The red-hot restaurant scene in Singapore is luring F&B heavyweights from Jakarta, Bangkok and London to launch local offshoots. Debbie Yong gets a preview of what's stirring.
One Big House Party
Potato Head Folk
31 Keong Saik Road
If you don't have time to slip away to Bali's fashionable beaches, here's a little time-saving tip: Bali's most fashionable beach club brand will soon come to you.
Debuting next month - in the heart of Singapore's increasingly fashionable Keong Saik neighbourhood, no less - is Potato Head Folk, the first international outpost for the Potato Head Group (PTT).
Started as a bistro and bar in the Indonesian capital in 2009, the Jakarta-based group is best known for its Potato Head Beach Club on Bali's Seminyak beach, an architecturally stunning venue with a perpetual weekend vibe, beach-appropriate tipple, and a solid food menu.
"Opening in Singapore has been on the top of our list for a long time," says PTT's cocktail and concept consultant, Dre Masso. "As our first international venue, we wanted to do it in an important place. People outside the region may not have heard of Potato Head so Singapore, as a globally recognised culinary destination with phenomenal bars and hotels, will provide a great platform for us."
PTT's Indonesian founders Ronald Akili and Jason Gunawan were so taken by Keong Saik's village feel when they visited last year, he says, that a deal was swiftly inked between them and a few local investors. Potato Head Folk takes over the iconic four-storey art deco building previously occupied by popular coffeeshop, Tong Ah Eating House, which moved to a new unit down the road last July.
Besides its eponymous brands, the group also runs tapas bar Lilin and French restaurant Tapping Shoes on its Bali premises. It additionally launched casual burger joint The Three Buns in Jakarta last month - a concept they will be transplating here. The latter takes its name from the three options you have for burger buns - the classic white bun, a demi-brioche and a wholemeal bun - and will occupy the first two floors.
In keeping with the joint's "slow fast food" ethos, ingredients will be sourced locally and everything "from the patties to the ketchup and pickles," will be made in-house as far as possible, says group consulting chef Adam Penney. And it's not just marketing spiel: you can peer in to check on the open kitchen on the ground floor from its counter-side stools or the outdoor high tables that seat 35. One level up, a slightly more spiffed up space called the Three Buns Restaurant will offer the same burger menu, but with table service in a whimsical Alice In Wonderland-esque space for 40, including a large communal table for 14.
Like its bold, quirky interiors put together by Australian artist David Bromley, expect each burger at The Three Buns to have distinctive personalities - along with cheeky names such as the Burning Man chilli cheese burger with a spicy Korean gochujang and jalapeno dressing; the Rambo, or Middle Eastern-inspired lamb burger packed with aubergine and feta cheese; the vegetarian The Roots burger with butternut squash, roasted beetroot and courgette fritters; and the double cheese and double onion-stacked the Four Floors, a homage to our own Orchard Towers. Pair them off with sides such as the "LL Coolslaw" coleslaw or "naughty fries" accompanied by a gochujang-bearnaise dip and topped with beef chilli.
For dessert, spoon into ceramic ramekin-encased puddings supplied by Mr Penney's UK-based dessert company, Pots & Co, alongside homemade cookies in flavours like classic chocolate chip or white chocolate and raspberry, to luxe combos such as truffle walnut, chocolate and porcini, brie and bakkwa, and stilton with rum and raisin. True to their namesake commitment to building a community of like-minded folk, the dining room will double as an art space for performances and exhibitions to showcase creative talents from Singapore and beyond.
On the third floor sits drinks-centric lounge Studio 1939 - a nod to the building's founding year. Chinese antique furniture contrasts against Bromley's modern art sculptures and a luxurious marble bar - all styled to make one feel like you were dining in the study of a friend's home.
The winelist, aptly, is padded with carefully curated picks of special vintages, limited collections and private reserves, along with a mix of classic and creative cocktails crafted by Mr Masso and his team. The bar bites menu takes inspiration from "food around the world that we love", he adds, such as a platter of Iberico ham and award-winning British cheeses, or a plate of grass-fed venison carpaccio with Muscat raisins. Or, head for premium picks such as truffle fries with fresh truffles shaven over them, smoked chips with foie gras dip, and the burger to trump them all: topped with caviar, sea urchin mayonnaise, oyster leaf and wasabi. Though you have to push past a heavy closed door to enter the reservations-only space, "we're not a members bar, but a space for people who truly care about quality," Mr Masso clarifies.
Capping them off is the The Rooftop, a lush tropical garden - the only open-air rooftop to overlook the street - inspired by the Tiki culture of the 1930s. Expect slushie-style blended drinks, bottled cocktails made with fresh juices daily, and "jerk cocktails", or carbonated libations created by mixing alcohol and sodas, that you knock back from coconut and bamboo cups made by Balinese craftsmen. Besides the staple menu of barbecued and smoked meats, the rooftop space will periodically host exclusive 'Folk Gatherings', or regular dinners under the stars that will feature local and global guest chefs along with unusual performances.
Music programming will be a pivotal part of Potato Head Folk, says Mr Masso, and its playlist will revolve around a mix of soul, funk and hip hop beats on the first two floors, and folk and blues on the third and top floors. "The idea is that it would be like a giant house party - you're even welcome to hang out along the stairs," he adds.
Besides the Singapore expansion, the group is also planning to launch a new concept in Jakarta later this year and a 60-room boutique hotel right next to its Bali beach club in partnership with Sydney's Movida restaurant next year. Another beach club on Bali's Canggu Beach and a second Seminyak hotel designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas will follow in 2016.
Spicing up the club scene
Nutmeg & Clove
17 Ann Siang Road 6pm till late, Tue-Sat email@example.com
They've bagged global awards for their theatrical libations, elaborate garnishes and luxe interiors steeped in old-world glamour. Now, the personalities behind legendary London cocktail bar Nightjar want to shake things up, Singapore-style.
Soon to join the line-up of craft cocktail bars such as Manor, Oxwell & Co and Ding Dong on Ann Siang Road is Nutmeg & Clove, a collaborative venture between several silent partners in the alcohol trade and Nightjar's head barman Marian Beke. The 31-year-old Slovak has helmed the speakeasy in London's uber-hip Hoxton neighbourhood since its 2011 founding. He says of the impetus to start the Singapore venue: "We realised that there were many world-class bars in Singapore, but not many celebrating its traditions and rich, colourful culture. When a unit opened up at Ann Siang Hill, we jumped at the chance as the Chinatown area offers great stories about the roots and journey of Singapore."
The bar's name, for instance, is an open tribute to Ann Siang Hill, which was previously home to Singapore's oldest nutmeg and clove plantations. Fittingly, the bar will also feature a range of herbs, spices and fruit that reflect the diversity of the local palate. Like at Nightjar, where the drinks menu is sectioned by historical eras such pre-Prohibition, Prohibition and Post-war, including a premium category of vintage spirits dating back to the early 1900s, drinks at Nutmeg & Clove draw inspiration from different periods of time that most significantly shaped cocktail culture. Signature pours are still being measured out, but cocktails will range from $16 to $20.