Chef Willin Low's eatery has new wood accents and an omakase menu
After an eight-month hiatus, modern Singaporean restaurant Wild Rocket reopens on Tuesday at Mount Emily's Hangout Hotel in Upper Wilkie Road.
Despite offers from various landlords last year after he announced plans to relocate, 42-year-old chef-owner Willin Low chose to stay at the hip budget hotel owned by Cathay Organisation, which lowered the rent for the space.
Calling it the "rebirth" of the popular nine-year-old restaurant, the former lawyer is looking to up the ante at his revamped flagship restaurant.
Inspired by Japanese tea rooms, Wild Rocket's new look, which cost almost $500,000, features wood furnishing - interlocking wood pieces hanging from the ceiling, and sleek wooden tables and chairs.
Where there used to be 60 seats, now, the main dining area seats 30 diners and there is a 16-seat private room.
A new feature is the eight-seat counter from where chef Low will serve eight-course meals, served on crockery he has collected from his travels.
He says: "This omakase menu allows me to be experimental, to try new recipes, techniques and ingredients."
Debut dishes include a salted egg yolk crab meat ball, which is inspired by the popular salted egg yolk crab served in restaurants and zi char places, as well as garoupa in spring onion and ginger milk, with spinach and fish maw.
For dessert, tickle your tastebuds with a pineapple sorbet on pineapple chunks, topped with soya sauce salt, chilli padi flakes and mint sugar. This palate cleanser is inspired by Low's father.
He says: "My father eats pineapple with soya sauce and chilli, which I think is very strange. But I can understand the small accents of the flavours, so this dessert is my take on it. After all, we Asians like our desserts a little salty and sweet."
For the omakase menus, he will also put his spin on Singapore Fried Noodles, a dish that appears in Chinese restaurant menus in the United States and Britain, but which does not exist in Singapore.
He says: "I decided to take ownership of this dish and have noodle dishes that are really from Singapore. The current menu will feature tagliarini with konbu and lobster. In the future, we may have prawn noodles, Hokkien mee or laksa - true Singapore noodles."
This first eight-course omakase menu costs $118++. Prices are subject to change depending on dishes, ingredients and the number of courses for subsequent menus.
For lunch, the menu is streamlined to just a three-course set ($30++) with a choice of either donburi (rice bowl) or pasta. And true to his mod-Sin theme, the donburi dishes will have toppings of rendang or his mother's soft bone pork. For pasta, options include Thai basil minced pork pasta topped with onsen egg.
While there is no a la carte menu available for lunch, he is open to requests from diners for their Wild Rocket favourites, including his laksa pesto pasta.
Wild Rocket operates from Monday to Saturday, with lunch from noon to 3pm and dinner from 6.30 to 10.30pm. In between, from 3 to 6pm, he will have a menu of Coffee (from local roaster Papa Palheta), Cocktails and Cotta (panna cotta).
The chef's attention to detail extends from the menu to the restaurant's design.
Special lighting ensures that every shot of his dishes is Instagram-worthy - he is an avid Instagram user himself.
One of his ways of dealing with the current labour crunch is to have cutlery drawers built into the tables. "I told the designer to think mahjong table drawers, but nicer lah. It will help save manpower," he says with a laugh.
The self-professed "patriotic Singaporean" also celebrates the work of local designers through the restaurant's furniture, lights, uniforms, cutlery and crockery. For example, the lights are from local ceramic business Mud Rock and the uniforms by local designer Nicholas Wong of fashion label Saturday.
Low also owns Wild Oats in Mount Emily and Punggol Park, and Relish, a gourmet burger joint at Cluny Court in Bukit Timah Road and myVillage at Serangoon Garden.
Relish at Cluny Court is under renovation now and will reopen early next month. He had considered moving it to Dempsey because of a 40 per cent increase in rental, but negotiated the increase with the landlord and they came to an agreement.
The casual, all-day dining restaurant will have a different look and slight menu changes, but he is unable to give more details, saying sheepishly that he has had no time to worry about Relish as his focus has been on Wild Rocket's re-opening.
"My chefs want to discuss Relish. I keep telling them, next week, next week."
On his hopes for the new Wild Rocket, he says: "We want to bring modern Singaporean cuisine to a whole new level. It's quite apt since it's National Day soon and Singapore is turning 50 next year. We hope that one day, people can identify restaurants that have a modern Singaporean identity."
Wild Rocket at Mount Emily's Hangout Hotel, 10A Upper Wilkie Road, reopens on Tuesday and opens noon to 6pm, 6.30 to 10.30pm from Mondays to Saturdays. It is closed on Sundays. For reservations, call 6339-9448.