SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - Ex-Singapore Airlines steward Ruben Brandon reminisces about the time when he and his fellow crew members would land in a city and visit a 'crew joint' - eateries friendly to airline crew which gave them special discounts. There isn't any such place in Singapore, so he's hoping to do just that with his new mega-eatery Wild Market in Shaw Towers.
The 9,000-sq ft space is a collaboration between him and his friend Elliot Chia - and the two of them have taken the idea of a food court to another level, showcasing eight separate stalls selling the likes of Western grill, French food, Sri Lankan cooking and handmade Nonya kueh. Mr Brandon will manage the drinks stall - called Wild Bar - offering traditional coffee and tea, as well as sake and draft beer.
Not just a flight-crew hangout, Wild Market will open to the public, promising prices that are food-court friendly, says Mr Brandon. A main course can be had for $5 to $6, with duck confit priced at $12 and ramen at less than $10.
Wild Market is the brainchild of Mr Chia, who comes from a family that has been in the F&B industry for over 40 years. His parents initially started out with a fishball noodle stall, and later sold bak chor mee before running a few coffee-shops under the Seng Huat Coffee House name. He says Wild Market is his way of taking the family business into the next generation.
"It's like a restaurant with food-court prices, but in a comfortable environment. Hawker centres and coffee-shops are being phased out, not because customers aren't going, but because staff and operators don't want to work there," says Mr Chia.
On top of air-conditioning, he's come up with a collaborative business model for his "tenants", where they share profits instead of paying a fixed monthly rent. "It means that if they're not doing well, I won't take profit, and the rent is on me," he says.
It may seem like a risky move, but Mr Chia seems confident especially because the "tenants" he has chosen have all had F&B experience. "If I didn't have an arrangement like this, potential good stalls may not want to come in. And I will be just attracting all the sub-standard ones. To attract the good ones, I'm willing to take the risk."
The Ottoman Room is a twin of Middle Eastern kebab joint Fat Prince, but the two couldn't be more separate. Both are run by restaurant group The Dandy Partnership, and serve 'New Middle Eastern' cuisine by Canadian chef Hunter Moyes, but that's about it.
Fat Prince has a European cafe vibe, set in a bright open space with sleek dark wooden furniture, and a casual kebab menu. Ottoman Room on the other hand, is straight out of the Arabian Nights with luxe sofas and plush cushions, with candles and oil lanterns.
"There are no electric lights in Ottoman Room. When you make a bold move like that, it automatically sets the tone for the space. It's dark, sexy, and lounge-y," says Michael Goodman, who also runs the Japanese-inspired eatery Neon Pigeon under The Dandy Partnership with partners Rohit Roopchand and Michael Macnab.
The menu is "inspired by the Ottoman empire which stretched all over the Eastern Mediterranean, the Levant and Northern Africa," describes Mr Goodman. "There're a lot of great flavours there to play with, and our intention is do them in a modern and elegant way while still being respectful of their roots." Think Earth Oven Ottoman Spiced Short Rib with pumpkin puree, Antep cheese and Earth Oven Pumpkin with preserved lemon and crispy chickpeas as examples.
Says Mr Goodman: "Ottoman Room was inspired by a bunch of trips we made that really connected with us. The first was a stop in Istanbul where the food, people, and energy are amazing… the next was a trip to Morocco where we experienced a meal in a riad (a traditional Moroccan house with an inner courtyard or garden) that made us feel like royalty. We wanted to capture that essence, but reinterpret it for modern day urban Singapore."
THE CARBON COLLECTIVE
When was the last time you went to a restaurant, liked the furniture you were sitting on, and raised your hand to say "Hey waiter, how much is this sofa?" Probably never. But why not, asks lifestyle company The Carbon Collective's co-founder Ron Ho.
"At most furniture shops you're just walking and viewing, but here we want it to be part of the experience. We feel that when you're enjoying something, the chances of purchasing are higher than when you're simply viewing," says Ms Ho, who started her company with co-founder Justin Lum. So while their core business is in brand distribution, "we want to reinvent retail, with F&B as an integral part of the entire experience," she adds.
That's why they're keeping mum about the retail space contained within the second floor of their three-storey shophouse project, which aims to launch by Christmas this year. It will be part of a private dining space meant for hosting events, to soft-sell their range of watches and furniture.
On the first floor will be a 35-seater restaurant and cocktail bar, while the third floor houses an office space that's off-limits to the public.
Retail isn't the only thing they hope to reinvent, either. The restaurant will feature a tapas-style menu of Asian flavours made with a twist using modern European techniques.
Its reconstructed Phad Thai, for example, features a circular rice noodle base, topped with familiar ingredients, "but the plating is different because it will be very European," says Ms Ho.
For now, The Carbon Collective carries mostly watches and furniture, but Ms Ho says they also intend to bring in art and alcohol. "This is just the first outlet. We eventually intend to move into the Asia Pacific market, and sell all our brands under one house in different countries. And this integrated dining and retail space would be the format."
#01-27 Shaw Towers,
100 Beach Road
Opens early December
48 Peck Seah Street #01-01
The Carbon Collective
289 South Bridge Road
Opens in December