Dinners with stories at former Tanjong Pagar rail station

A Midsummer’s Night Feast (above), a themed dining event, held recently in Clarke Quay. -- PHOTO: CLARKE QUAY
A Midsummer’s Night Feast (above), a themed dining event, held recently in Clarke Quay. -- PHOTO: CLARKE QUAY

A theatrical dining event to mark Singapore's past will be held at the former Tanjong Pagar rail station

Step into the former Tanjong Pagar railway station next Thursday and you will be greeted by a shoeshiner or a porter, transporting you back in time to the station's heyday in the 1930s.

Vintage trishaws and steamer trunks will greet you and you will hear the soft strains of Rasa Sayang, piped in overhead.

The transformation is part of culinary company My Private Chef's staging of its first pop-up theatrical dining series, Stories. To be held from Thursday to June 29, Stories aims to celebrate Singapore's history and iconic sites through food and wine.

Three-year-old My Private Chef is a recipient of Singapore Tourism Board's Kickstart Fund. The $5-million fund pays up to 50 per cent of selected costs - capped at $75,000 a project - for innovative lifestyle events and concepts that can bring in tourists.

Guests will enjoy a five-course fine dining meal while being entertained by actors in scenes inspired by the station's history. The main building of the 82-year-old station, which used to provide train services between Singapore and Malaysia, was gazetted as a national monument in 2011 and ceased operations the same year.

My Private Chef's owner Crystal Chua, 39, believes that the concept combining food, heritage and storytelling will appeal to locals and tourists. Opening night tickets have sold out. "Tanjong Pagar railway station is an iconic piece of architecture with a rich history," she says. "It is the perfect backdrop to showcase a cuisine inspired by local flavours and ingredients with a European twist."

Lunch costs $188 a person, which includes wine, and is available only on weekends. Dinner tickets are priced at $248 each, and includes wine and champagne. Each session seats about 150.

The food, prepared by Austrian-born chef Stephan Zoisl, is inspired by the look and feel of the station, and its history. The menu includes dishes such as salmon sashimi with fennel, mandarin oranges, rempah (Malay spices) vinaigrette with lime and coriander. The first letters of the ingredients (fennel, Mandarin oranges, salmon and rempah) spell out the initials for Federated Malay States Railways, the name of the railroad operator. Another highlight is codfish wrapped in squid ink made to look like coal.

Mr Zoisl, 33, who is also Ms Chua's business partner and has lived here for seven years, says: "I didn't want to create a menu consisting of only local dishes, not being local myself. When I read up on the station, I found out that it was built by the French. Hence, I had the idea for a fusion cuisine that will incorporate both the East and West influences."

The second installation, to be helmed by another Singapore-based chef, is set to take place at another heritage site in November.

Stories is one of many themed dining events which have popped up recently. At least three were hosted in the last two months.

Pop culture website Geek Crusade held its first Game Of Thrones-inspired dinner at Italian restaurant No Menu in April and organised a sequel last month. Diners enjoyed a meal consisting of dishes recreated from the fantasy novels and television series and some even dressed up as their favourite characters.

The dinners were priced at $120, with alcohol, and $95 without. Co-founder Gillian Ang, 28, says that its third dinner event, which will be based on American drama Hannibal or The Hunger Games movies, is in the works.

Events company And So Forth also staged a mystery dinner theatre called The Hideaway last month. The location and menu were kept a secret and revealed only on the day of the dinner. A dinner ticket costs $120 and comes with an alcoholic drink.

Co-founder Emily Png, 24, says that a follow-up will happen late this year.

Earlier this month, Clarke Quay hosted an inaugural pop-up, invite-only dining event called A Midsummer's Night Feast at the Read Bridge, which was part of its Unexpected Gourmet series. It showcased signature dishes from 10 of its restaurants. The theme was based on a fresh spring and summer look and feel, with white floral decor, vibrant lighting and a colourful dress code. It was a non-ticketed event. A spokesman says the series is returning next year and will be open to the public.

Geek Crusade's Ms Ang says that Singaporeans are willing to enjoy a unique experience and good food.

She adds: "As people become more well-travelled, they have higher expectations for what it means to have a nice dinner. Themed pop-up dining events are a natural progression because they combine entertainment with food.

"For our dinner, which was inspired by the purple wedding between King Joffrey and Lady Margaery in Game Of Thrones, diners also got to live out their fantasy of seeing their favourite television show come to life."

She is encouraged by the response, having sold out two dinners, and is not worried about competition as each organiser is catering to a different audience.

Diner en Blanc's local host Clemen Chiang, 40, agrees. The pop-up, invite- only picnic, which launched in 2012, is set to return on July 5.

Mr Chiang says that his event is a flash mob which involves a larger number of people and contains a surprise element because the location is revealed only on the day itself. He is expecting a bigger turnout of 3,000 guests this year, compared to last year's 2,000. Diner en Blanc's diners are also more invested, he says. They have to prepare their own food, bring their own tables and chairs and dress up in white.

In addition, Mr Chiang says he tries to do something new to entertain his guests every year. He is introducing the theme of romance at his upcoming event: Men who want to propose to their girlfriends at the event can contact the company. He claims that it will be held at the most romantic location in Singapore. Guests will be encouraged to write a letter to their loved ones and the letters will be put into bottles and released in the sea.

Mr Karsten Cramer, 33, who has bought a pair of tickets to Stories, says he welcomes having even more options in the culinary scene here.

The Canadian business writer, who has lived and worked here for 11 years, is looking forward to dining at the station. Having taken a few cooking classes at My Private Chef, which has a studio in Tras Street, he is confident of the quality of the food.

He adds: "I've been in Singapore for quite a while and didn't have the chance to take the train when it was still operating. When I was walking along the green corridor (former railway tracks) during a hike a month ago, I thought that it's a beautiful building and wished that I could go inside. Stories is an opportunity for me to finally do so."

elricat@sph.com.sg

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