SINGAPORE - With the novel coronavirus keeping people off the streets, love is not exactly in the air ahead of Valentine's Day next week.
But staying in on this special day does not have to be a drab occasion. There are still ways to celebrate without leaving your home. And with online shopping, you can have practically any gift imaginable shipped right to your doorstep.
Here are some novel (pun intended) ideas to make V-Day 2020 a memorable one - for all the right reasons.
FRILLS-FREE PRIVATE DINING
Meat lovers, fancy a roaring barbecue in the background of your romantic meal for two, in your own home? Chef Sam Chablani can deliver the magic right to your doorstep.
The 35-year-old chef, formerly of Asian barbecue restaurant Fat Lulu's, stumbled into the world of private dining by accident. After closing his restaurant in 2018, he got requests from people who missed his food to cook for them and their friends.
Working for professional caterers on the side, he started doing one party a month from August 2019, before word-of-mouth helped business pick up.
Now, he offers dining packages every day of the week under his private dining business No Burn No Taste, with a minimum booking of two people ($200 a head, prices go down as the number of people increases), going up to 80 people.
Sticking only to his specialty of South-east Asian barbecue, chef Chablani cooks meats like babi guling, ikan bakar, steak and chicken wings over local wood like mangrove and lychee wood.
Customers can make requests and add dietary restrictions. After confirming details like venue and preference of spicy or non-spicy food, he proposes what meats are in season and available on the market. Once they are satisfied with the menu, he takes a 50 per cent deposit.
No preparation on the customer's end is required and he provides clean-up after too.
"Clients also benefit by being able to bring their own wines and drinks, so they save money instead of paying for expensive bottles at the restaurant - everybody wins," he adds.
For home visits, he brings along a portable barbecue grill, the food, plates and cutlery, decor, tables, and even helpers to serve the food.
Most of his bookings have been in landed properties and condominiums where he is allowed an open fire. He even prepares tent options as wet-weather contingency, after learning his lesson from a surprise downpour during one dinner.
While he does accept bookings for two, most of his clients are groups of friends who are "sick of the boring mass-market catering companies that provide the standard unremarkable fare".
Going private has saved him the most on rental, which remains fixed for restaurants throughout low and high seasons.
"If it rains or the haze hits, or in our current setting with the Wuhan flu hysteria, and customers cancel, you as a restaurant operator still need to fork out rental."
The savings also means he can spend on higher quality ingredients, as well as pay colleagues who work with him for larger events "a part-time salary that's double the market rates". "Happy cooks make tasty food," he explains.
In fact, the coronavirus is "not bad for private dining", he says cheekily, observing that people do not want to leave their homes and only want to be near those in their social circle.
He is currently booked up during the Valentine's Day period - though his next available date for dinner is Feb 18, if couples are not particular about the date itself.
Mr Chablani adds: "Moving to private dining is one of the best decisions I've made as a chef. I have time to focus on my food, and my health as well. Working seven days a week in a restaurant can really take its toll on you mentally and physically - ain't nobody got time for that."
Book a meal with chef Sam Chablani via his Instagram @samchablani.
ENJOY A MASSAGE IN YOUR OWN HOMEST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID
Feel like some well-deserved Valentine's pampering but want to minimise human contact? Save a trip down to the spa and have a couples massage in the comfort of your home instead.
With mobile spa service The Outcall Spa, you can receive your choice of Swedish, deep tissue, Chinese tui na, prenatal or postnatal massage without having to leave your house.
The home-grown spa set up in 2016 also delivers massages to offices and hotel rooms. Everything is provided - from the massage bed, to towels, essential oils, hot ginger tea for after the massage, and even a music player and lighting to set the mood. All the fixings for a romantic night in with your partner.
For couples massages, expect twice the resources, with two therapists sent down to massage the couple at the same time. A 90-minute massage treatment for one averages $198, while prices for the Two-gether couples massage starts at $388 for a 90-minute session. Couples who prefer to do the massage one after another can opt for the same package at $298 for 60 minutes each.
The spa was founded by Ms Amber Chong, 40, after a disappointing personal experience looking for home masseuses in Singapore. She had woken up one day with a bad muscle pull on her neck, which left her unable to lift or turn her head. To make matters worse, she stepped on a wasp later that day, trying to feel her way to the kitchen, and could not walk to leave her house.
"I very badly needed a good massage to release my neck tension," says Ms Chong, who holds a full-time job with a logistics company and runs The Outcall Spa as her passion project.
"I asked around for someone who could come and massage me at my house, but (there was no such service). That made me realise there is a market gap here."
Though not a massage therapist herself, Ms Chong, who has tried many types of massages around the world on her travels for work and leisure, says she has "stringent requirements" on massages she receives.
"As a super picky customer myself, I know what is expected from the customers. And we strive to deliver the best by sending our therapists for courses, and to different spas to try out various massage styles and be the customer themselves," she adds. Her four massage therapists have more than 10 years of massage experience each.
On her team of six, she also has one eyelash technician, as The Outcall Spa started offering mobile lash extension services in 2019.
These days, the spa takes up to 20 massage sessions daily from 2pm to 2am, with evenings to midnight sessions on the weekends their most popular time.
For a smooth session, customers will be informed of the space required to set up the spa station, and are simply reminded to shower before the massage as it is not recommended to do so after.
The best part?"They can go straight to bed without the hassle of travelling (home) after their massage," says Ms Chong.
The Outcall Spa accepts bookings at theoutcallspa.com and 8782-0561.
PLAY DESIGNER AND CUSTOMISE FINE JEWELLERYPHOTO: COURTESY OF JOUER BY SIMONE
For partners looking to go the traditional route with jewellery gifts, your shopping ordeal just got a lot easier. On e-commerce site Jouer by Simone, you can personalise fine jewellery pieces down to the colour of enamel details.
To make shopping for others easier, the brand is sorted into five collections based on five different personalities - Edgy, Ocean Girl, Rockstar, Lover and Artist, each with vastly distinct designs.
Once you have selected your personality and design, you can go on to customise details like picking a full or half diamond, the colour (white gold, yellow gold, rose gold and for some pieces black gold) and enamel coating colours.
With the Artist Macaw Ring, for example, you have your work cut out for you choosing six different colours for the six enamel feathers on the ring.
Top it off with complimentary engraving (maximum eight characters, and available only for rings), and have the dainty piece packaged and shipped straight to your lover's doorstep.
The diffusion brand under local fine jewellery label Simone Jewels was launched in June last year. More affordably priced, it builds on its parent brand's reputation in the local jewellery scene for whimsical and unique designs - by allowing customers to play designer.
It will debut at London Fashion Week next week and be sold at Design Orchard, a retail space for Singapore designers, in April.
Since launching Jouer by Simone, there has been a 300 per cent increase in sales, says founder and designer Simone Ng, 45.
"Interestingly, we have a lot of people in the medical profession buying from this range," she says, believing it is because they lack the time to physically shop.
"And in times like the (coronavirus outbreak), it allows people to browse and customise from the comfort of their own home.
"If you go (out) to find a Valentine's Day gift, you find yourself going from one shop to another. This is a one-stop shop, with different price points."
Made in Hong Kong, pieces on her website start from $480 for a pair of unisex studs with no diamond and can run upwards of $6,000.
And for those fretting over ring sizing, Ms Ng assures there are various ways to find the right fit online.
If shopping for a partner, customers can put their partner's existing rings on a ruler and measure the diameter in millimetres. Jouer by Simone provides a size chart online (jouerbysimone.com/pages/sizing) to help convert the diameter to Hong Kong sizes, which are what all her rings are made to.
The brand also offers complimentary ring size alteration for two sizes up or down, if the finished product is slightly off.
But what about partners who do not have access to their beloved's existing jewellery?
"Guys nowadays are very creative - they will ask to try on the girlfriend's ring, and make a mark on whichever finger the ring slips in nicely," says Ms Ng with a chuckle.
After that, they can get an estimate from a jewellery store or use any sort of makeshift ring at home to try on and gauge via the sizing chart, she says. "That gives 98 per cent accuracy."
Local shipping takes up to 10 working days, so your gift might not make it in time for Feb 14. Just reassure your beloved that good things are worth the wait.
Available at jouerbysimone.com
Other gifts you don't have to leave the house to get:
A PRE-BOUGHT HAIR PACKAGE
Treat your man to a luxurious grooming session at premium barbershop Truefitt and Hill ahead of time. Virus or not, he has to get his hair cut at some point after.
You can order gift certificates for a selection of treatments via e-gifting platform Giftano and have them delivered.
Keep it straightforward but luxe with the Earl's Treat package ($230), which includes one Royal Cut, one Ultimate Shaving Experience and one Basic Pedicure.
Available at giftano.com/biz/truefitt-hill-shave-gift-vouchers
CURATED BOX OF CRAFT BEERSPHOTO: THIRSTY BEER SHOP/FACEBOOK
If either you or your partner is a beer enthusiast, save a trip to the supermarket andorder a box of quality craft beers from local beer company Thirsty Beer Shop instead.
The online beer shop founded in 2012 specialises in unique craft beers from around the world, and they are not your run-of-the-mill craft breweries either.
Find lagers from independent Texas brewery Spoetzl Brewery alongside coconut porters from Hawaii, and even sour ales from Belgium. Beers are organised by flavour or style, perfect for beer amateurs who might need a push in the right direction.
Thirsty offers free same-day local delivery for orders above $49, so you can go wild mixing and matching beers at the eleventh hour. If you tick on the gift checkbox before checkout, they will deliver your boozy purchase with a ribbon around the box.
Available at www.thirsty.com.sg
A MINI FRIDGE OF BEAUTY TREATSPHOTO: COURTESY OF KSISTERS
Instead of wracking your brain over which new beauty products to buy for your beau, gift a mini beauty fridge to store what they might already have.
The Glow Up Fridge ($150) from Korean fashion and beauty site Ksisters even comes readily stocked with seven bestselling sheet masks, from brands I Woke Up Like This, By Ecom and Common Labs.
The masks target various skin concerns ranging from treating acne-prone skin to brightening dull and ageing skin - so the two of you can have your own relaxing spa day at home.
And once the fridge has been emptied out, it makes the perfect home accessory to store skincare products and keep them fresh for longer.
Ksisters delivers locally within two to three days.
Available at www.ksisters.sg, while stocks last
DIY CANDLE-MAKING SETPHOTO: AMAZON
It is the perfect time to pick up a new hobby from the comfort of your home, like candle-making. You will find numerous DIY kits online, which mostly come with basic tools like candle wicks, pouring pots, wax, fragrances, and tins to hold your finished product.
Not only does it make for a cosy, wholesome date night activity, couples living together will also have practical home accessories to spruce up corners of the house.
Available from Amazon
HYSSES SINGAPORE HAND SANITISERPHOTO: COURTESY OF HYSSES SINGAPORE
Call it opportunistic, but nothing says "I care about you" like the gift of good hand hygiene during turbulent times.
The alcohol-based hand sanitiser ($10.90) from local aromatherapy brand Hysses comes in four adorable animal-themed designs that can dangle sweetly from your bag, threatening to keep all viruses at bay.
Douse your hands, then snuggle up for some serious guilt-free hand-holding.
Available at all Hysses Singapore outlets, including VivoCity, Westgate and Bugis Junction
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.