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Designer Gourmet: The all-new Culina Dempsey
LESS THAN THREE years ago, fashion doyenne Christina Ong's COMO Dempsey made its debut at the hipster Tanglin Village. With its enclave of restaurants and high fashion retail including the Michelin-starred Candlenut, Jean-Georges Vongerichtenbacked Cookhouse & Bar and Dover Street Market, it cast a classy designer sheen on this eclectic F&B and carpet-shopping playground for expats and Singaporeans with acquired accents.
That same all-white minimalism with tropical accents aesthetic has now been applied to the just-opened Culina at COMO Dempsey, making it the most stylish supermarket in town. It also completes the ambitious resort-like complex, when the adjacent building housing children's store Kids21 and the British family club Maggie & Rose open on April 16.
Architect designer Paola Navone may be more used to designing COMO resorts in Thailand or putting her stamp on cool restaurant interiors, but what happens when you ask her to design a meat counter or a display of fresh oysters and line-caught fish?
At the new Culina, you pick out your dry-aged Australian wagyu or French fine de claire oysters from under quirky graphic pop art posters of pigs, chickens, fish or cheese that identify counters selling meat, seafood, charcuterie or cheese. A bread 'curtain' - made of rows of real baked goods strung together - hangs behind the bakery counter, where sourdough bread and croissants are produced daily on-site.
Above your head are giant white paper lanterns in the shape of letters that spell 'Market' in whimsical fashion. And at the checkout counter - an explosion of blooms cover the work table of Grandiflora, the inhouse florist run by Australian celebrity floral designer Saskia Havekes, who has created blooms for the homes of Nicole Kidman and the like.
It's a far cry from the old Culina, where you're more used to negotiating its cramped surroundings and trying not to knock tins of foie gras or wine off their precariously stuffed shelves. Even its tight squeeze of a bistro is now a breezy, spacious grazing ground furnished with black and white woven wicker chairs, and giant ceiling lamps made of lightbulbs strung on skeletal frames.
BIGGER IS BETTER
The new Culina is 2.5 times bigger than the old one at 15,000 sq ft, says Leelyne Yeo, General Manager of Culina Pte Ltd. Although the company itself has been around for 25 years, it was acquired by the COMO group in 2012, and the move to its new space at Block 15 ''brings Culina within the COMO F&B and lifestyle enclave''.
Besides aligning itself with the group's wellness-inspired ethos, it's also primarily a place for ''professional chefs, F&B trade industry, gourmands and home chefs to come together to connect and celebrate through food''.
There's a huge separate wine section and a bar, as well as a demo kitchen that can be booked for cooking sessions or corporate events. But if you just want to have a meal, take your pick of the fresh seafood or meats and have them brought over to the bistro to be cooked to your preference.
''We want to re-create a bustling atmosphere and infectious vibes of a European street market, as well as a Frenchstyle bistro,'' adds Ms Yeo. That's why the displays of fresh seafood are laid out so you can get a close up look while engaging with the butchers or fishmongers about the best cuts or catch of the day, and what to do with them.
Freestyle, dramatic floral arrangements that look almost wild and incorporate more 'natural' rather than conventionally pretty flowers are all the rage these days. But it's likely that today's florists take their cue from Saskia Havekes, the Sydney-based flower 'curator' who created her signature look way back in 1995.
The Culina shop is her first overseas Grandiflora outlet, although Ms Havekes has retailed her line of fragrances in Singapore through Club 21.
You can expect to see the same design principles in the arrangements, although adapted to suit the local heat. ''It will create a few restrictions in terms of materials but we will find a way around it,'' says Ms Havekes. You won't find just flowers at the shop but ''larger scale elements, collections of nature to share and surprise''. The proliferation of twigs, large leaves and cauliflower-sized clumps of flowers assembled on its vintage work table gives you an indication of what to expect. Besides the Culina outlet, she is looking to grow the commercial business and start online delivery as well.
With Culina finally in place and COMO Dempsey cementing its position as the anchor presence in Tanglin Village with four blocks - 15, 16, 16A, 17 and 18 - the lifestyle enclave will be complete when its children's section opens on April 16.
Kids 21 is a 2500 sq ft store with a curated lineup of brands for children up to 16 years. It's also brought in the UK-based family members club Maggie & Rose - a kids' clubhouse set in a leafy environment that offers all manner of play-based enrichment activities. Founder Maggie Bolger's signature classes cater to children aged six months to six years, teaching them cooking, art, music or just engaging in make-believe.
When they're hungry, they can get a snack from the cartoon-like food truck outside, or the indoor/outdoor restaurant serving family friendly fare using sustainable ingredients.
WHAT TO BUY
Besides its extensive lineup of artisanal pastas, frozen soup stocks, olive oils, fresh fruit and vegetables, there are new introductions that are a first for Singapore:
01 Qwehli Seafood - the seafood is supplied by French purveyor Qwehli, which dubs itself the ''Fishmonger of Chefs'' for its lineup of sustainably caught and and farmed fish and crustaceans.
02 Artisanal charcuterie - sausages, pork rillette, speck, smoked pork tenderloin come from Romeo's Fine Foods in Australia which subscribes to a nose-to-tail philosophy, using French techniques to create their homemade delicacies.
03 Salami - Naturally aged salami and house-smoked Italian-stye sausages are made by Quattro Stelle from Australia according to century-old family recipes.
04 Red prawn extract - Made by Rosso Di Mazara using a freeze drying process, freshly caught red head prawns are frozen to minus 50 degrees Celsius to extract 100 per cent of its essence, which can be used in any kind of cooking.
05 Asian dried goods - With the closure of COMO Marketplace, its unique range of Asian ingredients has moved to Culina, so you'll still find tasty Korean seaweed snacks, Divine brand bulgogi marinade and cult soya sauces from Taiwan.