Feasting in the City

The competition is heating up among the food and beverage players that have set up shop in malls around the City Hall area.

A slew of new-to-market brands have opened in the past three months at Capitol Theatre, while Suntec City's refurbishment sees new players entering the scene. New restaurants are still opening at Chijmes, even though its overhaul was completed last year.

Business owners and property experts say the City Hall area not only has a good catchment of tourists staying in the hotels there, but also caters to a strong weekday working crowd and families on weekends.

However, it has been cut-throat competition for eateries there.

Part of Marina Square's revamp was the $15-million food wing, The Dining Edition, which focused restaurants in one area of the mall.

Two years on, Lady M cafe, a New York import that specialises in mille crepes, and Japanese-Italian restaurant Nuvo, both under Caerus Holding Group, have closed. Lady M has outlets at Orchard Central and One Fullerton.

At Suntec City, casualties of its earlier revamp include contemporary Chinese restaurant Le by Paradise Group and Akashi Group's Oushin Japanese Steakhouse.

The mall is still amping up its F&B offerings. Farmers' market PasarBella opens in September and there are new restaurants at its Sky Garden.

PasarBella director Clovis Lim, 26, says: "We chose to open at Suntec City because it's not easy to find a space on the ground floor with a road frontage and high ceilings. Suntec City has a good mix of the office crowd on weekdays and families on weekends. Our prices will also not conflict with the more upmarket brands in the mall."

It is business as usual at the flagship PasarBella at The Grandstand, and he adds that the 30,000 sq ft market is adding an extra 13,000 sq ft of space in the coming months.

Even underground mall CityLink, which connects Suntec City to the other malls, has not been spared.

Sandwich shop Quiznos and ice- cream parlour Cold Stone Creamery closed in December, while coffee joint Dr Cafe Coffee's last day is Wednesday.

But foodies can look forward to the opening of popular dim sum chain Tim Ho Wan and The Rotisserie Express there.

Food companies which have outlets in more than one mall say it is important to understand the different customer profiles.

Ms Joyce Koh, BreadTalk Group's senior vice-president of brand development, says: "For example, at CityLink, where the traffic is transient and fast-moving, our BreadTalk store appeals very much to commuters on the go, who look for fuss-free takeaway options.

"At Capitol Piazza, the audience is discerning and in search of new experiences. Our new brands, Palette and 1933, are designed to give this target audience dining experiences that they would not find elsewhere."

Palette Restaurant & Bar houses food operators from Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore, while 1933 cafe serves dishes from South- east Asian countries.

Mr Eugene Lim, key executive officer for real estate agency ERA Realty Network, says older malls such as Marina Square, Raffles City and Suntec City require sprucing up occasionally.

He says: "In an effort to reposition itself, Marina Square has become a more F&B-centric mall. The F&B shops are clustered to make it convenient for shoppers looking for a place to eat."

He adds that prime rental rates in the City Hall area are lower than those in Orchard Road and comparable with those in suburban malls, making the area relatively attractive to business owners.

With the rise of the area as a dining destination, Mr Desmond Sim, head of research for Singapore and South-east Asia at property services firm CBRE, says that restaurants in Orchard Road would also be affected by the competition.

He says: "Restaurants in the Orchard Road belt are under more pressure because they face higher rental, but people are diverted to areas such as City Hall and suburban malls.

"You need a captive crowd and that is what the City Hall area has - tourists and the working crowd. More landlords are using F&B to attract crowds because people are meeting to eat."

Senior retail adviser Melanie Lim, 42, who likes to shop and dine in the City Hall area, says: "I prefer coming here because I find it is less crowded than Orchard Road, and the malls are all connected underground.

"I like that there are many new places to dine at in Capitol. Maybe now that there are so many dining options, the malls will also spruce up their retail offerings."


After its $45-million overhaul last year, the refurbished Chijmes is continuing to welcome new restaurants.

By the end of September, Bebek Tepi Sawah will open its first restaurant outside Ubud, Bali. It is famous for its crispy duck, among other chicken and seafood dishes.

Adding to the mix of bars in Chijmes is whisky retail store The Single Cask, which will include a space for whisky tasting. It will also open by end-September.

Recent openings include Japanese sushi restaurant Ashino, the eponymous restaurant of chef Taku Ashino, formerly from Hide Yamamoto at Marina Bay Sands. Prices start at $120 for lunch and $220 for dinner.

Earlier this month, 41-seat home-grown restaurant Coriander Leaf relocated to Chijmes. It has a private dining room and two cooking studios. Its menu is classified into five flavour categories - Fresh, Familiar, Spicy, Umami and Sweet.

(Photo: Coriander Leaf)

Dishes under Fresh include steamed Venus clams in a tamarind, coconut water and calamansi broth ($12), while those under Familiar include charcoal grilled baby lamb chops, harrisa, yogurt, dried chilli paste and pickled onions ($28).

The Sweet category includes avocado ice cream with banana fritters and gula melaka sago ($14).

Other restaurants here include Prive restaurant-bar, Chinese restaurant Lei Garden, Japanese restaurant Shirokiya, which specialises in collagen hotpot, and Mexican restaurant El Mero Mero.

Chijmes is managed by Perennial (Singapore) Retail Management, a subsidiary of property manager Perennial Real Estate Holdings.

Ms Alison Foo, 45, an auditor, says: "Chijmes has a lot of Japanese restaurants, so I come here if I'm craving Ikkousha ramen or grilled beef at Gyu-Kaku. My colleagues and I also like to come here for after-work drinks."


PasarBella is set to open a second branch (left) at Suntec City housing 15 food stalls. (Photo: ST)

Come September, farmer's market PasarBella at The Grandstand will open a second branch at Suntec City.

The 8,000 sq ft space at the mall's North Wing will house 15 food stalls, including a retail shop that will sell produce from the flagship 30,000 sq ft Grandstand outlet.

Highlights include sandwich shop Porsena by Lolla's head chef Kyle Henderson; Wildbird, a quick- service yakitori stall with skewered items (meats and seafood) served on rice or salad; and two stalls by Mr Ben Lee of Sarnies sandwich shop in Telok Ayer - one selling coffee and the other a salad bar called Pimp My Salad.

Pop-up sliders stall South East Sliders by chef Damian D'Silva of Immigrants Gastrobar in Joo Chiat will also find a permanent home at PasarBella. Offerings include beef rendang in puff pastry, among other local twists on a slider. The stall is currently at Ion Orchard's basement three until tomorrow.

Other stalls include Stone And Dough, specialising in a "pizza burger" that is like a calzone with a burger patty inside; juice shop Squeezed; and an Israeli shop selling kebabs and pita bread.

The vibe of PasarBella will be tweaked to suit the streetscape, says its director Clovis Lim, 26. Instead of a market scene, it will look like a streetscape with cobblestone paths and a New York-style fire escape.

Two floors above PasarBella is the mall's Sky Garden, which houses more restaurants. The first few to open is Boat Quay stalwart Dallas Restaurant & Bar's second outlet and multi-concept Japanese restaurant Eat At Seven, which features seven food and beverage brands.

The 600-seat Eat At Seven is run by Global Retail Partners, which comprises the Komars Group, which operates the Ramen Champion chain; and ANA Trading, the trading arm of Japanese airline All Nippon Airways. Eat At Seven's founder is Mr Andrew Tan, 54, owner of Tomo F&B, which runs Tomo Izakaya.

So far, Enbu, a warayaki and charcoal grill izakaya, has opened. Warayaki is a traditional cooking method with roots in Kochi prefecture on Shikoku island. Food is grilled over straw on a charcoal grill, infusing the ingredients with a smoky aroma.

Three more restaurants, MaguroDonya-Miura-Kuo, NikuNoHi and Nigiro Cafe, will open on Wednesday, while the last three brands will open in the last quarter of the year.

Upcoming openings at the Sky Garden include eatery Terra; restaurants Saint Ma and Arn Nan by contemporary lifestyle group IndoChine; and Ethanol Bar & Dining, a few doors from PasarBella.

Tuk Tuk Cha's golden toast. (Photo: Tuk Tuk Cha)

Recent openings include juice store The Shop by Hic; Thai cafe Tuk Tuk Cha and Japanese restaurants Kuishin Bo and Sumiya.

Sumiya restaurant's Tropical Dessert. (Photo: RE&S)

Suntec City and its convention centre, which have undergone revamps since 2012, is owned by Suntec Reit.

Financial analyst Jacob Koh, 39, says: "Now that most of the mall's revamp is complete, we're even more spoilt for choice. It was quite messy during the renovations and I'm glad that's over. I usually frequent the restaurants around the Fountain of Wealth, but now there are so many more to check out."


The historic Capitol Theatre site is shaping up to be quite a foodie draw.

Over the past three months, the hoardings have come down and many highly anticipated new-to-market brands have opened their doors.

They include famed Parisian tearoom Angelina, roast duck specialist Four Seasons from Bayswater, London and Dazzling Cafe from Taiwan. Local restaurateurs have also come up with new concepts befitting the swanky location.

Parisian tearoom Angelina at Capitol Piazza.(Photo: ST)

The owners of Supply & Demand restaurant chain have set up the 100-seat modern Italian restaurant Equilibrium, while BreadTalk Group's 12,000 sq ft Palette Restaurant & Bar houses 10 stalls under one roof.

Palette features Johor Baru noodle eatery Ah Koong Restaurant, home-grown chicken wing specialist Huat Huat BBQ and 90 Gastro Bar, among others.

Snack on Huat Huat BBQ's chicken wings at Palette Restaurant & Bar. (Photo: BreadTalk Group)

The group also owns 1933, a cafe which serves local dishes such as Hainanese chicken rice and pork chop. The name pays homage to the year Capitol Theatre was completed.

Earlier this month, Oriole Coffee + Bar also set up shop there, with a Grab & Go counter. Dishes available exclusively at the Capitol outlet include warm spinach salad ($18), Portobello confit sandwich ($17) and Oriole's Angel Cake ($14). Also available is the signature cold-brew coffee (from $6).

Have a Chocolate Coconut Affogato at Oriole Coffee + Bar. (Photo: Oriole Coffee + Bar)

Opening this month is 3,200 sq ft modern sake bar and restaurant Zaku, headed by American chef Dan Segall. Menu items include salads, meat skewers and hotpot rice.

Next month, the mall welcomes new-to-market omakase restaurant Ryu, which will offer special sake-pairing menus.

The 542,000 sq ft space in North Bridge Road comprises three conservation buildings - Capitol Theatre, Capitol Building and Stamford House.

A new building, the four-storey retail mall called Capitol Piazza, is part of the complex and connected to City Hall MRT station.

The integrated development, built by Capitol Investment Holdings, a consortium backed by Pontiac Land Group and Perennial Real Estate Holdings, includes residential development Eden Residences Capitol and luxury hotel The Patina Capitol.

Ms Sharon Lee, 33, an advertising executive who works in the City Hall area, is glad to have another place to head to for lunch with her colleagues.

"So far, I've dined at Four Seasons, Dazzling Cafe and Oriole. I like the ambience of the restaurants and cafes. Many of them are also suitable for having lunch meetings with clients."

This article was first published on July 19, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.