The foodcourt scene is getting a new lease of life with the advent of new chic, upmarket concepts.
Instead of the usual cookie-cutter foodcourt model with the familiar tenant mix, these places offer themed stalls or a bistro-style ambience.
In the evenings, beer and, in some places, whisky and cocktails are served.
In the past four months, no fewer than four of these jazzed up foodcourts have opened.
They include Third Place in Tuas, which is a regular hawker centre by day and transforms into a funky zichar restaurant and bar at night, as well as BreadTalk-operated Palette Restaurant & Bar at Capitol Piazza, which has stalls from Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Five Square at Great Eastern Centre in Pickering Street has stalls selling Japanese, Korean and Spanish cuisine, while Essen At The Pinnacle@Duxton specialises in affordable Western fare.
While prices are slightly higher than those at the usual foodcourts, the bill is still lower than that at mid-range restaurants.
Five Square director Luke Lee says that because such foodcourts offer a wide variety of options, it appeals to a "larger customer base".
He gives the examples of "singles looking for a quick meal, couples who no longer have to fight to decide what to eat and large group of friends or families where there's definitely something for everyone".
On Saturdays, the area becomes a family-friendly space with kiddy rides and a bouncy castle.
In Tuas, Third Place, run by Select Group which is known for its catering business and foodcourts, hopes to capture a post-work crowd looking for a drink and bite in the industrial area.
The themed or posh foodcourt concept is not exactly new.
Over the years, outfits such as Malaysia Boleh at Jurong Point and Malaysian Food Street at Resorts World Sentosa - both sell Malaysian cuisine - have tried to fill the gap in the market between self-serve foodcourt and proper restaurant.
The premium that these fancy foodcourts offer could be full restaurant service, a cool atmosphere or budget "posh" food.
Take, for example, Alibabar in Katong, which combines hawker fare with hipper Western offerings in a cafe setting.
Younger, creative stallholders are attracted to such concepts.
Chef Enoch Teo of French stall Garcons at Essen says these multiconcept eateries feel more upmarket and appeal to young hawkers who want to work outside of a typical coffee-shop setting.
These concepts are also drawing diners who may not work or eat in the area.
Senior marketing manager Georgina Lee, 34, who works in Orchard Road, has gone twice with her colleagues to have lunch at Essen.
She says: "One of my relatives who lives at The Pinnacle asked me to check out the food at Essen. I like the ambience there and there is ample space for big groups. So far, I've tried the food at Garcons and La Stalla. It's not super cheap, but it's not overpriced."
Finance manager James Ong, 37, welcomes the array of affordable lunch options at Five Square.
He says: "It's also good that they have alcohol options so that we can get a drink or two after work."
Where: 01-03 Great Eastern Centre, 1 Pickering Street
Open: 10am to midnight, Monday to Saturday, closed on Sunday
Info: Call 8798-0245 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Taking over the 13,000 sq ft space vacated by Hainanese-Western chain Han's at Great Eastern Centre is Five Square.
The multi-concept eatery houses a 300-seat bar with live band performances and sports screenings, as well as a wine cellar and a 50-seat whisky bar (above).
The rest of the sprawling 300- seat food hall features five stalls selling food ranging from Japanese donburi to Korean bulgogi to Spanish tapas.
Each stall also has a fully automated self-service ordering and payment kiosk and SMS system. Once the food is ready for collection, an SMS will be sent to the diner's phone.
Five Square is run by Five Bar Group, known for its chain of izakaya and bars selling cocktails at $5.
What: Order the Gogi Plate ($8.50), which includes your pick of fried rice, bulgogi and salad dressing. Bulgogi meat options include beef, pork galbi, spicy chicken and wine pork belly.
For a lighter meal, try the Gogi Taco ($6.80) - a twist on the Mexican taco - or Gogi Dog ($6.80), a combination of American hot dog with bulgogi.
GRUB NOODLE BAR
What: Slurp up noodles at Grub Noodle Bar, which used to be in Rangoon Road. Beef noodles (choice of brisket or sirloin, above) are priced from $8.90, while pork noodles (from $7.90) feature regular or premium Kurobuta pork collar in a miso pork broth.
What: A familiar name in the Central Business District, the Japanese stall serves the famous 5Kaisendon ($16) as well as other favourites such as katsu don ($15.80) and chicken nanban bento ($15.80).
What: A spin-off from the popular Five Tapas Bar at Cuppage Terrace which serves locally inspired tapas, Cinqo offers an all-day selection of tapas such as Spanish meatballs ($6), bacon mushrooms ($6) and angus beef carpaccio ($10). For lunch, Cinqo serves two paellas (from $9.50) cooked fresh daily, including Asian-inspired flavours such as claypot rice paella, Hainanese chicken rice paella and Thai pineapple rice paella.
What: By the people behind The Soup Spoon chain, Omnivore offers hearty salads for herbivores ($6.80), grilled meat platters for carnivores ($16.80) and a combination of meat and vegetables for omnivores ($12.80). Meat choices include grilled pork cutlet, bratwurst sausages and grilled 100 per cent New Zealand grass-fed flank steak.
Essen At The Pinnacle
Where: 01-01 The Pinnacle@Duxton, 1 Cantonment Road
Open: 11am to 11pm daily
This fancy foodcourt, which is packed during lunch and dinner times, specialises in Western-style cuisine.
Stalls at the 4,500 sq ft space include Two Wings, a chicken wing shop that started in Bukit Merah 11/2 years ago, as well as French stall Garcons, which is helmed by chefs Enoch Teo and Immanuel Tee. Chef Teo used to run French eatery Le Petit Paradis, while chef Tee runs Immanuel French Kitchen in Bukit Merah.
The foodcourt is sticking to Western fare to avoid competing with neighbouring food centres such as Tanjong Pagar Market & Food Centre, says one of the foodcourt's owners, Mr Chester Koh, 36.
He also runs Essen's bar, which serves a variety of beers, and hopes to introduce wine in the future.
About a week ago, outdoor seating was approved to seat an additional 80 diners. Inside, it can accommodate 156 diners.
What: Hearty French fare without the hefty price tag. Dishes include 12-hour Belly of Pork ($16.90); duck leg confit ($16.90); black miso foie gras ($16.50); and tuna tataki salad ($12.50), which is a twist on the classic nicoise salad with seared yellow fin tuna marinated with ginger-shoyu vinaigrette.
What: For a quick snack or bar bites, get the chicken wings (from $8.50 for four, above). Set meal options (with a choice of two sides) include whole spring chicken ($15.90), chicken cutlet ($8.90) and chicken burrito ($11.90). Other items include spam fries ($9.90) and mozzarella cheese sticks ($9.90).
WILD WILD CATCH
What: Seafood lovers can head to this stall for dishes such as mussels in white wine broth served with garlic bread ($15); salted egg prawn dips ($8); pan-seared mackerel ($15) with sauteed spinach and mushroom, lemon butter sauce and steamed rice or mashed potato; and scallop garlic rice ($11).
What: Get restaurant-quality cuisine at El Jefe, which is run by two chefs formerly from Sky on 57. The menu features dishes such as braised beef cheek with root vegetables and mash potato ($13.90); wagyu steak burger with bacon, cheese and onion compote and fries ($12.90); and grilled baby lamb rack with ratatouille and garden greens ($21.90).
What: Handmade thin-crust 10-inch pizzas are the highlight at this Italian stall. Options include pepperoni ($15); mixed ham ($13) with black pepper and mortadella ham; margherita ($12); and arrabiatta ($18) with prawns and calamari.
Other dishes include smoked duck salad ($14), homemade gnocchi ($12.50) with green pea sauce; mac and cheese ($10) with chicken breast; and linguine pomodoro ($9) with smoked salmon in tomato sauce.
What: The only Asian stall in Essen, Kin Khao specialises in Thai cuisine. Menu highlights include tom yum seafood/prawn soup ($8.90), steamed fish fillet with lime and chilli ($10.90) and green curry chicken/beef with Thai brinjal ($8.90).
Desserts include red rubies in young coconut with jackfruit ice cream ($6.50) and black and white glutinous rice with mango and ice cream ($7.50).
The stall is awaiting halal certification.
Palette Restaurant & Bar
Where: B1-20/27 Capitol Piazza, 13 Stamford Road
Open: 11am to 10.30pm daily
Info: Call 6384-3359 or go to www.facebook.com/ThePaletteSingapore
BreadTalk Group, known for its Food Republic chain of foodcourts, has opened this 12,000 sq ft multi- concept eatery.
Diners have to wait to be seated, order food via an iPad and pay at the counter. Waiters serve you the food.
This upmarket foodcourt seats 420 diners and features stalls from Malaysia and Hong Kong on top of home-grown brands, selling Asian cuisine such as dim sum, char kway teow and bak kut teh.
The 90 Gastro Bar serves desserts, wine and beer, as well as cocktails with Asian flavours.
AH KOONG RESTAURANT
What: This Johor Baru-based establishment is known for its handmade ikan parang (wolf herring) fish balls and fish cakes. The fish paste is also used for its yong tau foo. Prices start at $7.90 for its signature fishball noodles.
AH YAT SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
What: This Hong Kong brand features popular fare such as roast meats, dim sum, congee, noodles and live seafood. Headliners include Ah Yat Noodles with abalone ($18) and Ah Yat Baked Rice with abalone ($18).
BALESTIER BAK KUT TEH
What: Do not miss the trademark peppery and robust broth with meaty pork ribs from this stall. The premium soup is priced at $9.50 and set meals are available at $10.90.
What: North-western Indian cuisine here includes multani barrah kebab ($20), which is cinnamon-marinated Australian mutton cutlets; chandi murg tikka ($13), which is chicken in a garlic and cashew nut cream sauce; and paneer ke sholey roll ($11.90), a wrap with vegetables and cubes of Calcutta cottage cheese.
HUAT HUAT BBQ
What: Complement your meal with a side of chicken wings ($12 for six, $21 for a dozen) from Huat Huat BBQ. They are marinated in Chinese rose wine and come served with an addictive chilli sauce.
Other items on the menu include kueh pie tee ($6), rojak ($8) and popiah ($3.80).
Third Place @ Tuas 7
Where: 18 Tuas Avenue 7
Open: 6am to 8pm, Monday to Saturday, closed on Sunday. Zichar and bar operate from 5pm
Info: Call 8182-3471 or go to thirdplace.com.sg
By day, the 12 stalls in this Tuas eating house serve the usual hawker fare to lunch crowds, ranging from herbal soup to chicken rice.
By night, the place transforms into a bistro-like zichar restaurant and bar, complete with full service and waiters.
The three-month-old eatery is the third Third Place to open in an industrial setting. The first one opened in November last year at eco-business park CleanTech in Jalan Bahar while the second opened at medical manufacturing facility MedTech in Taman Jurong in May.
The outlets are owned by Select Group, which is known for its catering business and foodcourts.
The group's marketing director, Mr Eugene Lim, 42, says he wants to provide a more sophisticated dining option to workers in industrial areas, who often have to rely on just a canteen.
He adds that the eatery is also popular with residents in the neighbourhood, who would often call ahead to place their orders and pick the food up on the way home.
While Third Place started with a tapas menu, that has been shelved to focus solely on the zichar offerings due to customer demand.
Highlights include its signature salted egg cheese crab (seasonal price), Nonya-style steamed red garoupa (seasonal price), beancurd with honshimeiji mushrooms (from $12) and Five Blessings Platter ($80, good for 10 people), which includes prawn and salted egg wrapped with popiah skin strips; jellyfish with sweet and spicy sauce; and mango prawn roll.
From Oct 26 to Nov 7 (after 5pm), diners can pick two flavours for each crab order and receive complimentary mantou. With this promotion, get three Tiger drafts for $12.
Packed meals from some of the stalls can also be arranged. Go to the website for the full menu and details on delivery and charges.