National Gallery Singapore shaping up to be the next foodie draw

Baby vegetable poriyal garden with three flavours of curd rice from Saha, which is moving from Duxton Hill to the National Gallery Singapore.
Baby vegetable poriyal garden with three flavours of curd rice from Saha, which is moving from Duxton Hill to the National Gallery Singapore.PHOTO: SAHA

Six eateries opening at the National Gallery will feature artworks and have concepts original to the gallery

The National Gallery Singapore is shaping up to be the next foodie draw in the Civic District.

Six restaurants are opening in the new museum, which is housed in the former City Hall and Supreme Court buildings.

The former City Hall wing will have four restaurants: National Kitchen by Violet Oon Singapore, which serves Singapore cuisine; Italian restaurant Aura; Yan and Smoke & Mirrors, a Cantonese restaurant-cum-rooftop bar; and a cafeteria and retail shop called Gallery & Co.

French restaurant Odette and Indian restaurant-cum-gastrobar Saha & The Altimate by The Padang FNB will be located in the former Supreme Court wing.

The museum opens in November, but restaurants such as Aura and Yan will open as early as October.

All the restaurants will be open to the public and will operate independently of the museum's opening hours.

The Straits Times has reported on three of six restaurants opening there: Italian restaurateur Beppe de Vito's 9,000 sq ft Aura; former Jaan head chef Julien Royer and The Lo & Behold Group's Odette, and cooking doyenne Violet Oon's restaurant.

Modern Indian restaurant Saha Signature Indian Restaurant & Terrace Bar will be collaborating with The Altimate bar, which serves Asian fusion tapas and cocktails, to open a restaurant and gastrobar in early November.

Saha will be relocating from its Duxton Hill location to a 4,200 sq ft space in the National Gallery Singapore, which will seat 60 to 70.

Its director Natalia Makarova, 39, says: "We hope to attract a wider group of diners - both tourists and locals, and like the gallery, which marries classic and modern art, our food is traditional with a modern touch."

The restaurant will serve its signature dishes, such as Kerala vegetable istew espuma, which uses modern gastronomy techniques in time-honoured Indian fare. It will also offer Indianinspired cocktails such as Curry-tini, which is gin and vermouth spiked with curry leaves, and mango and rosemary martini.

Park Hotel Group will open its first food-and-beverage ventures outside its hotels - Yan, an upmarket 120-seat restaurant that serves authentic Cantonese cuisine, and Smoke & Mirrors, a 100-seat rooftop bar - in October.

Ms Tan Shin Hui, 32, the hotel group's executive director, says: "National Gallery Singapore is an iconic destination with a rich history and beautiful architecture, and the reopening of the two historical buildings has been highly anticipated."

Some of Yan's innovative dishes include suckling pig done in three ways, a deconstructed Mini Buddha Jumps Over The Wall and fried live prawns with a ball-shaped mound of crispy noodles. It will also serve dim sum for brunch and lunch.

Smoke & Mirrors will centre on cocktails served with a dose of "theatrical drama", with, for example, whiffs of burnt tea leaves wafting from the tipples. The 2,400 sq ft bar's centrepiece will be a sleek metallic capsule counter with a mirror finish. On the menu are wines, craft beers and whiskies. These tipples can be paired with bar food such as fried shrimp paste chicken wings and crackling roast pork rice bowl with an onsen egg.

On the dining mix in the National Gallery Singapore, Mr Kola Luu, 52, the gallery's director of business and corporate strategic development group, says: "We have curated a range of F&B operators that offer a good range of price points and different culinary experiences that can complement Singapore, South-east Asian and international artworks in the gallery."

He adds that the gallery looked out for eateries with ideas that are original and unique to the place that "cannot be replicated around Singapore".

Besides the food, artworks will feature heavily in the restaurants' interiors. He says the restaurants are interspersed among the gallery spaces to provide "natural breathers and resting spots" for visitors while they are looking at the exhibits.

He says of the restaurants: "It is a way to build a museum-going culture and tourists visit Singapore for the food here. We hope visitors to the gallery can appreciate art and beyond and make the public space more vibrant."

Mr de Vito, 42, is drawn by the fact that the museum is a lifestyle destination blessed with great views. Aura consists of a 100-seat classic Italian restaurant in level five and a rooftop space that morphs throughout the day. For lunch on weekdays, it will have a buffet serving at least 15 types of Mediterranean-style meat-based salads such as caramelised brussel sprouts with pancetta. The buffet is priced at $18 a person.

The place becomes a high-tea lounge in the afternoon, serving European pastries and cakes, and a cocktail bar at night.

Both the restaurant and bar will feature artworks by home-grown visual artists such as Chun Kai Feng, who will come up with a lighting installation inspired by the window grills of Housing Board flats here.

Chef Royer is naming his 2,950 sq ft restaurant Odette after his grandmother. It will serve modern French cuisine.

The 32-year-old says: "Odette pays homage to one of my greatest influencers, in life and in the kitchen. She was the person who first showed me how you can demonstrate love through food and bring pleasure to the people you are serving."

Those craving local food can turn to National Kitchen by Violet Oon Singapore, which is located near the DBS Singapore Gallery on level two.

On top of Peranakan food, Ms Oon, 66, will offer dishes from other cuisines. These include Hainanese mutton stew, Eurasian beef semur and Hakka abacus seeds.

Local dishes with an upmarket touch, including Hokkien mee with lobster and Hainanese wagyu steak will also be on the menu.

She has a sentimental connection to the former City Hall building, having gone to many interviews in the then-Ministry of Culture as an arts journalist in the 1970s.

"The arts represent the soul of a country, and it is exciting and invigorating to be in the same building as the repository of our culture and human endeavour," she says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2015, with the headline 'Where food and art meet'. Print Edition | Subscribe