Photo: Malaysia Boleh
With hawker centres getting hip, it is no wonder that foodcourts are following suit.
Think chic interiors sprayed with graffiti art, potted plants and terrariums displayed for a garden effect or stalls outfitted with a tiled roof facade for that old-school vibe.
Of course, the food is not lacking in variety either. Do not expect the usual economic rice or yong tau foo stalls.
The recently expanded Malaysia Boleh foodcourt in Jurong Point offers everything from Penang-style fried carrot cake to kway teow kia from Johor Baru, while the two-week-old Platform M by the Ministry Of Food group at SingPost Centre offers everything from collagen ramen to Korean fried chicken.
Next month, another fancy foodcourt - the 7,000 sq ft FOMO in Sultan Gate - will enter the fray with offerings of chicken-based ramen and poke bowls.
The offerings are fancy, but prices remain reasonable and you do not have to pay extra for full restaurant service. The business owners' strategy is to offer affordable food and plenty of options in a casual, communal dining setting.
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Mr Tan Kim Siong, 47, managing director of the Fei Siong group, which runs Malaysia Boleh, says: "Initially, I was concerned that diners will flock to the new section and that would affect the business of the original stalls. But it is good to see that diners are picking from both sides.
"Running the business on our own helps us to control the price and quality."
Malaysia Boleh, which opened in Jurong Point five years ago, has more than doubled its previous space to 14,000 sq ft and now seats 600 diners.
Such large food halls follow the likes of PasarBella at The Grandstand and Suntec City; Picnic at Wisma Atria; Essen at The Pinnacle @ Duxton in Cantonment Road; and food arena Savourworld in Science Park Drive.
Japanese-themed food street Shokutsu Ten in Jurong Point also carved out a new alley within its premises last month.
The new space offers Ginzushi (for sashimi and chirashi don), Tenfuku Tendon Specialty (for Japanese tendon), Idaten Udon (for udon dishes), Ichiban Bento (for bento sets) and Wadori (for yakitori).
There is at least one more concept to look out for next month - a Japan-themed gourmet food hall called Sora by SG Retail, a joint venture between ANA Trading and Komars Group, which runs food and lifestyle brands.
It is located in Changi Airport's Terminal 2 and will feature several Japanese food and beverage brands, serving everything from fresh seafood bowls to okonomiyaki (Japanese savoury pancakes).
Marketing executive Fred Goh, 30, says: "Generally, I find foodcourts to be quite old-fashioned, in both the food and interiors. But these new food halls - such as Platform M - fill the gap, but still offer affordable food.
"We can pick from a wide variety of choices in a comfortable and spacious environment. SingPost Centre also has a Kopitiam foodcourt, so we really don't lack options."
Housewife Carina Lim, 57, says: "I don't mind dining at foodcourts because it is a convenient option. However, my children are more willing to dine at the fancy ones such as PasarBella. As long as food prices remain decent, I'm okay with it."
With trendy foodcourt FOMO, slated to open next month, you will not suffer the fear of missing out on interesting food. The 7,000 sq ft space is started by three friends - Mr Lim Chin Chye, 29; Mr Wilmer Ang, 29; and Mr Amos Tan, 28 - who left their corporate jobs to strike out in the food and beverage sector.
In the works for more than a year, FOMO aims to cater to the "lack of big-scale food places in the area", says Mr Ang. Initially, he says, it was a struggle to find a good mix of food vendors.
FOMO will be home to Western stall Chops Grill & Sides; poke bowl concept Poke Doke; Mr Wholly Seafood Company, which specialises in seafood buckets; The Don Pizza & Pasta; and Kanemochi, which sells mochi ice cream. The owners will also run a Brew Counter selling drinks and alcohol.
Another brand to anticipate is Zamza, a Muslim-friendly chicken-based ramen concept by Mr Sean McCully, 45, owner of Jimoto Ya ramen restaurant in Pickering Street. He had considered opening a branch of Jimoto Ya at FOMO, but decided to offer options without pork or lard instead, to cater to the community in the area.
Zamza's menu will offer chicken-based ramen in creamy tori paitan and clear Kobe-style soup, as well as rice bowls and yakitori.
Ms Esther Goh, 36, owner of Mr Wholly Seafood Company, decided to give FOMO a try because her stall's lease at Satay by the Bay had run out. "Yes, it is a gamble to work with first-timers in the scene, but we like the environment and want to inject some vibrancy into the area," she says.
While the brand will stick to its speciality of Louisiana-style seafood, she is looking to introduce more varieties of crab and prawn, along with more complementary sauces.
Her stall will also cater to the lunch crowd - unlike at Satay by the Bay, where her stall opened only from 3pm - paying attention to dishing out quick service such as, for example, offering shelled prawns as "no one wants dirty hands during lunch", she adds.
Where: 38 Sultan Gate; open: from the middle of next month
Info: FOMO's Facebook
Photo: The Straits Times
The Ministry Of Food (MOF) group's casual-dining restaurant empire now includes the two-week-old Platform M - a hip food hall comprising four existing brands under the group and six new ones.
New brands curated for the 8,790 sq ft space include Duck Master (specialising in Hong Kong roast duck); Kazu Kazu (Japanese rice bowls such as katsudon and oyakodon); Yaki Ramen (collagen ramen); So Lucky (local fare such as laksa, mee siam, kopi and toast); Economi of Scale (Western cuisine); and a fresh fruit juice stall.
Highlights across the menus include seafood yaki ramen ($9.80), grilled ribeye steak with black pepper sauce ($16.90) and roast duck (from $22 for half a duck).
Familiar names include Ju Hao (for Northern Chinese fare and xiao long bao); Tensho (tempura rice bowls); Kaisen Tei (donburi topped with raw fish); and CafeMama (Korean street food).
Embracing technology, the fancy foodcourt operates on a cashless, self-ordering kiosk system.
Diners pay with the Platform M card, priced at $20 ($17 in account, $3 for administration fee), which can be topped up on the premises.
On rolling out Platform M, an MOF spokesman says: "Diners are now more discerning and spoilt for choice. They expect value-for-money food as well as quality and comfortable environments. Food halls offer a wide selection for communal dining and an opportunity for family and friends to dine together."
Where: 02-138 SingPost Centre, 10 Eunos Road; open: 11am to 10pm daily and 8 to 11am (breakfast at So Lucky)
Info: Call 6747-3585 or go to Platform M's Facebook
Photo: The Straits Times
Five years after it opened to much fanfare, the Malaysia Boleh foodcourt, which specialises in Malaysian hawker food, has expanded its offerings and seating to cater to the daily crowds.
In addition to 17 existing stalls, there are 15 new ones to whet diners' appetites. The expanded 14,000 sq ft space - which is endorsed by the Tourism Malaysia - can seat 600 diners.
The foodcourt is run by the Fei Siong brothers - group managing director Tan Kim Siong, 47, and executive director Tan Kim Leng, 40.
They took about six months to curate the selection of popular Malaysian hawker fare, which includes highlights such as chilli pan mee ($4) from Damansara; kway teow kia (kway chap with thin flat noodles, from $4) from Johor Baru; Penang lor mee ($4) with intestines and pig skin; nasi lemak ($3.50) from Kuantan; and Penang fried carrot cake (from $3), which comes in thicker chunks and is fried with beansprouts.
There is also a zi char stall called Seafood Restoran Gohtong Jaya from Genting Highlands. Its menu includes claypot fish head and belly with spring onion ($22); steamed crab with pumpkin and butter ($68 for two crabs); and tempura eggplant with golden floss (from $10).
The original line-up of 17 stalls sells dishes such as Klang bak kut teh, Kuala Lumpur Hokkien mee and Penang char kway teow.
The area is modelled after "beer gardens" in Malaysia, says the elder Mr Tan, who had help from the existing stallholders to bring in the new ones.
"You need to have a balance of seating and stalls. For the food, you can't offer full meals from every stall. That's why there's a mix of items such as satay, rojak, oyster omelette and chendol. People want variety and they won't order from just one stall," he says.
Where: 03-28 Jurong Point, 1 Jurong West Central 2; open: 10am to 10pm daily
This article was first published by The Straits Times.