Starry starry blight: The Singapore Michelin Guide effect

Phones ringing off the hook. E-mail inboxes jammed. People making reservations for Christmas Day. New tables quickly added to squeeze more diners in.

It is just 10 days after the first Singapore Michelin Guide doled out its stars, but the effects are reverberating across the restaurant industry.

Alas, many of them are negative – for the diner at least. Longer waits and limits on the number of diners for each table, for example. Michelin star? More like Michelin curse.

But one good thing has come out of this. Riding on the Michelin high, some starred restaurants are rolling out special menus for diners. Some are also getting their sister restaurants to carry classics so that the spillover crowds can also enjoy those dishes.

So far, the waiting time to get a table at the hot restaurants are still generally decent, nothing near the 11 months’ notice for three-Michelin-starred El Celler de CanRoca in Girona, Spain.

For example, Restaurant Andre in Bukit Pasoh: two stars, three months (up from the usual two).

Weekends may be tougher. For example, lunch and dinner seatings at Jaan (one star) in Swissotel The Stamford for the next month are already full for Fridays and Saturdays. Its private dining area has also been opened to add eight more seats to the existing 40 in the restaurant space.

And forget about hosting that Michelin-starred school reunion. Big groups will probably face issues. Corner House (one star) at the Singapore Botanic Gardens and Les Amis (two stars) at Shaw Centre are already limiting the number of diners for quality control.

A solution maybe to plan way ahead, but many restaurants do not accept long-term reservations. That said, Japanese restaurant Shoukouwa (two stars) at One Fullerton already has a booking for two on Christmas Eve.

Restaurants are feeling the heat, too, being inundated with calls and e-mails.

“It’s safe to say that we are all stressed,” says Ms Edina Hong, 43, director of the Emmanuel Stroobant Group, which co-owns Shoukouwa. “Between trying to juggle bookings, making sure our supplies arrive early enough so the chefs have time to get the fish ready for lunch–it’s been rather hair-raising.

“With the recognition that Michelin has accorded us, we now have expectations to live up to.”

On the plus side, some starred restaurants are spurred into upping their game with new offerings.

From next month, two-starred Shisen Hanten’s chef Chen Kentaro will introduce 15 new dishes to the a la carte menu. Highlights include pan-fried Kuroge wagyu beef with ma-la radish sauce ($68++ a person) and fried noodles with abalone and seafood in superior soya sauce gravy ($48++ a portion).

From tomorrow, Chinese restaurant Forest (one star) at Resorts World Sentosa will also roll out new items. These include oven-baked six-head abalone with black truffle in salt crust and a sous vide Dingley Dell pork rack.

Alma by Juan Amador (one star) at Goodwood Park Hotel also has a new executive lunch menu ($39++) with dishes such as crispy tofu with foie gras emulsion and Australian pork belly.

Meanwhile, other restaurants are sticking to their favourites and rolling out “best of” set menus. The Song Of India (one star) in Scotts Road has gathered the classics into a new “Celebration of the Michelin Star” five-course menu ($65++ a person). It includes star anise-flavoured foie gras and flambeed lamb shank.

The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore’s Summer Pavilion (one star) has a power-packed set lunch (from $88 a person) and dinner (from $118 a person) with classics such as sea whelk with fish maw and chicken soup served in a whole coconut.

Some restaurants are trying to do crowd control by serving their classic dishes elsewhere. For example, diners who cannot get a seat at Crystal Jade Golden Palace (one star) in Paragon Shopping Centre can try the affiliated Crystal Jade Prestige at Marina Bay Link Mall, which will soon carry signature dishes such as chilled yellow cream crab in Teochew-style and sugarcoated yam.

Even eateries on the Bib Gourmand, released on July 14, are also seeing brisk business. The Bib Gourmand rewards establishments offering high quality meals for less than $45 a person.

To deal with demand, Peony Jade at Keppel Club has increased its weekend lunch seatings to two sessions – 11am and 12.45pm. Corporate inquiries for Chinese New Year business lunches and dinners have also come in.

The Michelin effect is so strong that even the no-star, no-Bib Gourmand restaurants that received a special mention in the guide have benefited. One of them is mod-Sin restaurant Wild Rocket in Mount Emily. Chef-owner Willin Low, 43, says the place was full on the weekend following the guide’s launch, filled with customers who felt he deserved a star.

Two Fridays ago, he received a call from someone trying to book a table, but the restaurant was full.

“The person replied, ‘No Michelin star, but still full house?’” Low says. “I didn’t find it offensive, I think it’s very funny.” 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 31, 2016, with the headline 'Starry starry blight'. Print Edition | Subscribe