 6, after a long quiet battle with cancer that few people knew about. He left behind a galaxy of Michelin stars, but just as many chefs trained in his cuisine who still continue his legacy today.
The man fêted by the world and who seemed to have it all, turned out to not want any of it. The famed food show host Anthony Bourdain killed himself on June 8 while in France working on his award-winning series Parts Unknown. His death sent shockwaves through the world - both in the restaurant industry and his legion of fans who admired his no-nonsense approach to food and his sharp banter. He was a big fan of street food in Singapore, and had plans to open a giant hawker centre in New York, although they were shelved even before his death. While he lives on in countless reruns, food TV may never be the same again.
It's not called Restaurant Zen, but the Lo & Behold Group's debut Japanese restaurant Esora is the epitome of zen tranquility. Its premises in Mohd Sultan wow you with its simplicity yet incredible detail: from the light streaming through the pleated washi paper screen covering the skylight, to the calming blond wood dining space with stone and paper accents. The look was created by the design team at Takenouchi Webb, who have achieved a look that is rooted in Japanese tradition but with a modern minimalist aesthetic. Which perfectly describes the fine dining kappo menu crafted by head chef Shigeru Koizumi.
Striking out on their own
NEW LOCAL RESTAURANTS
The year has seen a number of local chefs heading their own eateries. One of them is Mano Thevar, formerly of Meatsmith Little India who teamed up with Meta's Sun Kim to open modern Indian restaurant Thevar. Other notables include local restaurant Ibid, where the first Masterchef Asia winner Woo Wai Leong serves a modern take on Nanyang cuisine. Elsewhere, ex-Cocotte chef Anthony Yeoh opened his tiny-but-growing bistro Summerhill in Clementi; Martin Wong put Nordic, French and Japanese together to create the whimsically-named Mythz and Myths; and ex-Boruto chef Angus Chow started Gake - his personal take on Japanese-inspired small plates.
Mad Dog and Englishman
THE ENGLISH HOUSE
Even before the Raffles Hotel has had a chance to open properly, its iconic doormen have been greeting diners at restaurateur Marco Pierre White's ode to colonial-era Singapore, The English House. It took some four years to convert two heritage shophouses in Mohd Sultan into what he calls "a restaurant with rooms". Only the restaurant is completed at the moment, with the 18-room boutique hotel slated to open next year. But the restoration so far has been nothing short of eye-opening with the intricate original features of the house carefully unearthed during refurbishment. White himself oversaw the design, carting in his personal collection artifacts from his homes in the UK that give The English House a sense of choreographed chaos that is part drama and part amusement park. The food - rib-sticking English food with some Asian influence - has received mixed reviews - but it's still a work in progress worth keeping track of.
Pop-up of the Year
Young Singaporean chefs may have talent and drive, but not always the money to open their own restaurants. That's where Naked Finn's Tan Ken Loon came into the picture with Magic Square in June, a one-year incubator business that he set up for three handpicked talents Desmond Shen, Abel Su and Marcus Leow. In a no-frills, communal seating set up in Portsdown Road, the chefs take turns to create their own menus while learning the ins and outs of running their own business. The idea isn't so much for Magic Square to make a profit but to at least break even. Which isn't a problem since it has been enjoying a full house every night and is fully booked all the way up to end January. The end game is for investors to put their money behind these talents, and who knows, this pop up may well be permanent
Trend of the year
Farm-to-table was the dominant food concept in 2018, with Michelin-starred chefs including Labyrinth's Han Li Guang and Nouri's Ivan Brehm leading the way in showing how food grown in Singapore or fished from surrounding waters can be as good as, if not better, than what's imported in terms of freshness and flavour.
Chef Han even changed his entire restaurant menu to be almost completely locavore, while most of Nouri's seafood is wild and caught in Malaysian and Indonesian waters by small-scale fishermen still practising traditional bamboo cage fishing methods.
"It's through supporting these people that we create the right stage for growth," says chef Brehm. For conscious diners, this is good news indeed.
CHEZ VOUS: HIDEAWAY CONCEPT HAIR SALON
Ngee Ann City Tower B, #14-04 T: 6219 3558.
YOU CAN EASILY see this bright yellow door in the office block of Ngee Ann City, but you'd have no clue that there's a hair salon behind it. "This space is meant to be a secret urban oasis," says Eugene Teo, brand director for Chez Vous, which also has its flagship salon on the mall's fifth level.
The cosy reception is adorned with Renaissance paintings that are more than just decorative. Push one of them to enter the relaxation den where leather massage chairs await.
The next room is an urban-minimalist loft, with a bathtub in the middle filled with foliage. "We want our clients think about their next getaway when they see the tub," says Mr Teo. This is also where your hair is cut and styled.
In the wash area, or Wash Cave as it is called, digital 'aquatic art' is projected on the walls, supposedly to restore your sense of wellbeing. If you are a VIP client, you get access to the Rose Quartz Private Room, an entirely pink room. The turquoise exit is a prime spot for taking selfies with your new hairdo.
"Our clients wanted a more private space. Some of the room designs were what we ourselves have experienced in other spas and hotels, so we wanted to recreate that here," says Mr Teo.
HABITAT BY HONESTBEE
34 Boon Leat Terrace, #01-01
habitabt by honestbee is not your typical supermarket. It touts itself as a 'NewGen Retail', a tech-enabled multi-sensory grocery and shopping experience. Put simply, you can shop for groceries, dine there, make payment through the automated checkout system and finally collect your groceries from a robot.
In keeping with its 'NewGen Retail' concept, the space also had to be designed differently from the typical supermarkets. That task was taken up by Wynk Collaborative.
habitat by honestbee is housed in a 60,000 sq ft warehouse at Pasir Panjang, but it feels more like Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. Shoppers will immediately notice a conveyor belt in the air, carrying shopping bags for honestbee's online shoppers.
The space is designed like an open-air market, where shoppers are free to meander around. Large windows replaced solid walls, ensuring that plenty of natural light comes in. Display shelves are kept to below 1.5m high, so shoppers get unobstructed views of the space and are able to orient themselves.
The F&B outlets are placed in clusters and there are many informal spaces that encourage shoppers to linger.
KAMPUNG ADMIRALTY BY WOHA
676 Woodlands Drive 71
It is not every day that a building in Woodlands wins the top prize in the architectural equivalent of the Oscars, but that's what Kampung Admiralty did.
Designed by homegrown architecture firm, WOHA, Kampung Admiralty won Building of the Year at the World Architecture Festival (WAF) in Amsterdam beating 535 projects from 57 countries.
This is the first winning project done solely by a Singapore firm, although we have won the same title twice previously: in 2015 for The Interlace condominium by OMA and Ole Scheeren, and in 2012, for the Cooled Conservatories at Gardens by the Bay by Wilkinson Eyre and Grant Associates.
Kampung Admiralty houses a medical centre, eldercare and childcare facilities, a hawker centre, a rooftop community garden and two residential blocks. The project has been held up as an example of how innovation and good design can combine healthcare, housing and education to improve lives.
On Dec 1 at 3am, Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell, founders of WOHA received a text from their colleague Pearl Chee in Amsterdam. She was presenting their Kampung Admiralty project at the World Architecture Festival (WAF). "Is anyone still awake?" read the message.
Kampung Admiralty had just won Building of the Year at WAF.
That award is the latest international accolade that the firm had received in 2018. Oasia Hotel Downtown was named Best Tall Building Worldwide by Chicago's Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. It also won for Asia and Australasia.
"It is nice to receive recognition for the work that we do, but it doesn't change the way we approach our projects. We always try to find the best solution for each new client's brief, so that it is a positive contribution to its surroundings, the community and the environment," says Mr Wong.
SHIFU DE SACCO BY JARROD LIM
The famous Sacco bean bag turns 50 years old this year and to celebrate, Italian furniture brand Zanotta and its Singapore retailer W. Atelier invited Singapore designers to create their own version, with the theme "Urban Living the Asian Way."
Designer Jarrod Lim and his Shifu De Sacco was one of three winners from a shortlist of 10 entries.
"Beaded seat covers are no doubt one of the most iconic Asian inventions," says Mr Lim, who runs his eponymous design firm. "Its continued usage today is testament to the design's ingenuity and effectiveness."
Mr Lim bought several beaded seat covers, took all the wooden beads apart, and then weaved them to create Shifu De Sacco. He says his Sacco cover provides ventilation and possibly even an acupressure massage.
The 10 designs will be showcased at the National Design Centre from 2 July 2019.
WEATHERHYDE BY BILLION BRICKS
weatherHYDE is more than a tent that you can use for a weekend at East Coast Park. It is an all-season life-saving tent designed by Billion Bricks, a non-profit design studio. Its CEO Prasoon Kumar designed weatherHYDE for the homeless by treating them as customers who have every right to demand for quality products too.
The tent can withstand various weather conditions. Its waterproof outskin and three-layered stitching ensures water tightness. The reflective layer traps body heat for warmth in winter, and reflects solar heat to keep the interior temperatures cool during summer. It is also designed to be able to fit a family of five.
Earlier this year, weatherHYDE received a Design of the Year award at the President's Design Award.
Shirkers is a fascinating documentary set in 1990s Singapore when former film critic Sandi Tan and her friends tried to make the first-of-its-kind indie movie. Their director was an American man who taught a film course they’d attended. But when the film shoot ended, he disappeared with the film reels. Shirkers is Tan’s attempt to make sense of the reels returned to her 20 years later, but it’s also a Valentine to pre-2000 Singapore, art films and the electric dreams of youth. Available on Netflix.
A LAND IMAGINED
It’s rare to have a beautifully-shot noir film set in Singapore. It’s rarer still to find a film that looks at the plight of foreign workers through the lives of Chinese and South Asian construction workers. But Yeo Siew Hua’s A Land Imagined achieves just that, scooping a number of prizes at film festivals along the way. The film takes you through the back alleys and dark corners of the city as a detective tries to solve a case of missing workers. In cinemas in 2019.
CRAZY RICH ASIANS
Love it or hate it, Crazy Rich Asians is an undeniably well-made commercial film that gets a A+ for mastering the rom-com rulebook: Boy and girl with sizzling chemistry run afoul of social and family expectations, are forced to break up, but reunite after some slick manoeuvring by either the boy or girl or both. Place that story against a backdrop of extravagant Singapore luxury and you get a pure escapist fantasy that practically shimmers. Available on DVD.
BUILDING A CHARACTER
Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai channels hope, rage and humour into a seriocomic one-woman show about being an Indian actress denied screen roles because of the colour of her skin. With an inspired script by Ruth Tang and dynamic direction by Mei-Ann Teo, the play breaks taboos and hearts in one fell swoop.
What could have been a predictable dramatized tour of Chinatown turned into a tour-de-force drama about the people who inhabit the district and what its spaces mean to them. Written by Jean Tay and directed by Koh Hui Ling, Chinatown Crossings crosses racial, cultural, geographical and genre lines to offer an immensely satisfying story about the ties that bind.
TIGER OF MALAYA
Who gets to decide which version of history is accurate? Amid flying accusations and counter-accusations of "fake news", Alfian Sa'at's meta-theatrical play directed by Fared Jainal couldn't be more timely. It examines the nature of history and the construction of facts, using as its springboard a little-known 1943 Japanese film about a secret agent in Singapore.
LION CITY BY NG YI-SHENG
Ng is a poet, playwright, fictionist, journalist, activist and PhD student. So it's no surprise that his short stories see him wildly switching genres and riffing on a broad spectrum of themes. A man who in his past life was a bowl of laksa is a metaphor for our dying hawker fare. A story of haze that brings with it strange newcomers explores xenophobia. The best stories soar beyond your imagination, yet still tell you something profoundly true about Singapore.
SUICIDE CLUB BY RACHEL HENG
Bold, ambitious and well-researched, Heng's sci-fi novel envisions a future where people can live up to 300 years - provided they exercise, meditate, avoid meat and suppress any kind of excitement that raises their cortisol levels. The best part of Heng's novel is that it satirises the current wellness craze that's become a global trillion-dollar industry. If this gets turned into a film too, one shouldn't be surprised.
THIS IS WHAT INEQUALITY LOOKS LIKE BY TEO YOU YENN
The non-fiction bestseller that's got every conscientious Singaporean talking is Teo's book on poverty and inequality. In a country that considers its meritocratic system unassailable, Teo challenges the narrative by showing how privilege is structured to favour the haves. The sociology professor writes candidly and intimately, elevating a grim topic into a humane and impassioned plea for social responsibility.
TREES OF LIFE - KNOWLEDGE IN MATERIAL AT THE NTU CENTRE OF CONTEMPORARY ART
Exploring art created out of four natural materials with roots in Asia - namely indigo, lacquer, rattan and mulberry - the show assembled contemporary Asian works that are dense with history and tradition, not to mention sheer physical beauty. It was curated by Ute Meta Bauer, Laura Miotto and Khim Ong.
DINH Q LE AT STPI
One of the most talked-about shows this year was Dinh Q Le's stunning photo-weaving series at STPI. The Vietnamese-American artist shredded photographs of Cambodian temples and portraits of Khmer Rouge victims, and then weaved them together into photomontages using traditional Vietnamese grass mat weaving techniques. Up close, you see the temple details; from a distance, haunting faces of victims emerge.
BOEDI WIDJAJA AT SHANGHART SINGAPORE
Widjaja was born in Indonesia and became a Singapore citizen in 2011, but his roots remain strong. His current show at ShanghArt explores his complex diasporic identity through the drawings of wuxia films dubbed in Bahasa which he grew up watching, bilingual poems read aloud by his father, and a digital reimagining of the he du, an ancient Chinese diagram of the cosmos.
B4NGER PROJECT BY GENTLE BONES & MYRNE
Hot singer-songwriter Gentle Bones (Joel Tan) joins hands with whiz kid producer Myrne (Manfred Lim) to create this perfect pop confection about the hormonal highs and lows that happen when boys meet girls.
CHECK-HOOK BY CHARLIE LIM
Charlie Lim's third album is, in his own words, "dance music for people who don't go to clubs". What he's describing is an ice-cool electro R&B recording infused with pop, jazz and disco. Imbibe it slowly with that homemade Pimm's.
FIRE & RAIN BY JACINTHA
Jazz chanteuse Jacintha is intimate and affecting in this cover album of James Taylor songs such as Sweet Baby James and Something In The Way She Moves, recorded at the legendary Henson Recording Studios with frequent Taylor collaborators.
NEON LIGHTS AND SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX 2018
The Neon Lights concert shone this year with headliners more worthy of Glastonbury than the lion city. Picture highlights like Yuna and Interpol, a New York rock band playing for their first time in Singapore. Concerts at the Grand Prix too are usually as big as the race, hosting everyone including The Killers, Dua Lipa and Jay Chou.
ROLEX OYSTER PERPETUAL GMT MASTER II
Going by sheer popular appeal, Rolex’s latest two-time zone timepiece with its famous red and blue bezel is a shoe-in for the most noteworthy watch in 2018. There’s no denying that the “Pepsi”, which was first rolled out in 1955, is hotter than the drink it’s nicknamed after, with a waiting list of up to eight years, if not more. This has sent prices for the latest Pepsi through the roof in the grey market - as high as US$22,000 or more than double its recommended retail price.
LANGE & SOHNE’S TRIPLE SPLIT
This extremely complex chronograph is a showcase of the German watch brand’s high watchmaking skills. Priced at 139,000 euros, it can record simultaneous events up to 12 hours and is accurate to one-sixth of a second – a world first. Housed in the 43.2mm white gold case of the watch is a hand-wound Lange-made movement that took five years to develop. It also puts more into a space of the same size as its earlier Double Split chronograph. While the Double Split is made up of 465 parts, the Triple Split has 567 components. And the Triple split has a 55-hour power reserve, against only 38 in the Double Split.
PATEK PHILIPPE NAUTILUS PERPETUAL CALENDAR
As the hottest name at the higher end of luxury timepieces, Patek Philippe has raised the bar with the Ref 5740 by adding a complication to this new Nautilus model. In addition to telling the time, the white gold Ref 5740 also features a perpetual calendar mechanism. The Nautilus range has attained iconic status, so you’re not likely to find one in the shops. If you want one, you have to place an order – and the waiting list is long. Even longer if you want a perpetual calendar mechanism in your Nautilus like the Ref 5740. So, even at a S$156,800 price tag, good luck finding one.
No, leopard prints are no longer the strict purview of rich tai tais over a certain age who subscribe to big hair and dramatic makeup. In fact, animal prints are considered the new neutral, swamping the runways in enough permutations to represent the entire wild animal kingdom. The key difference is that it’s not dominated by leopard print - snake, tiger and zebra are very much in the now. And not just in the colours that mother nature gave them, but in electric hues like red and purple. Opinions vary, but snakeskin and tiger have come up tops as the reigning wildlife, manifested in everything from outerwear to suits, shoes and tote bags. Animal clashing - tiger with zebra, leopard and snakeskin - is highly recommended. Minimalists, close your eyes until the trend goes away. If ever.
The 90s continue to be in vogue as millennials discover what the rest of us thought we left behind. Namely the days when conspicuous consumption was all the rage and you were nobody if you didn’t own a bag emblazoned with Louis Vuitton, Prada or Gucci logos. Logomania is back as maximalism takes hold, with young starlets like Kylie Jenner and Gigi Hadid leading the pack. This time, the logos aren’t just limited to bags, shoes or belts. Gucci and Louis Vuitton have plastered their monograms on ready-to-wear such as jackets, dresses, tops and more. Think Kim Kardashian in Fendi logo tights and shirt, which shot the brand’s iconic double-F monogram into the spotlight. Whether it’s a Celine logo plastic grocery bag or anything with Supreme’s red box logo, don’t leave home without a brand’s name on you.
Everyone loves to hate them yet they keep coming back for more. Inspired by the comfortable but ugly thick-soled shoes that sensible Dads in the 90s practically lived in, the Dad sneaker debuted on the runway this year even as pundits predicted a swift death for them. Now that we’re racing towards 2019, they’re getting bigger than ever, with the likes of Balenciaga’s Triple S consistently being sold out. Their appeal is no doubt linked to millennials and technopreneurs who don’t subscribe to the corporate look, plus the trend towards comfort rather than dressy but painful footwear. If you subscribe to comfort over all else, let’s hope this trend has, well, legs.
The Dad sneakers may be a throwback to the 90s, but the Puma RS-Computer goes back to the previous decade, or more specifically, 1986, when the shoe company launched its original hi-tech (for its time) trainer. Designed with a computer chip to record how far you run and how many calories you burn, it didn’t take off then, but Puma thinks it can make a big comeback in this era of smartwatches. This 2018 reissue can still do what it used to, with other features such as measuring how fast you’re accelerating, a USB port for charging, and a Bluetooth to connect your shoe to your phone. In other words, it’s a Fitbit for your feet. And this time, Puma isn’t worried about poor take-up rate - it released only 86 pairs for sale on Dec 14, in honour of its year of invention. Now it’s up to you to chase it.