Fast food has long come under fire for being laden with salt and oil. However, a handful of quick- service eateries here are attempting to change this by offering fuss-free yet wholesome dishes. Besides the usual salads and wraps, these self-service eateries serve full meals such as rice and noodle sets cooked using methods such as sous vide, steaming and roasting. They also emphasise speed – your order comes in five minutes and in hip takeaway packaging. There is also the option of dining in.
Casual lunchtime joint Grain Traders in Market Street and protein-centric salad bar, Snatch in Shenton Way, both opened earlier this month. Yolo in Icon Village, a fast-food style restaurant serving healthy meals, started last month.
Mr Javier Perez, 38, co-owner of Grain Traders, says his 46-seat eatery is part of “a global movement towards fast casual food concepts”, as urbanites prefer dining options that fit into their fast-paced lives. Designed like a “premium canteen”, Grain Traders allows diners to customise their meals by choosing “restaurant-quality dishes” over a counter. Dishes include sous vide and chargrilled salmon and slow-roasted pork. Going self-service also helps to beat the manpower crunch.
Mr Chintan Vansola, 35, general manager of VSCO, a Singapore-based trading company that owns Indian eatery Indline in Keong Saik Road, says it has just two service staff stationed at the food counter. He says: “Going self-service keeps costs low, and we spend less time training staff.” The four-month eatery offers set menus such as an Indbox, which comprises a main, rice, dhal and salad. Mr Vansola adds: “It differentiates us from the neighbouring sit-down restaurants. It is also less intimidating for diners who are new to Indian cuisine as they can ask our staff questions while choosing their food over the counter.”
For Mr Edward Chia, 27, founder of Dosirak (lunchbox in Korean) in China Square Central, serving bibimbaps within two minutes allows his customers to grab a quick lunch after a workout at one of the more than 10 gyms in the area. He says: “Although our food is served fast, it is slow-cooked, which allows it to better retain nutrients.” Five of its lunchboxes, which contain sous vide chicken and beef paired with lightly blanched greens, contain less than 460 calories each. To help diners make the most of their lunchtime, eateries are turning to novel time-saving methods.
Mr Adrian Khong, 46, owner of Snatch, installed an optical mark reader, which scans and records customers’ salad orders, which they shade on an order chit using a pencil. The information is channelled to a point-of-sale system and generates a sticker label with ingredient details and queue number. Mr Khong says that his “labour- efficient system” reduces the chances of getting salad orders wrong. He says: “This system can handle a high volume of orders. We are in an area with high rentals and we need to capture all the business we can within the lunch period.”
For Yolo, which stands for You Only Live Once, owner Alexis Bauduin, 31, emulated the kitchen design of fast-food restaurants which “minimises movement” with food moving through four food preparation stations in one direction. Yolo serves a wide variety of dishes grouped according to health goals such as a low-calorie cauliflower “fried rice” for those watching their weight and a protein-rich meatball pasta for those who want to bulk up. Mr Bauduin says: “I hope to have six to eight outlets across Asia- Pacific within two years.”
Despite the higher price tags of these healthy fast-food offerings, customers are enjoying the options.
Public relations director Andrea Seifert, 32, who has dined at Grain Traders three times, notes that the food offerings taste home-made.
Supply chain consultant Hansini Veeraraghavan, 26, who has visited Indline twice, says: “I like that there isn’t much of a queue to collect the food.”
What: Taking a leaf from economical rice stalls’ book, this 46-seat restaurant allows diners to construct their meals from a choice of more than 30 ingredients. For $16, diners get a bowl with one grain, one hot vegetable, two servings of cold vegetables, one sauce and one topping. Choose from grains such as Japanese rice and quinoa, and pair it with food from an eclectic range of cuisines such as Korean, Italian and Mediterranean. Meats include grilled striploin steak and greens include mixed bean pico de callo and apple kimchi. Garnish the meal with sauces and toppings such as tamarind chipotle vinaigrette.
Where: 01-01/2/3 CapitaGreen, 138 Market Street
Open: 8am to 8pm, weekday, closed on weekend
Info: 6384-6559 or go to grain-traders.com
What: The 50-seat fast food restaurant serves more than 20 popular dishes from cuisines including Singapore, Mexican and Italian, grouped according to five health goals such as muscle-building. Try healthier versions of local dishes such as chicken rice, with steamed chicken breast and basmati brown rice. Meals start from $6.50.
Where: 01-01/2/3/4 Icon Village, 12 Gopeng Street
Open: 8am to 9.30pm, weekday, 8.30am to 9.30pm, Saturday, 11am to 3pm, Sunday
Info: Call 6221-3029 or go to yolofood.com.sg
What: Owner Edward Chia, 27, who is half-Korean, gives his childhood dish of bibimbap (Korean mixed rice dish) a modern update at his 11-month-old shop. Diners can customise their lunchbox with 20 ingredients including sous vide meats, such as beef bulgogi, vegetables such as beansprouts and lotus roots, and rice. Everything is served in a paper container shaped like an ice cream tub. Prices start from $7.90.
Where: 01-02 China Sqaure Central, 18 Cross Street
Open: 11am to 6pm, weekday, closed on weekend
Info: Call 6536-6034 or go to dosirak.com.sg
What: This two-week old salad bar focuses on protein-heavy salads (from $12).Pick from meats such as chicken breast seasoned in Cajun spices, sirloin steak and pan-seared ahi tuna, and pair them with more than 30 ingredients such as brown rice, romaine leaves, sous vide egg, Japanese cucumber and quinoa. The 54-seat eatery also serves paleo-friendly broth simmered with chicken bones, beef bones and vegetables for more than 12 hours (from $4.50 for a 240ml serving).
Where: 01-06, 1 Shenton Way
Open: 9am to 8pm, weekday, 10.30am to 3pm, Saturday, closed on Sunday
Info: Call 6509-4513 or go to facebook.com/snatchsg
What: Diners can pick from more than 15 dishes across four set menus. The most popular set is the Indbox ($14.50). It comprises a main such as lamb vindaloo, butter chicken or palak paneer (spinach cooked with cottage cheese), a daal, salad and naan. The four-month-old restaurant also offers healthier options, such as the Salad Box ($10), which has a main dish and kachumber (Indian salad) and a Kati roll ($8.50), which has a tikka or kebab rolled with salad in an oatmeal wrap.
Where: 28 Keong Saik Road
Open: 11.30am to 10.30pm, Monday to Saturday, closed on Sunday
Info: Call 6221-3280 or go to facebook.com/Indline.Sg
This story was first published in The Straits Times on September 27, 2015. For similar stories go to www.sph.straitstimes.com/lifestyle.