3 new Singapore restaurants with head chefs who trained in Europe

Australian chef John-Paul Fiechtner has teamed up with hotelier Loh Lik Peng, and will run a pop-up restaurant that will close in November.
Australian chef John-Paul Fiechtner has teamed up with hotelier Loh Lik Peng, and will run a pop-up restaurant that will close in November.PHOTO: THE BUSINESS TIMES

(THE BUSINESS TIMES) Three chefs - from Australia, China and Italy - who honed their skills in Europe, are now in Singapore heading new eateries.

They are of different backgrounds and adopt various culinary approaches.

Here is a snapshot into what makes each chef tick.

John-Paul Fiechtner

If you are the sort who keeps up with the new restaurants scene, you may have heard rumblings about a modern Australian eatery called Thirteen Duxton Hill, run by Australian chef John-Paul Fiechtner and sommelier Sally Humble. It was a "blink and you miss it" situation unfortunately, since the restaurant closed after barely two months of operations.

"It was just an unfortunate situation that we found ourselves in, but it led to better things," says chef Fiechtner, who is now working on a new project - Bistro November at Keong Saik - after the duo teamed up with local restaurateur Loh Lik Peng.

  • Bistro November

  • Where: 50 Keong Saik Road
    Info: Call 9054-1435, go to november.asia

"We just want to create a friendly neighbourhood bistro, like the ones you find in Paris or New York. It's going to be produce-driven, simple, interesting cooking with no pretentiousness whatsoever," says the 36-year-old chef, who has spent a few years working in Europe, Hong Kong and Dubai before co-founding the Melbourne restaurant Lume in 2015.

Although Lume was doing well, chef Fiechtner explains that he left because he was looking for a change and wanted to get out of Australia. So when an opportunity came up in Singapore, he decided to make the trip. "We had never been here before, but when we first got here we fell in love with Singaporeans' love for food," he says.

At Bistro November, chef Fiechtner intends to work with fresh ingredients from the nearby Chinatown wet market. The menu will likely consist of two parts - an a la carte section of about 15 classic bistro-style items meant for sharing, and a five-course prix fixe menu (S$78++) that will change weekly once the restaurant has settled into a proper rhythm.

Unfortunately, Bistro November currently has an expiry date - it is set to close in November when the lease is up. Beyond that, chef Fiechtner has no plans just yet. He says: "I've been in the industry for over 20 years now, so I don't see myself leaving it. Maybe one day I'll open my own little restaurant somewhere. But for now we love Singapore and have settled down here really nicely, so there's no rush."

Emmanuel Xu

For Emmanuel Xu, choosing a career as a chef started out as just a means of survival. Recalls the China-born chef: "I wasn't great at school, and I told my Dad I didn't want to study anymore. So he suggested I go and be a cook because that way I would never starve to death."

So at 18, he went to work in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant in Beijing. After just six months however, he found the environment filthy and uncomfortable, so he packed his bags and moved to France to learn Western cuisine instead.

"When I first got there, I didn't know anything. The first thing I learnt about the French kitchen was that they really prioritise hygiene. Because while no one may know about a good restaurant, everyone will know about a restaurant where someone gets food poisoning," says the 32-year-old who is more fluent in French than English.

It is something he intends to enforce strongly at Ginett - a barely two-month-old restaurant that opened at Hotel G in Middle Road this year, where he is the executive chef.

There, some of his Asian influences can be spotted on the menu, with elements like soy sauce, ginger, and wasabi in the Tuna Tartare (S$21), but most of the dishes are European because of his French cooking background. This includes the signature La Quenelle de Brochet Gratinée (S$28) - pike fish dumplings with chardonnay sauce and La Joue de Boeuf (S$32) - braised wagyu cheek with sauteed mushrooms and mashed potatoes.

After all, it was while working in French kitchens that he eventually fell in love with his work.

Explains chef Xu: "Some farms in France specially grow ingredients for certain restaurants, and I watched the chefs treat them with such respect. Even something like an apple, or something as simple as pumpkin soup. It might sound ridiculous, but they peel it, cut it, and cook it with such care. Because they believe that if you treat an ingredient right, it will treat you right, too."

Andrea Tarini

Andrea Tarini's love affair with food is just as classically Italian as his cooking. He grew up with a nonna (Italian for "grandmother") who was a whiz in the kitchen, and learnt to cook from her as a boy.

"I would spend time with her in the summers when I didn't have to go to school, and she fed me some of the best food I have ever had in my life. I still clearly remember the taste of all the very genuine and fresh products that came from her farm, so when I eventually joined the industry, my palate was already well-trained," says the 49-year-old chef.

  • Atmastel

  • Where: 26 Beach Road, B1-22
    Info: Call 6581-0085, go to www.atmastel.com

He eventually attended culinary school in Italy and opened his restaurant at age 21. Though it closed seven years later, he continued working in kitchens and was at the two-Michelin-starred restaurant Uliassi for 12 years. Early this year however, chef Tarini found himself in Singapore after being told about a job opening as executive chef of the newly-opened Atmastel at South Beach.

At the restaurant, he serves what he calls authentic Italian food, and even incorporated some of his family recipes like his grandfather's homemade pork sausages that go with a fresh garganelli pasta and spicy tomato sauce (S$21.50). Fresh pasta is, after all, his nonna's speciality. She used to make tagliatelle and ragout with fresh eggs and meat from their own poultry farm back in their hometown of Mondolfo, he recalls.

"When I first arrived in Singapore, I tried a lot of Italian restaurants here and found that a lot of it wasn't real Italian cuisine. They accommodate the locals a lot, and I don't know if that's a good thing or not. But I personally want to give people an experience of real Italian-made food, and that's my challenge," he says.