SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - Three Singapore chefs share the inspiration and ethos behind their latest openings.
The Warehouse Hotel
320 Havelock Road
For local chef Willin Low, eating popiah is a nostalgic activity. It conjures fond food memories of family meals at his grandmother's house when he was a kid.
"Eating popiah is an event in itself that takes a week of preparation," says the 45-year-old chef-owner of Mod-Sin (modern Singaporean) restaurant Wild Rocket. "It's so fun because you get to make your own, plus whoever is sitting next to you might be completely different by the time you finish because people eat and go - so you end up bonding with different relatives over one meal."
Such is the inspiration for Po - the flagship restaurant at the new The Warehouse Hotel by The Lo & Behold Group - which serves what Chef Low calls "refined, elevated local fare".
"(The Lo & Behold Group's co-founder Wee Teng Wen) and I go a long way back. We met 12 years ago but went separate ways in the same industry... One day, we talked about local food and he asked me if I liked popiah. I got all excited. So he told me his boutique hotel and its local heritage."
Naturally, one of the signatures at Po will be the classic popiah platter (S$28) with an option of either tiger prawns or fresh hand-picked blue swimmer crab. Expect to get your hands dirty too, since popiah is best eaten when you wrap it yourself, says the chef.
Aside from that, other dishes include things like a charcoal-grilled Iberico satay (S$20), Po's ngoh hiang (S$15), paper spring chicken (S$49), and Carabinero prawns & konbu mee (S$32).
According to the chef, the food at Po will mostly be kept traditional - save for the higher quality produce compared with their hawker centre counterparts - unlike the Mod-Sin he is known for.
"I love local food and how there so many ways of doing it. Mod-Sin is just one way. This (traditional style) is another way to celebrate local food and preserve some food memories," he says.
43 Tanjong Pagar Road
'Crackerjack' is American-speak for 'exceptionally good', which is something the folks from the Proof & Company want their new multi-concept establishment at Tanjong Pagar to be.
Singaporean head chef Alysia Chan explains that chairman Spencer Forhart wanted to launch a concept where coffee, drinks, and food were all held to equally-high standards. "It's what we felt was lacking in the market, because most of the time if you go to a restaurant, for example, you'll find it lacking in the drinks or coffee programme," she says.
Since the same company runs the bar 28 HongKong Street, they've got bar drinks down pat, while the coffee programme has its own director, Bronwen Serna - hailing from the US with 15 years as a professional barista. And of course the kitchen will be helmed by Chef Chan, who most recently was the executive sous chef at the American barbecue restaurant Meatsmith.
"We don't have a specific cuisine at Crackerjack. Instead we'll be drawing influence from all over the world, like Moroccan, Japanese, or French. The unifying quality is that it'll be comfort food, but we're trying to do it a little better for you in that it's not just laden with salt, sugar, and fat," says chef Chan.
For now they are open for lunch service, with "specialty lunch trays" such as the Chermoula Roasted Chicken served with greens, Moroccan millet 'cous cous', marinated zucchini and a freshly-baked cookie (S$18). Breakfast, brunch, and dinner service will slowly be rolled out in the coming months.
Having multiple concepts in the same premises promises to add a new dimension and extra resources to chef Chan's cooking too. She says: "Say I wanted to incorporate coffee in a dessert, I can go to Bronwen and she could tell me which coffee blend would suit this chocolate. They're all really good at what they do, so they can give you input you wouldn't have otherwise thought of."
25 Dempsey Road #01-04
Opening Jan 21
After four years at an unmarked shophouse at Mayo Street, chef-owner Petrina Loh of the small plates restaurant Morsels is relocating to a new (and equally tucked-away) location at Dempsey. "I like the idea of still being hidden. It's not where the popular restaurants are, it's behind Long Beach and Samy's Curry, sort of behind COMO," she describes.
The move was one that happened by chance too, after she one day received an email about an available F&B space for rent in Dempsey. "For four years people complained about parking problems at Mayo, so now at Dempsey there's plenty of free parking," she laughs, adding that she also liked the fact that the location would be close to nature.
The restaurant will reopen next weekend for dinner and lunch service, where the latter includes a weekly rotating noodle bar so diners can have things like beef pho, oyster mee sua, or Penang laksa. A brunch menu as well as a chef's table plus accompanying menu will be added down the road. Prices will increase slightly as well - for instance the omakase menu will go up S$10 to S$85.
It'll be made up for with better food and produce though, promises Chef Loh. By compromising the current size of the seating space (38 seats versus Mayo Street's 50-plus seats), more space has been dedicated to her kitchen to do more R&D.
What this means is that in future menus, diners can expect more fermented ingredients, as well as some traditionally-Chinese ingredients such as lily bulbs and monkey head mushrooms.
Explains chef Loh: "Personally I have some health issues, so when I craft menus I always think about adding something inside for a bit of health benefit. For example, for our signature steamed clams in fig broth - the base is actually a Cantonese soup which uses Chinese herbs that are good for the lungs. Even fermented food is good for health in general, plus it adds a lot of nice natural flavours to food."