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Food Matters in 2019
What are we going to eat in the new year? We find out what Singapore’s F&B players think.
2018 WAS A year of eating judiciously and 2019 even more so as ‘farm-to-table’, ‘less plastic’, ‘zero food waste’ and ‘conscious eating’ gain traction as the big buzz words of the F&B industry.
“Besides trying to use more sustainable packaging, diners and chefs are increasingly seeking sustainable ingredients,” says a spokesman for the Les Amis Group.
“There is a growing interest in what produce can be found within Singapore or closer to Singapore, discovering alternatives which can prevent certain food items from being over-farmed or over-produced. The philosophy of one of our new concepts is deeply rooted in this,” says the spokesman.
Vegetarian options will also rise, reckons Lo & Behold’s Wee Teng Wen, who says, “More places are looking to deliver meat-free offerings by exploring plant-based proteins. We currently serve the Beyond Burger at Straits Clan and soon will help to launch Impossible Foods to meet the rising demands of more conscious diners. People are looking for food which nourishes while still being sustainable for the environment. All without ever compromising on taste.”
“‘Sustainability’’ is a buzzword in the culinary field that will slowly trickle through bars too,” predicts Cedric Mendoza, head bartender of Manhattan in the Regent Singapore. “We will be more conscious of how spirits are produced, that sustainable materials are used in barrel-ageing, and that wood is being upcycled after their use.”
DRINKING WITHOUT ALCOHOL
Apart from a rise in gourmet health food options in the marketplace, teetotalers don’t have to feel out of place in a bar now, with as much attention paid to non-alcoholic options as designer cocktails.
The new hit Restaurant Zén - the Singapore flagship of the three Michelin-starred Frantzén in Stockholm - is taking the lead with juice pairing, which takes pride of place beside its wine pairing menus.
“Over the years of Frantzén, we’ve come to realise that guests who don’t drink deserve the same dining experience as guests who do, so it’s only right that we give the same emphasis to the non-alcoholic beverages,” says Marcus Jernmark, executive chef of Frantzén who is currently in Singapore. “We’ve spent a tremendous amount of effort to develop our non-alcoholic beverages. The pairing has been very positive in our restaurant in Sweden thus far and given that Zén is in a market where there’s a sizeable number of guests who don’t drink, we believe that it will do even better here.”
With non-alcoholic spirits like Seedlip, “bars are taking a more serious approach to their non-alcoholic and low alcoholic cocktails, rather than as a quick afterthought,” says Jesse Vida, head bartender of ATLAS bar. “Our research and development are now on par with alcoholic cocktails.”
Tea is also getting an upgrade, with Tea Bone Zen Mind's Carrie Chen sharing that ‘natural’ and ‘wellness’ will be the buzzwords in the premium tea sector. On her part, she is working with farmers in Sonogi, Japan who grow premium green tea, as well as some of the best fruit, to create flavoured tea using real fruit instead of aromatic oils.
More meaningful dining, less gimmickry and Instagram-centric food. That’s the hope of Ivan Brehm, chef-owner of Michelin-starred Nouri.
“I’d like to see more restaurants led by chefs who can operate outside of what’s tried and tested. Fine dining is great, but I wonder what’s the benefit or relevance of restaurants whose sole reason for being in luxury for luxury’s sake,” he says. I’d also like to see restaurants less preoccupied with accolades and more concerned with their guests. Real meaningful content for media and social media would be a breath of fresh air as well.” To put his money where his mouth is, chef Brehm hints that he has many surprises in store - “all rooted in crossroads and dining that explores the question of bringing people together one meal at a time”.
Frantzén/Zén chef Jernmark concurs. “There will be a shift towards guest-centric restaurants as opposed to chef-centric ones that impose themselves on the guests. We recognize that it is not about the chef, but the guest.
“For us at Zén, we try to bring casual elegance to the table – it’s not stuffy, nor do we try to “teach our guests” – we genuinely want the dining experience to revolve around every guest who comes through the door. It’s all about creating a personal connection and familiarity between guests and restaurant. This approach applies across the board, from fine dining to casual, that will bring a restaurant to the next level.”
OLD BRANDS, NEW SPOTLIGHT
The much-anticipated re-opening of the Raffles Singapore brings with it a modern approach to fine dining and some game-changing concepts. Bar & Billiard Room (BBR) by celebrated chef Alain Ducasse will be his first Mediterranean sharing and grill concept in the world; top female chef Anne-Sophie Pic of the three Michelin-starred Maison Pic makes her Asian debut; and MasterChef Jereme Leung returns home to Singapore with yì by Jereme Leung, a contemporary Chinese restaurant that focuses on provincial ethnic Chinese cuisines. Chef Leung will be introducing ingredients new to Singapore including Yunnan roses, pickled pineapples from Taiwan and Wu Chang rice from Dongbei province.
Meanwhile, the Les Amis Group celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2019, with four new concepts scheduled to open between March and May. While they can’t release specifics yet, they include a Peranakan restaurant and a modern Japanese izakaya that highlight its core values of “remembering our roots, while looking to the future”.
Instead of expanding his Michelin-starred Burnt Ends with a similar high end concept, Dave Pynt went the other extreme by opening a hawker stall at Makansutra Gluttons Bay at the Esplanade, serving locally inspired Western barbecue dishes such as smoked sucking pig with glutinous rice and X.O sauce.
“To be a hawker is a romantic idea - having a small selection of dishes with one or two standout dishes that you perfect over time,” says chef Pynt, who is also looking for a permanent space for a bakery (he is currently selling at farmers’ markets).
“In 2019, people can expect more small niche restaurants that specialise in those one or two dishes. There will also be more fine dining options but I would like to see more specialty restaurants and fewer general restaurants filling space,” says chef Pynt.
He is followed by OLA’s Daniel Chavez, who also runs TONO Cevicheria in DUO Towers and will be opening the casual TONITO - a Latin American kitchen in the new Jewel complex at Changi Airport in the second quarter of 2019.
“The idea is to showcase Latin American comfort food in a very relaxed atmosphere,” says chef Chavez of the family-friendly space.
The Saveur group, which gained fame for making French food affordable, tried out a new French-Spanish small plates concept called FrapasBar at Century Square. When it proved a hit, Saveur at The Cathay was turned into a second FrapasBar, the idea being to let diners indulge in mid-sized portions without busting the wallet and waistline, says Eric Chiam, Director of Saveur Group.
The wallet-friendly Taiwanese-inspired The Salted Plum in Circular Road is also expanding with a second outlet in Jurong East’s JCube, while its founder Shawn Kishore also plans to open a Pasta Supremo in Suntec City - a pasta version of grain bowls.
With 2019 being Singapore’s bicentennial, The Coconut Club’s Lee Eng Su reckons that “doing local food in a traditional way will also continue” as more Singaporeans grow confident about sustaining a career cooking local cuisine.
“People will be more interested in local flavours as Singapore grows up and is more interested in itself and its own region. Less laksa pasta, hopefully. Maybe more places like A Noodle Story, and One Kueh At A Time,” he says.
The Coconut Club spreads its wings
Lee Eng Su’s successful nasi lemak eatery The Coconut Club is closing in early February. But don’t worry, it’ll be back - and bigger than before.
Fans have until end January to get their fill of the signature dish as it will be another two months or so before it reopens in bigger premises at a new location.
“We’ve wanted to expand The Coconut Club for some time, because the goal was always to do regional Malay food,” says the chef-owner who runs this business with partners Lee Chan Wai and Kamal Samual . “Nasi lemak was just the first thing… so we’re working with our cooks to bring together traditional food from regions like Bandung, East Java, and Sabah where they came from.”
While the new location remains secret, Chef Lee promises it will reopen by early March, and remain in the CBD. The refreshed menu will feature new dishes like satay kulit ayam (chicken skin satay) and burung puyoh sambal hijau (fried quail with green chilli sambal), as well as their signature nasi lemak.
Meanwhile, a new Peranakan “economy rice” eatery will open at the original premises, named Ben and Bernard’s. It is the brainchild of two staff from The Coconut Club – Bernard Koh, 62, and Ben Teo, 60. The former is a third generation ‘kopi master’ from the century-old Lam Kong Yuan Kopitiam, while the latter is a Teochew Peranakan who previously helmed Peranakan Flavours restaurant, after 16 years at Li Bai Cantonese Restaurant.
“The menu is a secret but it will be an explosion of Peranakan flavours, colours and textures. Besides the typical curry sauce or lor, our superstar is a rawan (buah keluak) sauce,” says Chef Teo.
To make the cuisine more accessible, they decided on the “point-and-choose” style of economy rice stalls, so they can save on front-of-house labour and bring down the overall prices. “It won’t be S$5 a plate, it’ll be around S$10 to S$14 or more. But we understand the labour, how to maintain quality, and how to sell it that much cheaper,” he says.
If that’s not enough, he’s also started selling the same fresh coconut milk used for making their nasi lemak. Through the company The Main Squeeze Hospitality Group – which The Coconut Club and Ben and Bernard’s fall under – they’ve invested in a facility to make and sell under the new brand
“You either have fresh milk from the market that goes bad in hours or highly processed milk, where pasteurisation has reduced the flavour and chemicals are added as stabilisers. We’ve found a way to kill the bacteria in the milk while keeping the integrity of the flavour and texture for at least a week,” explains business partner Lee Chan Wai, who has a PhD in mechanical engineering.
With other expansion plans in the works, it’s clear that as far as coconuts go, this one is on a roll.
- Ben & Bernard’s opens end-February