Picture perfect picnics
If the idea of an overpriced Valentine's Day dinner at a restaurant packed with couples celebrating the exact same way is losing its appeal, consider reviving a memory from your carefree youth - the humble picnic. Not the East Coast Park variety which involves plastic sheets, fried beehoon and insect repellent. Instead, think about dining in style under the stars with your current beloved, while someone else takes care of the logistics, including your very own gazebo in a garden setting if you prefer.
Picneeds is a picnic concierge that is betting on the bespoke picnic growing in appeal following similar trends such as glamping - luxury camping - and mass outdoor dinner events such as Diner En Blanc. Started by Khairul Amri bin Mohd Sidik, Picneeds will conceptualise your event, set up the trimmings, and clean up after.
"I think Singapore has a lot of beautiful places... it's just a matter of time before people start warming up to the idea of picnics," says the 29-year-old, who handles almost 20 picnics a month on his own, and intends to expand his team so he can take on more. Prices start at S$150 for a basic package, and S$220 for thematic ones. Clients are mostly young couples or young families, and rarely exceed the age of 35.
If you're not fond of Mother Nature, then there's ANDSOFORTH's indoor picnic - a secret supper complete with air-conditioning, a full meal, and a theatrical set to boot.
But the picnic business is not without trials. Diner en Blanc last year was postponed for almost two months due to hazy weather, and drew only 1,500 at the Old Kallang Airport, down from 3,000 at Sentosa in 2014.
Food for Thought at Botanic Gardens also discontinued their picnic baskets from last June, citing low take up rates of less than 10 a month. But General Manager Cynthia Lee says they are relaunching the baskets later this year: "Our challenge is in creating items that will stay delicious throughout the picnic duration, at an affordable rate," she says.
Regardless, restaurants and hotels are introducing packed baskets this Valentine's Day. Grand Park Orchard rolled out three gourmet baskets to be consumed poolside, and Sunrise Bistro at East Coast Park offers a generous spread from S$140.
Says Chef Vincent Teng of Sunrise Bistro: "When I was younger, friends and I would have oysters and wine by the beach. I want people to have such memories as well."
Start to finish service
Need a gazebo to impress a date, with a gourmet meal served on real china instead of paper plates?
Enter Picneeds - an on-demand picnic-planning service by 29-year-old Khairul Amri bin Mohd Sidik, that promises to cater to your every whim and fancy (within logic). Not only will he find you a gazebo, he will also set up the space, deliver the food, and clean up after you're done.
Picneeds started about a year ago, and was the brainchild of Mr Amri's fiancee who enjoys planning celebratory events for her own friends and family. Although he is the owner of the company, he describes her as the creative force who helps him design and set up picnics whenever her schedule allows.
He says: "We decided why not provide a service that allows people to focus on the social aspect of a picnic. Sometimes when you want to celebrate a birthday or anniversary that's on a weekday, but you're busy working, it's quite a hassle to have to run around. People tend to overlook the logistical or creative demands of planning a picnic."
That's why they take care of both. And he doesn't just help by delivering food and setting up, he also works closely with clients to tailor each picnic to whatever they need, and can lend his expertise when it comes to choosing an ideal location.
For instance, in case you wanted to have your picnic at Gardens by the Bay East, Mr Amri would warn you that you'll probably go home covered in sandfly bites. He also adds that tall grass patches should be avoided if you don't want to find ants in your food. And don't worry about mosquitoes either, because he will be setting up mosquito coils before you even get there.
When it comes to the creative aspect, Picneeds offers three different packages to choose from. The first is a basic package (from S$150) where you can pick from a few templates and personalise them, while the second is a themed package (from S$220) that can be based on anything from Star Wars, to the sea, to Harry Potter. The final package is a bare-bones one where the client will just get drop-off and pick-up service, plus rental of the basket and some cutlery at S$70, and a refundable deposit of S$100.
Since the service started a year ago, about 80 per cent of customers have chosen the basic package, and uptake has been slowly increasing over time.
Says Mr Amri: "I think people are slowly warming up to this kind of service. They enjoy the ease of it because they can make whatever demands and it'll all be there. And the best part is they leave without having to worry about clean up.
It's a start to finish service that you'll enjoy if you have a busy schedule - that convenience is priceless."
Building a sub-culture
ANDSOFORTH: The Picnic
Events from Feb 13-28 (weekends)
Timeslots from 11am-2pm, 3pm-6pm, 7pm-10pm;
Tickets at S$68 (regular) to S$78 (Valentine's Day)
Stuart Wee was excited when he first heard of Diner en Blanc, but the prices gave him pause. "It's $50 plus $12 for membership, and you still have to lug your own tables, chairs, and food!" This hipster just won't jive with the posh crowd, so he's creating his own quirky indoors picnic for likeminded brethren - food, drinks, and air-conditioning all included for under S$80.
The co-founder of ANDSOFORTH, a secret supper club, is currently working on his newest event which involves building "clouds" and a sun on astroturfing at an undisclosed location. Judging from the progress, so far, it'll be a down-the-rabbit-hole experience, complete with garden gnomes and optional activities.
Food wise, picnickers can look forward to pastries by Two Bakers, and food prepared by chef Jason Ang, previously from the team at Pollen - think quinoa salads, finger sandwiches, homemade vegetable chips. There's also a pop-up bar and ice cream cart for good measure.
Both Mr Wee and his fiancee Emily Png have been creating theatrical F&B events since 2013, and were inspired by nomadic restaurant Gingerline while they were working in London. "There's a whole subculture there which we're trying to build in Singapore - a way to have fun and socialise without getting dead drunk," says Ms Png.
"Honestly, the scene here isn't quite there yet, but it's heartening to see how our guests have broken out of their personal bubbles - at our last event, two groups of strangers hit it off and went out, that's what we love to see!"
The two-man team get all whimsical and fired up when talking about their work - arts festivals and organisations have started showing interest in buying or licensing their shows - but it's a tough business. For this picnic, they are just looking to break even.
They find ways to supplement their income - the set can be rented for private events or even wedding shoots (from S$2,500 a day), and Ms Png also teaches piano classes. "We're starving artists, we eat instant noodles and chai png all day," quips Mr Wee.
Food for thought
Extreme Picnic by Post-Museum and Food #03
Preorder four days in advance, collection to be arranged email@example.com
If you enjoy picnics but also fancy yourself a socially conscious individual with strong opinions about human rights and local heritage conservation, check out a new picnic which packs intense discussion with a basket of vegan delights.
Artist-activist Woon Tien Wei is the brains behind Extreme Picnic. Launched as part of Singapore Art Week, the concept involves a vegan picnic basket (so it's environmentally friendly) and a manual for budding activists.
Picnickers are encouraged to pick bizarre spots to eat and discuss at. Hopefully, they will "spend time in unexpected places, and think about urban planning and conservation", explains the co-founder of social enterprise Post-Museum. "For instance, there's the looming demolishment of Rochor Centre."
Some were indeed spotted on launch day out of their comfort zones - literally - at busy sheltered walkways or carpark lots within Gillman Barracks. It's unclear if they were debating the finer points of freedom of speech, or just scarfing the food, but it's fine either way, says Mr Woon.
If you're only interested in the food, there's homebaked bread (by Grassroots Book Room), tempeh balls, chilled laksa pesto pasta with cashews and diced eggplant, and a banana parfait, among other things. This menu runs for 30 "editions" before it gets refreshed. A vegan picnic basket costs S$180 (4-5 pax).
Mr Woon's cooking has amassed a cult following since his days at Food #03, a deli-bar previously housed with Post-Museum on Rowell Road. "It was an alternative space where different communities, artists and activists hung out, when they were between projects and jobs," he recalls fondly, and many such hipsters have been yearning for more of his fare.
But Mr Woon went on to help out in family business Killiney Kopitiam, and now lectures part time at LASALLE. He's also juggling various advocacies including a soup kitchen, and Extreme Picnic will be part of future projects.
Grand Park Orchard, Level 4 6603-8855
Opens Sun to Thurs (noon-1am);
Fri, Sat, eve of public holidays (noon-2am); Two-day pre-order required
Just because Bar Canary is located in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Orchard Road, doesn't mean you can't have a romantic picnic there this Valentine's Day. Its F&B manager Kevin Lee has come up with the perfect plan - a picnic with fresh food from their kitchen, which customers can consume at the insect-free astroturf right next to the hotel's pool.
He explains: "Most picnics usually have limitations on the type of food, but we have a full kitchen and fridge facility nearby so we are able to ride on this advantage to offer items that are usually not available when you prepare your own picnic baskets . . . We hope to deliver a unique gourmet picnic experience with our food and drinks that are prepared a la minute."
Some examples he highlights are the steamed dim sum platter from the Chef Picnic (S$138++ or S$218++) basket option, and the Fisherman Picnic's (S$168++ or S$268++) seafood on ice.
All these can be enjoyed while lounging on polar fleece mats and canary-coloured bean chairs, with waiters at your beck and call if you ever start missing the comforts of a full-serviced restaurant.
According to Mr Lee, they had originally intended to launch their picnic baskets some time last year, but postponed it to Valentine's Day due to the haze and monsoon season.
So in line with the occasion, they've also come up with a staycation package where S$308++ will get you a night's stay in their Premier Room, plus breakfast for two, and S$50++ off the picnic basket among other things.
If all you need is a loaded basket, here are some more options:
Sunrise Bistro & Bar
For a picnic by the beach, try the spread in Sunrise Bistro's picnic basket, which includes a prawn cocktail, proscuitto, mini wagyu burgers, scallop skewers, and salted egg yolk custard cream puffs (from S$140). Wines on request (from S$22/bottle). Basket available from Feb 11-14, collection from 5pm to 6pm at their restaurant at Big Splash. To pre-order (three days notice required), call 6440-9090 or go to sunrisebistrobar.com.
Prive at CHIJMES
Get some sun on the lawns of the iconic CHIJMES with Prive. They offer two choices: a lighter package includes salad, cajun chicken panini, shrimp penne and strawberries and cream, while the heartier basket offers charcuterie with a braised beef pie, smoked salmon quiche and coconut red velvet cake (both S$40 for two pax, plus S$20 deposit for mat and basket). One day pre-order required, call 6776-0777 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Planning a day out at the Singapore Botanic Gardens but don't feel like cooking? Casa Verde offers a simple picnic basket (S$30) for two, including two six-inch pizzas, nuggets, fries, fruits, bottled water, and soft drinks. MasterCard holders can add on a half bottle of Bruno Paillard champagne and pay a total of S$90. Basket rental is an additional S$30 deposit. Available daily from 11.30am, call 6467-7326 or e-mail email@example.com.
Heaven's Bloom & Baskets
If you prefer your basket be delivered directly to your location of choice, then try one of the offerings from Heaven's Bloom & Baskets. The Golden Magnolia (S$268 for 3-4 pax) includes a cooked chicken (approximately 650g), cheeses, bread, fruits, and moscato, while the Field of Poppies (S$238 for 1-2 pax) features similar contents at smaller quantities. The best part - the basket is yours to keep. For more information, visit heavensbloom.com, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fort Canning is a hot spot for gallivanting lovers, which is why Balzac - conveniently located in the Pinacotheque de Paris - is now offering baskets. They come with a loaf of artisanal bread with either cold cuts such as saucisson, pate and rillettes, or cheeses such as Vieux Corte and fourme d'ambert (each basket for S$98). Wines available on request (from S$168/basket). Available from March 1 till end 2016, call 6336-0797 (a week's notice required). Restaurant is closed on Mondays.
Hotel Fort Canning
For the five-star treatment, there's Hotel Fort Canning's weekend package for two (from S$760), with two-nights' accommodation in a Deluxe Room, buffet breakfast, four-course set dinner and a packed picnic basket, not to mention a buggy ride to an idyllic spot. Bites include Asian-inspired snacks such as mixed seafood pie tee, salmon tobiko finger sandwiches, and mini macarons. Call 6559-6795 or visit www.hfcsingapore.com for bookings and more details.
This article was first published on February 6, 2016.
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