Singapore takes its food seriously. Here, food isn’t just fuel – it’s an indulgence, it’s self-care. And for some of our island’s coolest musicians, it’s also an opportunity to imbibe the good vibes from the communal affair of dining out.
In the past month, rapper Yung Raja, and the DJs, KoFlow, Dean Chew (of Darker Than Wax) and Daniel O’Connor (of Ice Cream Sundays), have ventured into F&B territory, launching their own dining concepts that serve cuisines ranging from Indian-Mex to modern Japanese fare.
More than just a place to eat, they each stressed that these destinations are extensions of themselves as artists the many creative hats they wear. Indeed, you can find a semblance of a club, a social lounge and a creative factory in way or another in these venues.
“That’s when people will start to love it,” explains the rapper Yung Raja who had also launched a streetwear line called Peace Oeuvre last August.
“They can tell when you’re trying to force something. There’s a certain level of fluidity in how the universe works, and I just try to align myself to it and do what comes to me naturally.”
Ahead, we speak to Yung, DJ KoFlow and Chew on what you can expect when you step into these spaces.
Officially opened on Feb 10, Honcho is the brainchild of hip-hop DJ KoFlow and Amos Poh, fintech entrepreneur and ex-bandmate. The F&B-slash-nightlife spot spans three floors at the historical Ann Siang Hill — and you can expect an entirely different multi-sensory experience on each. There’s a floor for every occasion, from cracking a cold one at Jo, the more casual rooftop bar, or feasting upon the modern Japanese cuisine on the ground floor at Honcho itself. Most importantly, the space positions itself as a hotspot for local creatives to gather and collaborate, with the basement — Social@Honcho — dedicated as a cocoon for members to find solace.
12 Ann Siang Rd, Singapore 069692
As a musician, why venture into F&B?
“I have always taken an interest in the idea of an F&B place that transitions into hosting parties by the end of the night. Due to the current pandemic, parties are not allowed [Ed’s Note: All nightlife businesses, including nightclubs and discotheques, have been allowed to fully reopen from Apr 19 onwards and patrons have to produce a negative antigen rapid test (ART) before entering the premises. The ART has to be supervised by a test provider approved by the Ministry of Health, either in-person or remotely.], but that doesn’t mean that we can’t set up an establishment with a great atmosphere, good vibes, and also serve to educate on music at the same time.
Here is where my partner – Amos Poh, steps in. He brought in his expertise in F&B and hospitality, making sure the standard of food and service is on point. This keeps patrons coming back, while I set up the right vibe and organise great music as a companion to the food and drinks.”
Do you have any training in F&B? How will you apply your own expertise to the venture?
“This will be my first venture into the F&B scene. That being said, it’s essential for me to apply all the knowledge I’ve acquired from working at different bars and clubs — mainly understanding the dos and don’ts, what works and what doesn’t work.
At Honcho, we believe in growth, experimentation, and learning together. That philosophy alone has helped my team and I overcome many obstacles that came our way while building the Honcho brand. My expertise in music made me realise that I can also use the restaurant as a way to continue collaborating with people.”
What do you want people to expect when they come to Honcho?
“I want them to feel comfortable, yet step in with a curious mind, exploring the different pockets of space and enjoying the modern Japanese cuisine that my head chef Terence Ong and head bartender Noreen Dunzo have prepared. You will always experience the right vibe when you visit us, with music playing a big part to accompany your evening. It is not always about what you may expect, but also about experiencing what you did not know you needed.”
What is the goal for Honcho?
“I have always wanted to start a club, particularly because of the friends and connections I have built over the last 20-odd years as a DJ. I wanted a place where the community could come together and create a culture. It bothers me a lot when establishments say they ‘support local talent’, but their actions are not strong enough to truly support artists, sometimes even lacking in the giving of proper credit to the artists.
So, for this venue, besides operating as an F&B joint, we also delve into a lot of creative collaborations with talents, just like how I would have as a musician — for the launch, we worked with Native bar’s founder and mixologist Vijay Mudaliar to create pairing cocktails for our omakase menu.
We brainstorm, develop, and make noise together, creating a product that we are proud of. And most importantly, grow together.”
How is Honcho an extension of your identity as an artist?
“As an artist, I am constantly experimenting and learning through trial and error. Honcho will be an extension of my vision to continue to grow a community of like-minded individuals, as we explore different creative ways to grow a restaurant into a brand while continuing to make people smile through food, drinks and good vibes!”
Which comes easier to you — Music or F&B? Why?
“Music! Perhaps because I have been doing it for a long time. Both bring different levels of stress, but in music, it is only I who stresses myself.”
Singapore music collectives Darker Than Wax (co-founder Dean Chew) and Ice Cream Sundays’ (co-founder Daniel O’Connor) collaborations over the years finally manifests themselves as a physical space through Offtrack on Jan 22. Tucked away in a traditional shophouse around Boat Quay, the music-centric bar is a warm social space boasting good tunes, best enjoyed with their Pan-Asian cuisine and a cocktail in hand.
34 North Canal Rd, #01-01, Singapore 059290
As an artist and spatial designer, why jump into F&B?
“For the past 15 years I’ve been running my own spatial design practice designing a lot of F&B outlets, from the early days of Jigger and Pony to the current Park Bench Deli. I’ve always seen music, food, culture, and design as all part of one ecosystem. Essentially, it’s all determined by spaces and how a person uses the space. And obviously, the music, the food, drinks, and everything else.
How often have you been to a space where the food is good, but the soundtrack is s**t? Or vice versa. There’s hardly a place that actually gets it right: from the space, to the design, to even the way you sit. It’s really about problem-solving, so it isn’t a big jump to F&B from design and music as I see them as the same thing. It’s also always been a bit of a dream and challenge for me personally to open a space where I can really control and create conditions for people.”
Why this music-bar concept?
“I wanted the space to really feel like you’re walking into someone’s living room. Warm, casual, no frills. We were looking at the landscape of all the different types of F&B outlets and spaces in Singapore — while they’re all very refined and polished, we thought something alternative was lacking.
If you go to somewhere like Tokyo, Melbourne, and London, there’s always those sorts of pockets of spaces that are slightly under the radar, but still very rich and warm in what they’re trying to do. We were really just trying to transport that sort of experience back to Singapore.”
What do you want people to expect when they come to Offtrack?
“Something strangely familiar but also not. They should feel transported into an entirely different place. It could be in Hackney, London, or Shimokitazawa in Tokyo. I designed the facade to be rather obscure and translucent so it feels more hidden away from sight. It’s one of the reasons why I chose this shophouse: it has a sunken sort of recessed entrance which adds to the feeling of detachment we’re looking for.”
What is the goal for Offtrack?
“If you’re alone, you don’t have to feel alone — you can walk into Offtrack and feel comfortable immediately. Whether you’re drinking at the bar alone in some sort of Murakami moment or coming with friends, it’s meant to be a safe space for everyone to express themselves. We want to usher a new wave of positivity and bring back the energy we lost to the pandemic.”
How is Offtrack an extension of your identity as an artist?
“Daniel O’Connor (of Ice Cream Sundays) and I wanted to use the space as a flagship for us to continue our events together. We’ve been collaborating on so many large scale events so we thought that this would really crystallise ideas for us moving forward. Offtrack helps to bring the diverse communities we’ve attracted and built over the past few years into one space. It’s an extension of the two brands working together.”
You’re a spatial designer, music label co-founder and now F&B entrepreneur. Which has come the easiest to you?
“I’ve reached a creative juncture now where executing and bringing ideas to fruition in general come quite easily to me. I’ve been doing this for so long where you learn what’s good, what’s not, then you question what’s good again and it’s now second nature to me. Even though I straddle across so many things, they just feel like many arms of one core skill.
It’s like what the late Virgil Abloh did, from Louis Vuitton to Off-White. He was also trained as an architect. I think that once you understand people and spaces, everything else comes naturally.”
The Maha Co. is Yung Raja’s labour of love. Co-founded early in January with Quan Ong, founder of juice brand Gorilla Press, the cafe at Fusionopolis serves up Indian-Mexican fusion cuisine with Yung Raja’s family thosai (a thin crepe-like pancake made of lentils and rice) recipe as its foundation. Its Dosa Taco which comes with both traditional and off-beat accompaniments — from good old curry to peanut butter and Nutella – will surely hit the spot for both the adventurous foodie and thosai purist.
1 Fusionopolis Link, Nexus, #01-04, 138542
As an artist, why venture into F&B?
“For me, being an artist has always been about what doing I’ve been most interested in and having fun with it. I used to think this just pertains to music, but it really is applicable to so many other areas of my interests, including F&B.
Beyond that, I’ve always been looking for partners I can work with and learn from. I’ve been really fortunate to always be in the right place, at the right time, and get to meet people like my buddy Quan who has plenty of experience in the F&B world.”
Why the Indian-Mexican concept?
“My mom makes this thosai that I’ve been having for pretty much my entire life. The recipe has been around for maybe 80 years, passed down from my late grandmother. My mom creates this batter from scratch – twice a week I’ll see her grinding on a stone grinder. I had no idea how special that is until Quan and I found out that this method is about a thousand years old. It was a eureka moment for us.
With this in mind, Quan and I explored what we liked. I love Mexican food, I love craft beers, and I’ve been having this thosai all my life. The Maha Co. is an extension of me and my spirit.”
How is The Maha Co. an extension of you as an artist?
“When you go into The Maha Co. you’ll see the walls covered in posters. Guess what? They were sourced by my family members. My sisters and parents helped me look for these vintage posters of Rajinikanth (an acclaimed Indian actor) and old Hollywood and Bollywood posters. My mom would taste test the thosai and teach the recipe to my staff.
There’s so much authenticity in this establishment, it’s not just a business to me. It’s been spiritually fulfilling to build this up as an authentic part of my story and Quan’s story. So it really is an extension of Yung Raja the artist, or Rajid (his real name) the person.”
What is the goal for The Maha Co.?
“My friends and I kind of had enough of hanging out at other people’s establishments. We kept hanging out here and there and either had to ciao after a while, or these joints don’t really sell what we like to begin with. So the goal is to create the perfect hangout space. The Maha Co. was created with that in mind. It’s like my second house — you guys are coming to my house.
I want to bring people together. It’s a place that I call home, a place that my friends and family call home. And if we can call it home, it’s a matter of time before everybody else can too.”
Between music and F&B, which has come the easiest to you?
“There’s a certain level of ease across all of my creative ventures, because everything I do focuses on my strengths. When it comes to my weaknesses – which would be a lack of experience in industries like fashion and F&B – I have to give credit to my partnerships and partners who are more than willing to work with me through them.”
This article was first published in Female.