Michelin stars, salted egg yolk, Japanese restaurants and hawker fare dominated the food scene in 2016. Rachel Loi asks industry players what we're going to eat next.
Superfoods, says Anthony Yeoh, head chef of the rustic French restaurant Cocotte. "The demand for healthy and nutritious whole foods will continue as Singaporeans become more interested in sustainability and knowing where their food comes from."
2017, Chef Yeoh predicts, will also "be the year where our local chefs really shine." By the same token, local food will enjoy a bigger platform. One example is Wah Kee Prawn Noodles at the Esplanade, run by Andrew Tan of AT+Co, who partnered the original owners to scale up the business. He feels that other local hawkers may find similar opportunities.
In addition, one of the surprise successes in 2016 was the way humble nasi lemak was turned into an art form at new eatery The Coconut Club. It's a movement that restaurateur Loh Lik Peng welcomes. "I hope to see more elevated local concepts in the coming year. Maybe I need to do one myself. More Coconut Clubs and Candlenuts for 2017, please!"
Expensive restaurant menus for one, as the continued gloomy economic outlook crimps spending habits. AT+Co's Mr Tan feels that "more restaurants will come in from say, Japan or Europe, but not high-end ones. Even if they are Michelin-starred, they will be priced more affordably. Lower-end concepts averaging S$20-30 per head will do better."
SPRMRKT's founder Quek Sue-Shan suggests that fine-dining restaurants may not close but "change their menus to lower the price point." The ubiquitous salad bar, though, may be on its way out. "They'll be overtaken by more interesting types of food by places like the Daily Cut."
Cynthia Chua, CEO of the Spa Esprit Group, agrees. Dining won't go out of fashion, but poor quality food will. "Consumers are discerning. So while I don't think burgers are going to die, bad burgers will. Singaporeans are curious about new things so if you do something well, they are very welcoming."
Plenty, going by what local chefs are up to in 2017. Chef Yeoh, for one, will leave Cocotte on Jan 16, and is in talks about doing consultancy work. "The number of openings and closures we're seeing reflects the need to maintain the quality of our industry as a whole," he says. "That's something I want to be a part of. But nothing is set yet," he says.
One of his peers, chef-owner Petrina Loh of Morsels, is looking forward to her restaurant's move to Dempsey in January after four years in Little India. "It will be a more intimate space for 30 guests. There will be a Chef's Table - four seats in the kitchen bar slated to launch in March with full wine and sake pairing. We will also be offering a rotating Noodle Bar set lunch, and a brand new weekend brunch menu."
In turn, Han Li Guang of Restaurant Labyrinth plans to do more R&D as he moves away from his trademark quirky, innovative cuisine towards an emphasis on flavour combinations and quality of produce. Even his signature chilli crab ice cream might eventually disappear from his menu.
In addition, Chef Han also reveals plans to open a new concept some time in 2017 - likely a casual bistro totally different from Labyrinth.
Ricky Ng of Blue Lotus Chinese Eating House at Sentosa plans to come back to the mainland with a new outlet. Blue Lotus - Chinese House + Wine Bar, will open at Tanjong Pagar Centre in April, offering what he calls New Age Chinese Cuisine. "We want to be more 'transparent', to let the diners know where their food comes from, and how . People want to know how food arrives on their plate, instead of just seeing the finished product," he says.
It's the same belief that drives Spa Esprit's Ms Chua, who intends to continue her agricultural streak. "Agriculture is a long walk for me, as there's a lot to learn. It's interesting for us because we have vertical integration. We have restaurants to play around with this so it's easier for me to execute my plans." Ms Chua adds that the group's plans include looking for European farmers to invest in or connect with for an exchange of knowledge, and a search for farm land not just in Singapore but also in Indonesia and Malaysia.
Restaurants-wise, Ms Chua reveals that the group is looking at a couple of locations at the moment. One upcoming outlet will be an expansion of Tiong Bahru Bakery, except with a new spin. Another outlet will be a new concept focusing on agriculture and produce.
Kith, the homegrown cafe chain, also has plans to expand next year. In 2016, they opened four new outlets and intend to open one more in Singapore next year as well as a few more overseas. Its CEO Jane Hia says, "We hope to be another Singaporean brand that our nation can be proud of."
Even newer entrants to the market like Tsuta Ramen, run by local company Hersing Culinary, are expanding. VP Brian Chua says, "We have a few site offers from landlords which we are considering. We plan to open at least one more Tsuta outlet in 2017 as well as an overseas outlet in the same year."
Like 2016, more foreign brands will continue to enter Singapore. AT+Co's Mr Tan - who also runs Eat At 7, plans to bring in more "casual dining cafes". He says: "These smaller concepts will take up a smaller space, averaging around 1,200-1,500 sq ft per restaurant. That will help cut the amount of manpower needed."
With all these plans in the works, it looks like 2017 will be an exciting year ahead.
- additional reporting by Avanti Nim
This article was first published on Dec 31, 2016.
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