Year on year, Singapore continues to be a hotbed for new restaurant openings. 2018 has seen some highly anticipated new openings including Marco Pierre White’s The English House in the newly enlivened Mohamed Sultan Road, top Swedish chef Bjorn Frantzen’s Singapore outpost Zen and table65 at Resorts World Sentosa by celebrity chef Richard van Oostenbrugge. Injecting buzz into Singapaore’s dining scene this year are new additions like the Meta Group’s modern South-east Asian restaurant Thevar, Basque Kitchen By Aitor of Iggy’s fame and Masterchef Asia winner Woo Wai Leong’s Restaurant Ibid.
Prominent Restaurant Closures This Year
2018 has seen a spate of high-profile fine-dining restaurant closures including two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Andre in February, three-Michelin-starred French restaurant Joel Robuchon and its sister two-Michelin-starred restaurant, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, in June. Italian restaurants Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza also served their last meals in July after eight years in Marina Bay Sands. Willin Low’s pioneering Mod-Sin restaurant Wild Rocket bowed out of the Singapore restaurant scene in October for new projects in Taipei and Japan, while one-Michelin-starred modern Australian restaurant Whitegrass in CHIJMES has also just shuttered its doors on 22 December after close to three years.
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This year has seen many restaurants jump on the bandwagon of breaking down the walls of the chef’s table experience. For some restaurants, these tables take pride of place — in full view of other diners. This may take the form of counter seating, where diners share a meal with strangers and watch chefs prepare the food in front of them. At newly minted one-Michelin-starred Nouri, the kitchen is designed around the chef’s table so guests feel like they’ve “stumbled upon the living room of a friend who happens to be a chef”. Richard van Oostenbrugge’s table65 will also be centred around an interactive chef’s table with levitating creations and visual effects when it opens on 28 December.
The Private Home Dining Experience
The private home dining trend is on the rise and sees no sign of losing steam. For a fee and usually a minimum number of guests, chefs and avid home cooks will open their homes to strangers for an intimate dinner. Private kitchens like Fatfuku, Tinoq and Ownself Make Chef offer unique experiences that range from an elaborate Peranakan spread to modern European multi-course meals. Some of these social kitchens like Sam Wong’s Cantonese cuisine Lucky House and Gan Ming Kiat’s Japanese-fusion The Mustard Seed Pop-up are so highly sought after, reservations have to be made months in advance.
2018’s Biggest Villain: The Straw
This year, the zero-waste lifestyle movement is one that’s been gaining traction, in a time when pressures of pollution on the environment are coming to a head. While many have taken it upon themselves to reduce waste by taking extreme measures like limiting the trash they produce in a year to a mason jar, or shopping at packaging-free grocery stores like UnPackt, the biggest villain to emerge from it all has been the ubiquitous plastic straw. Straw activists have also taken to appealing directly to the food and beverage industry to eliminate single-use plastics and encourage consumers to carry reusable options like metal, glass and bamboo straws.
The fast food scene in Singapore is heating up. In a prelude to the highly anticipated opening of popular American chains Shake Shack and A&W at Jewel Changi Airport in early 2019, home-grown seafood restaurant chain No Signboard Seafood opened fast-food joint Hawker in November. This year has also seen a slew of international burger joints open in Singapore including German burger bar Hans Im Glück, New York institution Black Tap at Marina Bay Sands and popular Bali export Three Buns by Potato Head Folk.
Restaurant Chefs Hit The Mass-market
This year has seen a bumper crop of restaurant chefs trading in their toques or branching out to open hawker stalls or fast-casual eateries. The latest is chef Dave Pynt of Michelin-starred restaurant Burnt Ends who just opened hawker stall Meatsmith Western BBQ at Makansutra Gluttons Bay at the Esplanade, serving localised Western barbecue from 1 December. Last month, one-Michelin-starred Chef Kang’s also opened a wonton mee stall in a hawker centre in Toa Payoh. Local celebrity chef Justin Quek has also teamed up with popular chain Xin Wang Hong Kong Café to roll out exclusive menu items starting this month.
The Rise Of Multi-concept F&B Stores
Singapore’s multi-concept restaurant scene is in full bloom with unique dining destinations that include retail sections, arts spaces, bars, edible gardens and food laboratories. Exciting new concepts to open this year include all-day-dining café and restaurant, bar and cigar lounge The Spot; Telok Ayer Arts Club, which showcases art and music alongside food and drink offerings, and the high-tech habitat by honestbee which combines multi-sensory grocery shopping, diverse dining concepts. There are also new retail options, such as SoFrance, a gourmet grocer, wine bar and bistro under one roof at DUO Galleria in Bugis, and The Mast’ of Mozzarella & Co, which combines an osteria, retail area and cheese production lab at Frasers Tower.
2018 has been quite the poster child for good gut health with an explosion in interest in fermented foods and beverages from kimchi to kombucha. Fermentation is the process of activating bacteria and cultures to alter the basic properties of a food or beverage to boost its nutritional content with probiotics or prebiotics. Popular fermented food and beverages through the ages include kimchi, tempeh, dosa, miso and sauerkraut, while the likes of kefir and kombucha have exploded into mainstream consciousness this year. Restaurants and bars like Petrina Loh’s Morsels and Operation Dagger have also garnered interest for their in-house fermentation programmes to create flavour-packed pickles and “natural” wines.
The Tongue-Numbing Mala Xiang Guo Craze
Mala xiang guo is popular all over China where customers pick from a selection of fresh vegetables, meat and seafood which are then stir-fried in a fiery concoction of spices and Sichuan peppercorn, and eaten with rice or noodles. Though mala xiang guo is not new to Singapore, it has become more popular in recent years with the trend said to have begun at Ri Ri Hong Mala Xiang Guo at People’s Park Food Centre as early as 2013. However, it is only in 2018 that this tongue-numbing Sichuan dish has finally taken Singapore by storm, becoming as ubiquitous as chicken rice or fishball noodles in foodcourts and hawker centres all across the island, even sparking off mala-inspired dishes in more upmarket restaurants like Sichuan-Western Birds Of A Feather and Halcyon & Crane.