Grow Your Own
Already standard practice among top chefs in France and the United States, the farm-to-table movement is rapidly taking root across Singapore. Local restaurants Artichoke and Morsels have been flying the flag in partnership with urban farmer Bjorn Low's consultancy, Edible Gardens, but the roster of locavore advocates expanded this year to include cocktail bars such as 28 Hong Kong Street, The Green Door and Maison Ikkoku, which have all sprouted petite herb gardens in their backyards and rooftops. Ann Siang Hill watering hole Oxwell and Co has talked of further plans to start farming bees for honey on its terrace, and even top brands such as the W Hotel and the Swissotel have carved out plots for edible gardens on their premises. Top chef Andre Chiang, too, started his own 1.5ha farm in his native Taiwan this year, which has just started to yield bounty such as carrots, leeks and baby corn for use at Restaurant Andre.
You can't be taken seriously as a foodie unless you've had to bite the bullet and rough it out in line outside an overseas food franchise this year. French macaron specialist Laduree, Michelin-starred Hong Kong dim sum chain Tim Ho Wan, American donut brand Krispy Kreme and British television chef Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Italian all sparked off snaking long queues when they unveiled their first Singapore outposts earlier this year, with some relentless fans even staking out overnight for first-bite bragging rights.
Not quite a franchise but an undeniable product of successful branding, British chef Gordon Ramsay, too, spurred some ardent overnight campers when he came to town in July to challenge our local hawker heroes to a cooking showdown. Funny though, that while Singaporeans think nothing of enduring long hours for food, we'll sooner throw a tantrum if we have to queue for more than 10 minutes for a taxi.
With rents on the up and up in Singapore, it increasingly makes sense for F&B businesses to cosy up in the same space, nevermind if their concepts are as different as chalk and cheese. Traditional bao shop Choon Ming Bao Dian and artisan bakery, The Bread Table, sit happily side-by-side in an Upper Thomson Road shophouse unit; five-month-old Take 2 Cafe in Novena is a hair salon and a cheap-and-cheery eatery conjoined by a sliding glass door; and a tiny corridor at the back of traditional Chinese medicine bakery, Dough and Grains, leads to the Backdoor Bar, a two-table drinking joint that regularly screens football matches.
Others such as Two Face Pizza and Alibabar split the space by day and night use, and morph from grubby dayime kopi tiams to craft beer bars after-hours. The latest to join this wave is F&B stalwart Loh Lik Peng, whose Bincho at Hua Bee is a mee pok stall by day and industrial chic Japanese yakitori bar by night that has created a buzz among Tiong Bahru's retiree residents and fashionable tipplers alike.
Blink and you'll miss it
A restaurant with an unfashionable postal code or with no street-facing access used to be a sure-fire recipe for failure, but basement venues and offbeat locations are now standard modus operandi. Basement nightclub Kyo packs them in weekly while The Black Swan's best-kept secret is its private room squirrelled in the former basement vault of the space's early bank tenants.
Bellwethers in sin-riddled Desker Road is an unexpectedly mod operation, and bike shop-cum-vintage furniture store-cum-cafe Wheeler's Yard is a hipster-magnet despite (or perhaps as a result of) being plugged in a warehouse that looks perpetually shut in industrial Balestier. Rooftop bar Mad Men and local musicians Jack and Rai's first F&B venture, The Flying Squirrel, both have their entrances on blink-and-you'll-miss-it side alleys in the CBD and the latter's new outlet, Workshop, is tucked away in a nondescript Bukit Merah HDB block. Like seeking an oasis in the middle of the desert, perhaps the idea is that drinks taste better when you've had to work to find them.
Pop-ups going permanent
Another pop-up restaurant? Been there, done that. 2013 belongs to the pop-ups who dared to venture forth with a brick-and-mortar space to call their own. Fat Duck chef-backed restaurant-lounge Bacchanalia was launched to immediate aplomb in April after the concept had been test-driven as a series of lavish pop-up Saturday brunches for a year, and The Naked Finn finally secured its permanent berth in Gillman Barracks after a long hiatus from its three-month pop-up within now-defunct boutique, A Curious TeePee. Similarly, Keong Saik Road eatery Burnt Ends is a manifestation of pop-up barbecue restaurant Burnt Enz that Australia head chef David Pynt ran in London last summer, while 8-month-old cooking studio My Private Pantry doubles as a homebase for Crystal Chua and Stephan Zoisl's two-year-old private cheffing outfit, My Private Chef. Now a popular Ann Siang Hill fixture, small plates restaurant Lolla, too, was initially gestated as underground supperclub, Lolla's Secret Suppers.
With 10 new hawker centres on the blueprint, and a whole generation of hawkers soon headed for retirement, the issue of continuity for the hawker trade has come under the direct spotlight this year - so much so that a global conference, The World Street Food Congress, was even inaugurated around the theme of preservation and professionalisation in June. A new breed of "hawkerpreneurs" behind new modern food stalls such as Nicher and A Noodle Story and the success stories of earlier ventures such as Saveur and Le Cuisson make the idea of running a start-up in a sweaty environment seem sexy again, but the push for renewal recently took a step back with the October closure of Kampung@Simpang Bedok, Singapore's first hawker centre run as a social enterprise.
Off the radar
Signboards: so last season. Everyone likes to feel like only they have privileged insider's access to the latest hotspots, and speakeasies Jekyll and Hye, The Powder Room, Cache, the Spiffy Dapper and House of Dandy are the latest to get onto the burgeoning bandwagon of covert drinking destinations. But that privilege comes at a price, that is, the inconvenience of having to constantly get up mid-cocktail to flag misguided friends in the right direction.
First came Da Paolo Gastronomia's cronut, a local rendition of the croissant-donut that New York patissier Dominique Ansel created to a rabid following in the US; then came Shangri-La Hotel's croffle, or croissant-meets-waffle; and now we have food truck The Travelling Cow's ramen burger. What will they think of next?