Restaurants gear up for second round of Michelin inspections

Restaurants in Singapore are going full steam ahead to impress inspectors for the next edition of the Michelin Guide

Barely three months after the Michelin Guide debuted in Singapore, its inspectors have started making their rounds for next year.

Inspections are said to have started last month, say the chefs of the restaurants that were visited. Some of those visited include Michelin- starred Tokyo-Italian restaurant terra in Tras Street, Bib Gourmand- listed Ka Soh in College Road and Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant Candlenut, when it was still at the Dorsett Residences in New Bridge Road. The restaurant moved to Dempsey Hill last Tuesday.

It is no surprise for chef Sam Leong, 50, of the one-Michelin- starred Forest restaurant at Resorts World Sentosa. He says: "They started at about the same time last year. So, it's time to get ready. Let's give Michelin more time to cover more ground for next year."

The upbeat chef is looking to get back on track in the kitchen, after having battled Stage 4 nose cancer since February. He has completed his chemotherapy and radiation sessions and says he is recovering well.

Like all the Michelin-starred and Bib Gourmand-listed eateries in the guide, Forest has had a surge in interest from tourists and locals after the guide was released in July. Some places report a 10 to 25 per cent increase in business, while others, such as two-Michelin- starred fine-dining restaurant Odette at the National Gallery Singapore, are running at full capacity daily.

And it is full steam ahead for the next edition of the guide.


While most restaurants change their menus based on seasonal ingredients, some are rolling out new ones.

Until Dec 31, Michelin-starred Summer Pavilion's Michelin Star six-course tasting menu ($138, add $58 for wine pairing) features the signature Cantonese dishes of Chinese executive chef Cheung Siu Kong. Chinese restaurant Lei Garden, which has one Michelin star, also has a special Michelin menu ($268++ for four people). Offerings at the restaurant at Chijmes include baked lobster with salted egg yolk and pumpkin.

Bak kut teh chain Song Fa - on the Bib Gourmand list - will launch its weekend kids' menu on Nov 19 at four of its seven outlets, including Chinatown Point and Jem mall in Jurong. It includes bento box sets of minced pork noodles or pork chop, for children who have a "low tolerance" for the peppery broth during family meals, says a Song Fa spokesman.

Others are looking to spruce up their premises. Peranakan-Thai vegetarian restaurant Whole Earth in Peck Seah Street will overhaul its interiors in the first half of next year. Its owner Phyllis Ong, 40, says the space will get an "upmarket and sophisticated look". The seating capacity will also increase by 10 per cent from the current 70 seats.

Some restaurant chains are eyeing more stars. Crystal Jade Culinary Concepts, which owns the Michelin-starred Crystal Jade Golden Palace at Paragon mall, is hoping that sister outlet Crystal Jade Prestige at Marina Bay Financial Centre will get a star too. The menu at Crystal Jade Prestige has new signature dishes, along with some from Crystal Jade Golden Palace.

Restaurants that do not have stars but which were listed in the guide are gearing up for the launch of next year's guide.

While two-Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant Shoukouwa has basked in the Michelin spotlight, its sister restaurant, Saint Pierre, is "hungry for stars". Both restaurants are located at One Fullerton.

Ms Edina Hong, 44, director of the Emmanuel Stroobant Group, which owns both restaurants, says: "The mindset (at Saint Pierre) is like one of an underdog - unlike a starred restaurant, where the mindset is one of a champion out to retain his title."

Cashing in on hype to start claypot laksa franchise

Mr Zhang Li Jin bought Zhen Shan Mei Claypot Laksa in Alexandra Village from its previous owner in 2005. ST PHOTO: DON CHI

The owner of Zhen Shan Mei Claypot Laksa in Alexandra Village is unabashed about it: He is cashing in on the hype.

His stall was in the inaugural Singapore Michelin Guide's Bib Gourmand list, for eateries that offer quality food at affordable prices.

Two weeks ago, Mr Zhang Li Jin, 38, put up a notice at his stall looking for "business partners who love our recipe and are ready to bring it to new heights".

He is hoping to start a franchise for his food business, which attracts snaking queues at lunch time.

His asking price? $150,000.

For that sum, he will teach his claypot laksa recipe - from blending the laksa paste to cooking the noodles in claypots. He will also pass on his "hawker experience" to franchisees to help them start their businesses and they can use the Zhen Shan Mei name.

Training will be done within a month at his stall. He has received at least three "serious inquiries".

With the buzz surrounding the Singapore Michelin Guide - launched in July this year - Mr Zhang says the time is ripe to expand.

He says in Mandarin: "I do not have the resources to grow my business on my own, so I need to take advantage of this opportunity, now that the eatery is more recognised , and open more outlets. It is a pity that the shop has been stuck in one location despite its popularity all these years."

He adds that business has increased by 20 per cent over the past three months.

In 2005, Mr Zhang, who is from Guangdong, China, bought Zhen Shan Mei Claypot Laksa - which started out in a coffee shop in Depot Road about 20 years ago - as the owners were looking to let go of their business due to poor health. He declines to reveal how much he paid and says it is a "secret".

On what makes the claypot laksa special, Mr Zhang, now a Singapore citizen, says: "The laksa paste is made from scratch, which makes the gravy richer and thicker, and cooking the noodles in claypots makes them more fragrant and smooth."

He adds: "As long as the franchisees have the passion to cook claypot laksa, I am confident that they will be successful."

Kenneth Goh

Branching into foodcourts and butchery

Mr Arif Salahuddin and his daughter Zara at their new outlet, Biryani Headquarters, in NTUC Foodfare at Simei MRT station. ST PHOTO: NIVASH JOYVIN

Some eateries on the Singapore Michelin Guide's Bib Gourmand list have spawned new branches or are planning to grow their businesses.

Bismillah Biryani in Dunlop Street and one-north, which is known for its dum biryani and kebabs, opened its first food court outlet, Biryani Headquarters, in NTUC Foodfare at Simei MRT station last month. The stall serves dishes such as chicken dum biryani, mutton shami and tandoori chicken tikka, with prices that are 20 to 30 per cent lower than at its other outlets.

Owner Arif Salahuddin, 54, says being named in the Michelin Guide is like "having a shot in your arm to be more than just a sleepy joint". He says: "With a food court stall, we are reaching out to the masses."

His daughter, Zara, 25, joined the business full-time in June. He is going ahead with expansion plans, which include tapping on food delivery services such as UberEats to reach more diners.

Earlier this month, he opened a butchery, Bismillah Halal: The Meat Shop in Dunlop Street, a few doors from his restaurant. He sells mutton and chicken and also marinates them in spices for dishes such as keema (spicy minced meat) and kebabs. The shop also sells spice mixes.

Other restaurants are also taking the opportunity to grow their businesses. One of them is Northern Indian restaurant Zaffron Kitchen in East Coast Road and Westgate mall in Jurong. It plans to open a third outlet in the Kent Ridge area next month and wants to tie up with a celebrity chef from India to helm another outlet, Zaffron Kitchen Banana Leaf restaurant, by the first half of next year.

Owner Joseph Lee, 58, says the expansion plans are not initiated by being on the Bib Gourmand list in July, though it has helped raise awareness of his restaurants.

Citing a 33 per cent growth in business for that month, he says: "It is about economies of scale. When an outlet is making money, why not open more in strategic locations?"

Chinese restaurant Peony Jade, with two branches - in Keppel Club and Clarke Quay - is planning to open an all-day dining outlet in the "city area" by early 2018.

Mr Robert Han, 56, group general manager of The Quayside Group, which owns the restaurant, says: "With the Bib Gourmand accolade, we have received more inquiries on our location and we are running at full capacity at lunch on weekends. Customers have told us that the Keppel Club location is too far away."

Kenneth Goh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 06, 2016, with the headline 'Reaching for the stars'. Print Edition | Subscribe