Small bites, big tastes

Four new F&B outlets are taking the small-plates sharing concept to new heights with innovative injections of Asian flavours.

Meta Restaurant 9 Keong Saik Road 6513-0898 Open Mon to Sat, 5.30pm - midnight; Closed on Sun

Everyone knows Keong Saik Road already has one of the most vibrant dining scenes in Singapore, and now even more so with its most recent addition - a contemporary Asian restaurant named Meta.

This small-plates style restaurant is helmed by a Korean-native head chef Sunok Kim, who is an alumnus of both Tetsuya's in Sydney and Waku Ghin in Singapore, so he brings his Asian heritage, combined with French influences and techniques, to the menu at Meta.

"Being under chef Tetsuya, I saw and learned how Asian and French cuisine could marry and balance each other out perfectly," says chef Kim, who comes from a family of restaurateurs and had always wanted to become a chef himself.

It's clear where his Korean heritage has come into play as well, especially with signature dishes such as the Korean sea snails seaweed pancake topped with Bottarga fish roe (S$18), and the Wagyu bulgogi with egg jelly & Korean pear kimchi (S$25).

Of course that's not all he has in his repertoire, as other signature items you may find on Meta's regularly-evolving menu include an oyster with tangy lemon-ginger dressing & topped with pomelo (S$8), and a carpaccio of Hokkaido scallops topped with sago pearls marinated in yuzu (S$18).

While chef Kim takes charge of the kitchen, the restaurant itself belongs to a few owners and investors, including 31-year-old Joanne Khoo, who keeps her day job and prefers to leave the restaurant's operations to the professionals.

She explains: "My husband and I have an obsession with good food and we travel the world for that... When I reflected on my natural tendencies, I realised I enjoyed the traditional classical styles of European cuisine but I always come home to Asian food, and Asian cuisine is fairly represented as a world-renowned cuisine. So that was how Meta was born."

According to her, the concept for Meta came about in the first half of last year, and they later met chef Kim through personal connections and felt he was just what they wanted for the restaurant.

"Chef Kim's personal style is very refined and a lot of thought goes into the preparation and quality, but also the presentation and plating. This is best encapsulated in small plates, because the people we see as Meta diners are people with a discerning taste," she says.

Meta opened its doors on Oct 22, but will officially launch early next year.

Back to Asian roots

The East Bureau Marina Square, #03-03 6837-0148 Open Mon to Thu, Sun, noon-10.30pm; Fri to Sat, noon-midnight

After over a decade of focusing on Italian cuisine, Samdy Kan - chief of F&B company The Cre8tive Group Pte Ltd, which runs eateries such as Supply & Demand and Equilibrium at Capitol Piazza - is going back to his roots with his new modern Pan-Asian restaurant The East Bureau.

Located at the rooftop garden of Marina Square's new wing, this two-week-old restaurant serves modern Asian cuisine in small plates, such as a lychee martini sweet and sour pork (S$13) and Thai basil pork gyoza with homemade Thai chilli sauce (S$12).

"I needed to break out of my comfort zone and satisfy my need for creativity. I had to do something which I already had the basics for; I was definitely not going to be silly and open a restaurant with a cuisine that I don't have the foundations for... so Asian cuisine came naturally to mind.

"It's something I was born into," says 33-year-old chef Kan, who is also the executive chef at The East Bureau.

So while some other restaurants under the "modern Asian" umbrella might incorporate Western influences in their cooking, chef Kan prefers to stick closely to Asian techniques instead and wants to present a "modernised collection of flavours and recipes across South-east Asia".

For instance, their poached "drunken" chicken in savoury cucumber granita (S$15) puts a modern twist to the traditional Chinese "drunken" chicken dish: the granita is a nod to the cucumbers often found in Hainanese chicken rice.

According to the chef, the cuisine at The East Bureau was inspired by his own childhood, when he spent time in his grandparents' kopitiam, and also from his travels around the region.

"(Opening this restaurant) has always been at the back of my mind while I was busy helming the other kitchens," explains the chef.

"When I was first offered the lease to this unit, I fell in love with it. I pitched a modern Pan-Asian restaurant which I had been meaning to do for quite some time but put it on the backburner to concentrate on my Italian restaurants. After many logistical hiccups, we finally opened," he says.

Familiar and good

Black Nut 2 Emerald Hill 6738-8818 Open Mon to Thu, & Sun, 5pm-2am; Fri to Sat, 5pm-3am

The black nut, otherwise known as the buah keluak, is almost always associated with Peranakan food. So it came quite naturally that the owners of the new Black Nut bar decided on that name for their new F&B establishment - a nod to its past life as a Peranakan Museum.

They didn't just stop at the name either. They have also kept the old Peranakan artifacts hanging on the walls of the first floor of their two-storey bar, and made sure the menu carries a strong Asian influence.

"We looked at the location and the kind of architecture we had there, and tried to do something that's in line with the history of the space," explains director of operations Yung Ong, 35.

He runs this new bar along with other F&B outlets in the Peranakan Place building, which is owned by his family, on top of a furniture business. They decided to launch Black Nut after moving their F&B operation offices out of the building last year.

The food menu was designed with the Asian theme in mind, due to Mr Ong's personal love for Asian food, he says.

"Our goal was never to make our food unique, it was to make sure that we just serve good food, so we don't try to be too smart with the flavours. If anything, we want to serve something that is really familiar to people, but just done differently," explains Mr Ong.

An example is their buah keluak wantons (S$18++), which are stuffed with the black nut, finely-diced prawns, spring onions, garlic, ginger, and served with a sambal chilli dip. Another is the Indonesian-inspired ayam bakar burger (S$15++), or a fried chicken kimchi burger (S$13++).

The most popular items on the menu however, would be what they call their AFC - Asian Fried Chicken (four for S$12++, eight for S$20++), which is available in four flavours including the zi char-favourite har cheong kai, and the sweet and spicy Korean gochujang sauce.

Since their soft opening about two weeks ago, the Asian-influenced menu at Black Nut has been receiving great feedback, and that has led to plans for their European-style tapas menu at Alley Bar to eventually transform into a more Chinese-influenced one, says Mr Ong.

"I think it's not fancy, everything is just hearty and well-done. There's honestly no big secret to it, I think we've just tried to make sure everything is very familiar and good," he adds.

Exotic and oriental

Lin Rooftop Bar 50 Tiong Bahru Road Link Hotel, Level 5 9487-4290 Open Mon to Sat, 5pm - 1am

Three years after Kelvin Lim opened his first F&B venture - the Australian cafe Rokeby in Jalan Riang - he decided it was time to launch his next concept in the form of a contemporary Asian alfresco rooftop bar named Lin Rooftop Bar (after the Chinese word for forest, shu lin).

Located on the top floor of the Lotus Building of the Link Hotel in Tiong Bahru, Lin officially opened in end-October - just a few months ahead of the hotel completing its own renovations to the building.

"We came up with the idea for a contemporary Asian bar and pitched it to the hotel's general manager, and were fortunate that it tied in quite nicely with what he envisioned for the rooftop bar, and the overall direction of their Asian boutique hotel," says Mr Lim, 30.

That's why it was quite obvious that the food would have to be Asian-style instead of regular Western bar food, he adds. Plus, he also noticed the Spanish tapas trend taking off in Singapore about a year ago, and decided tapas was a good way to go since most Singaporeans enjoyed sharing food.

Some items on the menu include the Yin Yang (S$10.80++) which consists of homemade fish otah, sauteed prawn and mussel, covered in a coconut cream sauce, as well as a lychee prawn (S$10.80++) where their chef from Macau would saute chopped tiger prawns with garlic and stuff it into a whole lychee before serving on a bed of tomato concasse sauce.

Of course the cocktails and decor of the place all work towards contributing to the "exotic and oriental atmosphere" that Mr Lim hopes to achieve as well too, which is why they serve a range of original Asian-inspired cocktails such as a sour plum mixed with rum and lime juice cocktail named Rustic Sky (S$18++), while much of the bar's design was inspired by bamboo forests and silhouettes.

According to Mr Lim, he previously worked as an auditor before starting his own F&B company The Good Mix Factor Pte Ltd, which runs both Lin and Rokeby.

"It's been a fun journey but it's one that's very stressful and non-stop, you don't stop thinking about ways to improve or grow your business," he reflects.

One of his plans down the road is to venture into other styles of dining such as running a kiosk-style eatery, perhaps at the end of next year, he adds. @RachelLoiBT

This article was first published on November 14, 2015. Get The Business Times for more stories.