The past year in Singapore’s F&B scene has certainly been busy. At times, it feels like there’s a new restaurant to suss out almost every week. And it’s really easy to get caught up in the frenzy of only wanting to eat in one of the newest, trendiest places in town. But we also shouldn’t forget old favourites. Like The White Rabbit, on Harding Road, in the Dempsey area. While the Rabbit went through a rough patch a while back (the food was very so-so), I’m thrilled to inform y’all that Benjamin Tan, who was the restaurant’s opening sous-chef, has returned to take over the duties of Head Chef. And the food is now better than it’s ever been in the Rabbit’s half-decade of operations.
My girlfriend K has been a wonderful companion on my journey through the restaurant scene here in Singapore as well as in New York, where we lived for close to three years. Pescatarian by choice, she also lived in Paris for a year, and, as a result, never fails to remind me that when it comes to food, the French, quite simply, do it better. It isn’t just about the razor-sharp techniques of the chefs there, she explains, but also about their commitment to fresh and quality produce, which makes something as simple as a summer salad – or even a baguette from a nondescript boulangerie – taste brilliant.
Everyone knows that Rio is a carnival town. On a recent business trip to Rio, I discovered that it also has an exciting culinary scene. I chose a hotel facing Copacabana beach, a lively part of town with many side-streets filled with eating places. I prefer the Copacabana area because it has a more authentic feel than Ipanema, which tends toward a more “trendy” atmosphere. When you are in Rio, you have to check out the different beaches because each has its own feel and sub-culture. I was excited to be back in Rio, after more than ten years. I realised that the pulse of the carnival city has not changed but it has clearly become more prosperous, with many new buildings and fancy restaurants.
La Mar is a restaurant that I first visited in Lima in the summer of 2009. I remember this place clearly because when I went with my classmates, we very coincidentally ran into other classmates who were also touring Peru at the same time. By that point on the trip, my friends had brought me to so many restaurants that I had already recognised Peru as an undiscovered gastronomic haven: they have over thirty types of corn and so many kinds of fruit that I had never encountered. Not to mention a huge number of stunning fusion dishes, a direct result of Peru’s many immigrant cultures. La Mar has restaurants throughout Latin America and has recently started expanding into the USA.
“There is no such thing as the best (chef)”, writes Ferran Adrià, who knows a thing or two about good chefs, “but it is possible to point out something more important – the chef who is the most influential, the one who establishes the way forward.” During my gluttonous tour of restaurants in Singapore and New York (where I lived for close to four years) I’ve encountered very few chefs who can challenge for such a lofty title; but, when I do find such culinary mavens, I’ve noticed that each one of them seems to have a unique philosophy, a kitchen ethos that both defines them and challenges the boundaries of dining. Recently, I had the unmitigated pleasure of speaking to one such chef – Singapore-based Andre Chiang of Restaurant Andre, who, to me, is one of the most inventive, innovative restaurant personalities in the world.
Last week, I had the immense pleasure of dining in one of Singapore’s most beautiful new restaurants. Yoshiyuki, named after head chef Yoshiyuki Kashiwabara, is a gorgeous Asylum-designed Kaiseki restaurant. Hidden in a discrete corner of Basement One in The Forum shopping centre, this 20-seat restaurant is set to redefine the high-end Japanese dining experience in Singapore. And given the credentials of the team behind Yoshiyuki, I have no doubt it will be a success. Chef Yoshiyuki was previously the personal chef to the former Japanese Ambassador to Singapore. His partner is none other than Ignatius Chan, whose restaurant Iggy’s is ranked by several internationally respected authorities as Asia’s number one restaurant.
I love carpaccio, the raw beef “salad” that has become one of the must-have dishes on all Italian restaurant menus today. It’s actually hard to believe that the dish is only 62 years old; which makes it a baby compared to most of Italy’s equally famous dishes, most of whose recipes have been passed down from grandmother to daughter to granddaughter for generations. Carpaccio, unlike most of Italy’s most famous dishes, was invented in a restaurant. In one of my favourite restaurants in the world in fact — Harry’s Bar in Venice.
Since a colleague introduced me to Kooka Café earlier this year, I’ve made the place my unofficial hideout, going at least once a week to clear my mind, unwind, and have a thoroughly pleasurable lunch. It isn’t a ‘sexy’ cafe by most definitions: the décor is simple, the menu is small, and the dishes are honest, unassuming even. What it does have is the one intangible ingredient that I think matters the most in any food establishment, the one thing that makes you want to return again and again – love.
When I read that the folks behind Papa Palheta were opening a new coffee bar on Tyrwhitt Road, I was thrilled for many reasons. First and most important, I live a stone’s throw away from there. In fact, my wife S and I like to take our 17-month old baby boy T to the surprisingly, extremely well-maintained public swimming pool on Tyrwhitt Road; so we know the area really well and are already frequent visitors to the street. Second, and related to the first reason, I’ve been advocating the Farrer Park neighbourhood to just about any and every restaurateur I can corner (some friends are quite sick of me). And while Tyrwhitt Road isn’t really in Farrer Park, it’s within walking distance. My hope is that, over the next year or so, more and better groovy cafes and boutiques will sprout up in the ‘hood, making it an even cooler area to live in. Third, I’ve been a fan of Papa Palheta and its founder Leon since he started out in the coffee business. So, I’m very happy to see how successful he’s become.