Call it a longing for nostalgic flavours or a greater recognition for home-grown talents, modern Singapore (Mod-Sin) cuisine looks set to be more than a flash in the pan. Here’s a selection of restaurants and bars that that are flying the local culinary flag high.
Vibe: Aside from colonial touches to the décor, there’s no major overhaul from its previous tenant, Empire Café. Befitting its menu that features local hawker fare with a modern twist, the interior takes a minimalist approach to nostalgia, stripping basic design signifiers of days gone by to the bare essentials for a contemporary feel. Clean and neutral palettes of white marble flooring provide the ideal backdrop for crisp wood panelling, old-school marble-top tables and dark wood chairs.
Bites: There’s a reason why Chef Shen Tan has a following that has been eagerly anticipating her comeback since the closure of Wok & Barrel. Her signature Nasi Lemak with rich fluffy rice and well-spiced beef rendang is a winner perfected since her days as a hawker at Maxwell Center. Hae Bee Hiam Mentaiko Capellini can easily pass off as Singapore’s answer to pasta carbonara with its full flavour enriched with pork bits and savoury spicy dried prawn paste. Another interesting dish is the Har Zi Meen, a prawn flavoured noodle inspired by another local favourite – Indomie. Served with crispy pork it’s a heavenly fusion of sweet and salty.
Raffles Hotel Arcade, #01-10, 328 North Bridge Road, tel: 6635 6502
Vibe: The colour scheme at Labyrinth is pretty stark. The walls are painted black, the counter top is in slate grey, and the chairs are in a muted brown tone, giving the joint a very sleek feel. However, like its dishes, there’s also a touch of the unexpected – scarlet napkins, walls lined with modern art, and quirky accent pieces add punches of colour and vibrancy to the place.
Bites: Local favourites are given an experimental spin here. Labyrinth’s signature Chilli Crab looks like a work of art, with deep-fried soft-shell crab, chilli crab ice-cream and mantou crumbs styled to resemble a crab on a sandy beach. Meanwhile the humble Siew Yoke Fan (roasted pork rice) is elevated as an Italian risotto dish cooked in ramen broth.
5 Neil Road, tel: 6223 4098, www.labyrinth.com.sg
Vibe: Ding Dong’s kitschy but tasteful décor is accentuated by red Chinese paper cutting-inspired motifs that line the bare white walls and the bar counter. The deft juxtaposition of traditional craft against modern and lively-hued fittings provides a hint of this gastrobar’s eclectic menu that reinterprets Southeast Asian cuisine.
Bites: Paying homage to his Peranakan roots, head chef Jet Lo nudges Ding Dong’s new menu towards familiar flavours. Whet your appetite with the Edamame with Singapore Curry Mousse, a light starter of green soybeans accompanied with a dipping sauce. The bestselling Assam Pedas Salted Barramundi is served with a tamarind sauce base that gives this traditional dish its signature tanginess that enhances the mild flavour of the barramundi. The 48-hour Beef Cheek Rendang with Rice Puree and Crispy Herbs is another favourite. Chunks of tender beef cheeks are served with a thick and creamy sauce that’s satisfyingly flavourful, yet not too spicy.
23 Ann Siang Road, tel: 6557 0189, www.dingdong.com.sg
Meat And Green
Vibe: This outfit is as simple and quaint like its menu. Laid out like a fast food joint, it has its assortment of ingredients on display and your order (of sandwiches or wraps) is prepared right in front of you. Indoor seating is nigh impossible to get during lunchtime, in which case, outdoor seating is best to enjoy your meal with a bottle of cider, if the weather is bearable.
Bites: While the menu itself isn’t groundbreaking, it does give an interesting take on local dishes we’ve all come to love in the form of either sandwiches or wraps. Categorised according to different meats (chicken, pork, beef, lamb and seafood) and a vegetarian option, each sandwich or wrap is inspired by local dishes like chicken rice, beef curry and bah kut teh. Get your napkins ready for the Pulled Pork Bak Kuh Teh as the watery dressing does get a little messy.
84 Circular Road, tel: 6557 0457
Vibe: Like a plush lounge, this shophouse bar is awash in rich hues of red, plum and mahogany, just like the intoxicating concoctions by its head mixologist Louis Tan. A step into the bar makes you feel like you’re in an upscale cigar and whisky bar in a prestigious hotel than a chic little outfit tucked in Neil Road.
Tipples: Fans of Louis Tan during his stint at Horses’ Mouth knows what to expect – creative and well-balanced cocktails that are as interesting to the eyes as it is to the palate. While there are no ‘Atas’ Ribena or Chilli Crab cocktails here, the newly created Asian Sensation Kettle is one for a trip down nostalgia. The cocktail is served in a teapot and Chinese tea cups all the better for sharing. Sweet, floral and refreshing, drink it in moderation because the alcohol will creep up on you when you least expect it.
69 Neil Road, tel: 6220 0369, www.barlaiglon.com
Ah Sam Cold Drink Store
Vibe: Love it or hate it, the somewhat laissez-faire approach of this outlet does add to the bar’s appeal. Mismatched chairs, basic wooden display panels behind the bar, and the smattering of retro items around the bar gives enough character to match its cocktails without being too heavy-handed.
Tipples: As you’d expect from a Jigger & Pony alumni, mixologist Sam Wong does mean classics, but when he let his creativity take over, the results are spectacular. The Milo Whiskey is an interesting infusion of rye whiskey and Milo nuggets for grownup kids who wants to take a trip down memory lane. The Beaded Slippers is a clever balance of rum, pandan, coconut cream and gula Melaka that will earn the approval even from true blue Nonyas.
60A Boat Quay, tel: 6535 0838
Vibe: Looking more like a prohibition era speakeasy in New York, Mars Bars is the last place we expect to find interesting cocktail interpretations of local flavours. Fitted with plush chairs, dark wood panelling and warm lighting, it is basically an extension of the hotel lobby’s décor.
Tipples: This bar has generated quite the buzz for their fun take on cocktails with a local slant. Their ‘Atas’ Ribena is a grown up version of the celebrated kid’s drink albeit with an 80-proof. The Bak Kua cocktail is the bar’s own spin of the classic Old Fashioned, infused with the sweet and savoury flavour of the smoked meat that blends harmoniously with the whisky and citrus notes – an interesting combination that is surprisingly easy to drink. Then, there’s the signature Chilli Crab cocktail – a liquid rendition of our unofficial national dish. More spicy and fragrant than savoury, it is a successful translation of the dish into a bold flavoured drink, best taken in sips.
The Duxton Hotel, 83 Duxton Road, tel: 9651 6714, mixesfrommars.sg