(THE BUSINESS TIMES) - We're not Santa, but at BTWeekend, we've made our lists and checked them twice. Here then, is our pick of the most noteworthy people, events, spaces, and objects for 2017.
BEST RESTAURANT MAKEOVER
AOKI JAPANESE RESTAURANT
For 14 years, chef-owner Kunio Aoki squirrelled money away to pay for a stunning makeover that made Aoki the best-looking Japanese restaurant in town. Part of the Les Amis group, this tribute to old world Japanese glamour features exquisite wooden screens hand made by craftsmen in Kanazawa. Luxe hand-made fridges are exactly the same as those you see in top sushi restaurants in Tokyo. Yes, you pay top dollar for a meal here, but think of it as cheaper than a flight to Tokyo.
BOMBSHELL OF THE YEAR
ANDRE CHIANG, RESTAURANT ANDRE
Singapore's star chef Andre Chiang shocked the industry early on Oct 11 when he announced he would return to Taiwan and close his acclaimed Restaurant Andre on Feb 14 next year. He also wanted to return his two Michelin stars, even though they lapse automatically when a restaurant closes. But he's going out with a bang - despite doubling his current menu price to $800 with wine, reservations are fully booked right up to the restaurant's last day.
CHEF OF THE YEAR
IVAN BREHM, NOURI
Michelin's inspectors need to drop by the six-month-old Nouri, where Ivan Brehm marries fine dining technique and social message to create Crossroads Cuisine - which is really about using food to bring people together regardless of culture or colour. It's a message that needs a little patience to understand (and no, it's not fusion), but the fact that it goes beyond produce, delusions of grandeur and just showing off makes us want to listen to what he has to say. If you're a meat and potatoes/noodles kind of diner, it will take some persuading to appreciate, but chef Brehm is drumming to his own beat, and more people are grooving to it.
RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR
Success hasn't affected the standards at Damian D'Silva's Peranakan-Eurasian restaurant in Beach Road which opened in August. It's gone from strength to strength (inconsistent service is the only issue) as the veteran chef insists on personally overseeing each dish. It's a physical strain, but his high standards mean that we never get tired of his singgang, chap chye, ngoh hiang, masak lemak, beef cheek rendang and the ultimate buah keluak fried rice. If it wasn't so far away from us, we'd be eating there every day.
BEST NEW STEAK
If you're a wagyu convert, it's time to experience a New York state of mind. In fact, this Manhattan breakaway of the famed Peter Luger's in Brooklyn is severely testing our loyalty to A4 Omi sirloin. While you can't eat more than a few cubes of Japanese beef at a time, you can't stop eating Wolfgang's in-house dry-aged (28 to 36 days) rib eye which has a clean taste,"cuts like butter" texture and no funky overtones. Add mashed potatoes and you're a new convert.
HAN LI GUANG, LABYRINTH
After several years of crafting his personal love letter to traditional Singapore food, Labyrinth's Han Li Guang's efforts were finally rewarded with a Michelin star. With a repertoire that includes his takes on chilli crab and bak chor mee, he had reached a point where he felt overworked and under-appreciated. He was close to throwing in the towel, but the stars fell into place and he joins Candlenut as the two Singaporean cuisine representatives in the guide.
DEBUTANTE OF THE YEAR
DEMPSEY COOKHOUSE & BAR
In March, the Michelin-starred Jean-Georges Vongerichten opened Dempsey Cookhouse with great showmanship at COMO Dempsey - the stylish dining enclave owned by fashion doyenne Christina Ong. Chef Vongerichten and his senior team - including a bread Nazi who made fabulous ciabatta and pizza dough - flew in to oversee the opening. Now it's known as one of the most reasonably priced bistros with some of the best pizzas in town.
AERON CHOO, KAPPOU JAPANESE SUSHI TAPAS BAR
We've seen dedicated chefs, but not one as zealous as Aeron Choo, who might have been an escapee from a religious sushi-making cult, if there was such a thing. She lives, breathes and serves Japanese cuisine in her hole-in-the-wall omakase eatery in the time warp that is Fortune Centre. The one-woman-show works 20-hour days doing everything from cooking to serving. The food is rough around the edges but the 20-something is a cult favourite with a work ethic that puts her peers to shame.
David Lee and Ace Tan gave up careers in upscale restaurants to go into uncharted waters with Ards. They combine theatrics and solid techniques for a menu of highly original Asian-inspired fine dining. Think dry ice-shrouded oysters in osmanthus jelly or piping hot chicken soup inspired by mother's love. With menu prices topping out at $188, they're making a gamble that diners will pay a premium for local talent. We hope they win.
GAN MING KIAT, MUSTARD SEED POP-UP
For a brief time this year, the foodie underworld was abuzz over Gan Ming Kiat's series of pop-up dinners. With experience gained from Japanese restaurant Goto and Peranakan eatery Candlenut, he served original creations such as beef tartare with buah keluak sambal, served in homemade kueh pie tee shells; or homemade yong tau foo. The idea was to get feedback, but his pop-up soon became eagerly-awaited affairs. The pop-up has since ended, but fans are awaiting his next move - a proper restaurant?