Appetite for new food adventures
WITH change the only constant on the highly competitive local food and beverage scene, here's how three industry practitioners have boldly reinvented themselves, their concepts and offerings.
CHIJMES, Caldwell House, #01-26/27
Opening on Jan 27
You know you have reached a certain status when random strangers hear that you are opening a new restaurant and message you on Facebook or Instagram telling you that they want to work for you.
That is what happened for Sam Aisbett, 32, when he was putting together a team for his restaurant Whitegrass, which opens on Jan 27. He now has eight chefs, a few of whom he had worked with previously.
Chef Aisbett was, until May last year, head chef of award-winning Quay restaurant in Sydney, which has held the Three Hats and Three Star rating in The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide and Australian Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Guide for 13 consecutive years.
He was also previously sous chef at Tetsuya's Restaurant.
This is his first foray as chef and owner. The restaurant is backed by Penangites Sean H'ng and Karen H'ng who own Macalister Mansion.
When the H'ngs offered him a chance to open his own restaurant, he took it up, choosing to be in Singapore for its dining hub status.
Whitegrass will serve Modern Australian cuisine. It will be a fine dining restaurant "but still fun", he says.
It will open only for dinner, and there will be a five-course and an eight-course menu. Prices are still being decided on but chef Aisbett says "the five-course menu will not be cheap, but it will be accessible".
There will be no a la carte menu.
"Doing just two menus means the kitchen has more time to make things perfect, and I am very much a perfectionist," he says.
He says he is inspired to use both Asian and Western ingredients in his cooking.
If you think century egg is good just for porridge, think again.
Chef Aisbett plans to use the century egg in a French quail dish, where the bird is brined and cooked softly in butter, topped with some endive.
He will also incorporate native Australian ingredients such as muntries, a sourish tasting fruit, and paper bark, used by the Aborigines to wrap food for cooking. "These are all still in the experimental stage," he says.
He had help from design firm Takenouchi Webb, which has done up the restaurant into a beautiful space.
There are three dining areas and it can sit 70, with an outdoor bar for 24 people.
There are plenty of table arrangements featuring exotic blooms such as proteas, but no tablecloth for that less stiff feel.
ILLIDO AT THE CLIFF
2 Bukit Manis Road, Sentosa, Sofitel Singapore Sentosa Resort & Spa
As if selling his house and sinking $4 million into Aura at the National Gallery is not enough of a risk, restaurateur Beppe de Vito is reopening Italian fine-dining restaurant ilLido at Sofitel Sentosa later this month.
ilLido at the Cliff brings the tally to five concepts over 16 months.
It is being launched in a climate where an economic downturn is looming and entertainment budgets are being cut, not to mention a saturated dining scene where talent is hard to find.
What probably comes as a relief to Mr de Vito is that Sofitel is footing the bill for ilLido's new space, a 196-seater with two private rooms, which is located right round the corner from its previous site at Sentosa Golf Club.
The hotel is also providing most of the manpower so he sidesteps the labour crunch.
So it is a licensing deal of sorts but they prefer calling it a "collaboration".
Mr de Vito stresses that he retains full creative control.
"I'm totally involved, it's my menu and concept, and I wouldn't have done it otherwise," he says.
"But I do look at the hotel as being a safer place - it's their job to draw guests in, and they do it well."
He will still cook at Aura and is posting trusted sidekick Chef Simone Fraternali to helm ilLido's kitchen.
ilLido will stick to the classics, albeit with some twists. With fine-dining, the trick to drawing customers is not lowering prices too far, but offering more value-for-money items, he says.
There are four-course lunch sets starting at $38, and degustation at $98.
The view of the South China Sea comes complimentary.
73 Amoy Street
Opens: Noon - 2.30pm (Mon-Fri); 6pm - midnight (Mon-Sat); closed on Sunday; public holiday hours same as on Saturday
He first caught the attention of local foodies by elevating lowly cockles into hipster fare at his first eatery Dibs, where he was executive chef.
But Leong Khai Git has since swopped his apron for a general manager position at four-month-old Greek restaurant Alati in Amoy Street.
He is still a shareholder in Dibs - a modern-Asian tapas bar on Duxton Road - but has no plans to return to the kitchen there, nor at Alati, any time soon. When he was offered the general manager position at Alati, he took it because he prefers to have control over all aspects, not just the menu.
Now, his task is to educate diners on the finer points of Greek food, which he says shares a pasta culture with Italy - a fact that not many people know about.
To maintain authenticity, the restaurateur and his two business partners brought Soutsos Dimitrios straight from Greece to Singapore to be Alati's chef de cuisine. The 39-year-old Athenian landed his first job as a cook in 1999, and has worked in 10 different hotels and restaurants since.
Some of Alati's bestsellers include Moussaka ($26), Mykonos Lobster Pasta ($95 for two people) and Salt-Baked Fresh Fish (additional $10).
You can choose from sea bass ($9.80 per 100g), sea bream ($10.20 per 100g) and red porgy ($14 per 100g).
Mr Leong, 31, says: "I recommend the sea bream because it tastes best when it's baked. Grilled, it tends to become dry, but when you salt-bake the fish, the moisture is retained, and it gets seasoned on the inside as well as out."
The restaurant imports its seafood and olive oil directly from Greece, as it is cheaper than buying them from suppliers here.
"We are getting better quality for less money.
"And we can pass on the savings to our customers," Mr Leong adds.
THE BUSINESS TIMES