The festive season screams holiday for some, but people in the food and beverage business are hardly taking a break.
Going by the slew of recent restaurant openings and more new eateries slated for next year, it seems restaurant groups and new F&B entrepreneurs are all for seizing opportunities as opposed to taking it slow.
In the first six months of the year, 359 restaurants opened, according to the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority. Restaurants that opened over the last few months include those in new malls such as Star Vista, and in new food enclaves such as Sentosa Cove, as well as new stand-alone eateries such as fine-dining Japanese restaurant Ki-sho, which opened earlier this month in Scotts Road.
And more restaurants are slated to open by the end of the year and in the new year.
Sabio by The Sea is now open at Sentosa Cove
Spanish tapas bar Sabio By The Sea at Sentosa Cove, by the Deliciae Hospitality Management Group, for example, opened earlier in mid-December. The group will also be opening a new eatery at Suntec City Mall in the middle of next year.
Restaurateurs have been undeterred by the not-so-rosy economic outlook and the constant manpower issues that have been plaguing the F&B industry here.
While some of next year’s new eateries include ones by overseas celebrity chefs – Jamie Oliver opens Jamie’s Italian at VivoCity and Mario Batali has plans to open his Italian steakhouse Carnevino – most of the new F&B ideas are home-grown ones.
These include a new bar concept by The Prive Group that will take over the space currently occupied by Hacienda, also in Dempsey Hill. Some of these new restaurants plug gaps in Singapore’s dining scene. This would include new concepts for late- night dining, for those tired of Korean barbecue, prata and the usual supper offerings.
Night birds can tuck into Asian-Mexican fusion tacos from Pistola in Club Street, a hole-in-the-wall eatery by Ms Min Chan of Club Street Social. There is also Fordham & Grand, a dinner-supper and drinks bistro- bar in Craig Road, by Mr Timothy Lim and Mr Tron Young – two new F&B entrepreneurs. The Lo & Behold Group’s bistro-bar concept at art deco building The Quadrant at Cecil, in Cecil Street, is also slated to open next year.
The group, which is also behind watering hole Loof and restaurants such as The White Rabbit, will also be opening a second, more family-oriented offshoot of its year-old pizzeria Extra Virgin Pizza at United Square in February.
Aside from a new concept in place of Hacienda, The Prive Group will also be opening a second Foodbar Dada, a modern tapas bar, at Asia Square Tower 2 in the third quarter of next year.
Other new restaurants for next year include two new eateries by restaurateur- hotelier Loh Lik Peng; and two yet-to-be-finalised concepts and a chocolaterie-bakery by Ms Cynthia Chua, founder of the Spa Esprit Group, which owns Tiong Bahru Bakery and Skinny Pizza.
These F&B players say that staffing is proving to be a challenge, given the tight labour market and stricter foreign worker guidelines. Lo & Behold’s co-founder, Mr Wee Teng Wen, 32, says: “We are trying our best. We are working hard to promote internally, retain our key talent and constantly recruiting.”
While restaurant groups, such as Lo & Behold, can start absorbing more staff into existing outlets ahead of new openings, new players do not have the same luxury.
Yet, those that SundayLife! spoke to still seem optimistic and are currently in the midst of recruiting staff.
But in a sea of new eateries amid an ever-increasingly vibrant dining scene, how do these F&B players think they will fare? As far as their concepts go, they feel that they are creating niches and filling gaps in the market.
Sometimes, they say, opening a new eatery is about following their hearts.
Mr Loh says: “Opportunities come and you just do them – they somehow land on your plate. Then, they kind of take on a life of their own. They just happen.”
Good junk food on Club Street
Who: Min Chan, 29, co-owner of Club Street Social
What: Pistola, an Asian-Mexican fusion taco joint
When: End of January
Where: 93 Club Street
Just 11 months after opening bistro- bar Club Street Social in Gemmill Lane, Ms Min Chan is opening another eatery.
Pistola (Spanish for pistol), just a stone’s throw away in Club Street, will be a “hole-in-the-wall” Asian-Mexican joint which will offer tacos, burritos and quesadillas with an Asian twist.
It opens next month and will be co-owned by Ms Chan and the silent partners behind her first outlet.
The concept mirrors a food trend in the United States, made popular by Kogi in Los Angeles, which sold Korean-Mexican tacos from a fleet of food trucks.
Ms Chan’s new 400 sq ft space takes over a vintage clothing store near the junction of Club Street and Ann Siang Road. The joint will be “a fun, edgy and ghetto” buy-at-the-counter takeout joint with about 12 seats, she says. There will be five to six meat fillings and various slaws, types of mayonnaise and sour cream.
Expect fillings such as a Thai-style fish marinated with ingredients such as kaffir lime and lemongrass, as well as bulgogi beef with a kimchi slaw.
She says that while the Club Street area is saturated with watering holes, many do not serve substantial eats after the kitchens close at 10pm. She hopes to fill this niche with “good junk food”.
Prices have not been firmed up yet, but expect to pay about $15 for a sizeable burrito and $12 to $14 for two tacos.
1920s decadence with comfort food
Who: Wee Teng Wen and Daniel He, both 32, founders of The Lo & Behold Group
When: March or April 2013
What: A yet-to-be named 1920s-style grand bistro offering sophisticated comfort food
Where: The Quadrant at Cecil, 19 Cecil Street
The Lo & Behold Group, whose first venture was Odeon Tower’s roof-top bar Loof in 2005, have a knack for creating great concepts that resonate with diners and drinkers here.
They are also behind OverEasy at One Fullerton, Tanjong Beach Club on Sentosa and restaurants such as The White Rabbit in Harding Road.
These savvy entrepreneurs will be opening a brand-new bistro-bar at The Quadrant at Cecil in the CBD early next year. It is inspired by the roaring 1920s, an era marked by fun, decadence and beauty, in line with the grandeur of the building, they say.
The group will be taking up more than 3,000 sq ft at the art deco building located at the corner of Collyer Quay, and Church and Cecil Streets.
The fan-shaped space with high ceilings will be designed by integrated design firm Takenouchi Webb.
What the restaurant will serve has not been determined, but the food is likely to centre on comforting bistro classics. A raw bar with a selection of seafood such as fresh oysters will feature alongside steaks, charcuterie, artisanal cheeses and other small plates.
Mr He says: “We envision the elegance of the space to complement the sophisticated food offering with a good dose of unexpected fun across lunch, after-work drinks, dinner and supper.”
The group was approached several months ago by The Quadrant’s master tenant to take up the unique space which had been previously occupied by a kindergarten.
Mr Wee adds: “It is always a combination of falling in love with a great space first, then thinking about a concept and an approach that will best suit the location, and teaming up with the right people to bring it to life.”
Two ventures in one year
Who: Loh Lik Peng, 40, hotelier and restaurateur. He will be opening two restaurants – one with chef Andre Chiang, 36, of Restaurant Andre, and the other with chef Colin West, who was part of Loh’s now-defunct Sentosa restaurant Braise
What: A yet-to-be-named modern yakitori bar and The Market Grill
When: Both are slated to open in the first quarter of 2013
Where: 20 Teck Lim Road and 208 Telok Ayer Street
The restaurants, which will each take up about 1,400 sq ft each, will both be located on the ground floor of shophouse units. Each is likely to cost $300,000 to $400,000 to set up.
A partnership between Mr Loh and chef Chiang, the modern yakitori eatery will serve grilled items on skewers. It will be located along Teck Lim Road in the unit next to Mr Loh’s first boutique hotel, 1929.
The 25-seat restaurant will be the duo’s second one together. They opened Restaurant Andre two years ago at the space previously occupied by Majestic Bar, next to the New Majestic Hotel, which Mr Loh also owns. Mr Loh says: “We just wanted to do something fun and casual, and really tasty. We simply love yakitori and want to do our take on it.”
The average bill is likely to be about $40 a head, as the eatery is not meant to be a place for a full meal. Chef Chiang is famed for his haute cuisine and will not be behind the food here.
They have identified a Japanese chef and an Australian one for the project, but nothing is firm yet.
Mr Loh’s second venture next year will be The Market Grill, a 40-seat restaurant in Telok Ayer Street. It is a collaboration between himself and chef West, one of his former chefs at the now-defunct European-style restaurant Braise, which Mr Loh had co-owned.
The casual, eclectic restaurant will evoke the vibe of a retro 1920s butchery with a meat chart on the wall, and will focus on grilled and barbecued items.
Think live lobsters and various meats grilled over wood and charcoal, on a speciality Wood Stone charbroiler from the United States.
Aside from a live lobster tank, the interior will also have bar stools and booth seats. Expect to spend about $80 a head here.
Duo quit jobs to open dream bistro
Who: Timothy Lim and Tron Young, both 30
What: Fordham & Grand, a dinner, supper, wine and cocktail bistro-bar
When: End of January 2013, 6pm to 3am, daily
Where: 43 Craig Road
Singaporean Timothy Lim and Australian Tron Young, who is of Scottish-Thai parentage, first met in 2007 when they were working at Tetsuya’s in Sydney, one of Australia’s top restaurants and run by chef-owner Tetsuya Wakuda.
They then moved to Singapore in early 2010 to be part of the opening team for Waku Ghin at Marina Bay Sands, Wakuda’s Singapore restaurant.
Both in the service line, they left Waku Ghin at the end of that year to pursue other jobs – Mr Lim went to Restaurant Andre in Bukit Pasoh while Mr Young became the bar manager at whisky bar Fine Spirits in Robertson Quay.
Now, they have quit their jobs again but this time, it is to fulfil a life-long dream of opening something of their own. They have teamed up with two
silent partners in the shipping and engineering sectors, and expect to spend about $500,000 on Fordham & Grand, which is slated to open next month.
The bistro-bar will hark back to America’s Prohibition Era speakeasies, and the interior will be fitted out with wood, metal, leather and raw concrete.
Malaysian-born chef Fong Kean Hun, 29, who used to be a chef de partie at Joel Robuchon Restaurant at Resorts World Sentosa, is in the kitchen. His credentials also include working at the late Santi Santamaria’s restaurant Ossiano in Dubai.
The 40- to 50-seater bistro will offer dinner and supper that will include quick bites as well as substantial meals. Diners can order sharing plates of meatballs and chicken wings (about $8 a serving), and heartier fare such as steak and mashed potatoes, and an easy bowl of pasta (about $15 to $18 a serving).
They say they wanted a space where their friends in the F&B trade could gather after dinner service for a good meal and proper drinks of wine and cocktails.
The idea, they add, is to steer clear of their fine-dining backgrounds but offer good service and well-executed food without the stiffness and exorbitant price tag of an upscale restaurant.
This article was first run in The Straits Times newspaper on December 16, 2012. For similar stories, go to sph.straitstimes.com/premium/singapore. You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.