SINGAPORE - At the start of 2016, the F&B scene looked like it was in for an uneventful year. The looming economic recession meant restaurant groups planned to tighten their belts and hold back expansion in preparation for consumers tightening their purse strings.
In hindsight, however, it seems that nothing can stop this food-obsessed nation from chugging ahead. Reservations soared after the first restaurants in Singapore received their Michelin stars, food apps battled it out for diners' short attention spans, while Singaporeans stayed faithful to their love affair with salted egg yolk.
These were just the major milestones too. Others included more chef's tables, an oversupply of bingsu cafes, more options for Mexican cuisine, as well as new dining destinations such as COMO Dempsey and Timbre+, just to name a few.
Despite the economy, audacious young restaurant owners still took the plunge and started new independent cafes and concepts, so hardly a week went by without at least a handful of new openings (and inevitable closures).
The launch of Michelin
Undeniably, one of the biggest events in the F&B calendar for 2016 was the launch of the Michelin Guide here in Singapore, when 37 stars were handed out to 29 establishments. The award ceremony in July also marked the first time in history that a hawker (actually, two) was given a star alongside a number of fine dining restaurants.
Although the announcement of the results was fraught with controversy, having a globally recognised name like Michelin here in Singapore at least puts us on the world dining map.
New life for heritage food
Following on the heels of Michelin, chef-owner Chan Hon Meng of Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle - a one-star recipient - launched the first branch of what he hopes will be a global chain of quick service restaurants representing Singapore cuisine.
Other heritage brands also got a boost this year, like the nostalgia-inducing Russian restaurant Shashlik which reopened in March, and the 65-year-old Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodles which opened its first proper restaurant at the Esplanade.
And though they don't have decades-old recipes to boast of, young chefs like Abbyshayne Lim of modern zi char restaurant Xiao Ya Tou and Lee Eng Su of nasi lemak restaurant The Coconut Club are cooking up a storm with their elevated local dishes.
Rise of the couch potatoes
UberEats, Deliveroo, foodpanda (plus its latest fine dining arm foodpanda finest) - so many ways to stay glued to the couch these days without having to go hungry.
And if you feel like home-cooked food instead, you don't even have to make it yourself. There are also apps like Share Food Singapore, Hcook, and Heartland Chefs where local home cooks will make you a hearty meal and have it delivered right to your doorstep. With so many options for lazy diners, who knows, maybe the unpleasant experience of jostling through a crowded restaurant will soon become a thing of the past. (Yeah, right.)
A Japan obsession
Aside from the growing number of Singaporean tourists spotted on the ski slopes of Niseko in 2016, even more Japanese restaurant clusters opened here. One of the most significant was Japan Food Town at Wisma Atria, which boasts 16 different concepts ranging from ramen to teppanyaki.
Also joining the fray most recently is itadakimasu by PARCO, with seven restaurants at Tanjong Pagar - three of which are new-to-market.
Long live salted egg yolk
They say if you can't beat them, join them. And it looks like you might as well when it comes to the salted egg yolk craze. Even till now, the condiment is still found coating chips, poured over burger patties, in ice cream and pastries, and even mixed into cocktails - its popularity shows no signs of abating. Maybe it never will.
This article was first published on Dec 23, 2016.
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