Mention Lebanese cuisine and the options you can find in Singapore are limited to casual shawarma kiosks and restaurants that bill themselves as "Mediterranean".
Hoping to plug the gap is Layalina Privee, a semi-fine-dining Lebanese restaurant that has been opened for just three weeks on the third floor of Sultan Link building near Mohamed Sultan Road.
With three other Lebanese restaurants back in London, this is the first time that Layalina, the British-based restaurant group, is making its foray into the Asian market.
They seemed to have gotten the formula down pat. Here to launch the offshoot of the Layalina brand in Singapore is Joseph Cuakine, the executive head chef of the Layalina restaurant group, who will be recreating the dishes served in the London restaurant.
Highlights include mezze style small dishes such as hummus dips, tabouleh and falafel as well as main courses such as aubergine musakaat plated in a polished and more modern way.
"We want to feed the eyes and the nose and then the stomach," explains the Lebanese-British chef.
To create authentic Lebanese flavours, they are bringing in ingredients such as white oregano and tahini (white sesame paste) from Lebanon; they also hope to start importing halloumi cheese soon because Chef Cuakine finds the ones here "too watery".
Looking at Layalina Privee now, one would not have imagined that the restaurant group started in 2000 as a small kiosk serving takeaways, seven days a week along the street that links Piccadilly Circus to Lifestyle Square in Westminster.
"There are lots of clubs around the area and people drop by for supper," says operations director Francois Durnez of their success.
In 2010, they decided to open a fine-dining spinoff of Layalina in Knightsbridge.
Two years later, they launched Privee in the basement level of Layalina, an in-theatre dining concept with cabaret performances and a set menu.
Layalina Privee in Singapore will model itself after the concepts in London by offering belly dancing and magic performances during the weekends.
In the works are plans to get London-based comedic magician Christian Lee to come in to perform. Layalina Privee also has other tricks up their sleeves to draw in the crowd.
Lunch is priced competitively at S$6.50-13.90 and they also provide a good range of Lebanese wines including the exclusive Clos St Thomas.
Mr Durnex observes that Singapore has a very challenging F&B market but the group wants to use Singapore as a launching pad to propel themselves into the rest of the Asian market.In fact, the group already has another dining concept in Kuala Lumpur opening in nine months' time.
"We chose Asia because of its big GDP growth and Lebanese cuisine is not very well represented here yet, so there is room for us to grow here," says Mr Durnez who has visited a few local Lebanese restaurants but found that the taste is not quite right as it contain more spices and "tastes more like Indian food".
63 Mohamed Sultan Road, #03-14 Sultan Link Building
The Monocle shop and cafe
Drawn by the growing market in South-east Asia, the editor-in-chief of the stylish global-affairs magazine Monocle, Tyler Brule, is extending his global reach to Singapore. Mr Brule will open an outpost here with a retail shop and a mini-cafe that is up for preview this weekend and which will be officially launched on Dec 20.
The bureau and radio studio will begin operations in early 2015. "Singapore is one of our biggest markets, so we felt it was time to serve it properly," explains Mr Brule.
The location they've chosen is a little off the beaten track. The Monocle office will occupy a two-storey 1950s townhouse in the tranquil Chip Bee Gardens area.
"We like being in more residential areas where possible. We prefer being in less crowded, predictable environments. Our new shop in Tokyo's Tomigaya district also reflects this thinking," explains Mr Brule.
Whether the Monocle cafe and shop will be a harbinger of change for the quiet neighbourhood of Chip Bee Gardens remains to be seen.
The 62 square metre ground floor shop space will join Monocle's existing stores in London, New York, Toronto, Tokyo and Hong Kong in selling the magazine's popular selections of fashion and design collaborations.
That includes the likes of Comme des Garcons, Porter, Mackintosh and Monocle's own menswear capsule Monocle Voyage.
Prior to setting up shop here, they tested out the market in Singapore by working with the U Factory last year to launch a temporary pop-up stall selling limited-edition merchandise with much success.
Unlike the other full-fledged Monocle cafes in London and Tokyo, the mini-coffee bar here will only be serving drinks such as freshly squeezed orange juice, New Zealand Allpress coffee and Antipodes mineral water, which is sourced from the least densely populated area in the world.
The tenancy agreement that they have with the Economic Development Board only allows for the sale of refreshments although they are in the process of applying for a food licence.
The Canadian editor-in-chief who once lamented the poor restaurant service in Singapore adds: "We're not doing a full restaurant, we're doing a beverage-only operation. This should be easier to try out the service offered in Singapore".
Monocle magazine was founded in 2007 and has been known as much for its sophisticated look as for its content covering everything including culture, design, current affairs and travel.
74 Jalan Kelabu Asap
This article was first published on December 13, 2014.
Get The Business Times for more stories.