Culinary trends to whet your appetite
WHAT'S in and what's out for this year? Chefs and indie food-and-beverage (F&B) operators weigh in:
Chef-owner of Bo.Lan in Bangkok
(No. 28 on S. Pellegrino Asia's 50 Best Restaurants)
"Comfort food. It stood out last year and I would like to see more of local and natural food. Street food will be in the spotlight, but a more dressed-up version. In Bangkok, we may see more Scandinavian and European-influenced establishments. The bar-restaurant concept will also be big, that is why we're opening Err@Tha Thien in April - a casual place for drinking and eating."
"Molecular-oriented food. It's an overkill. And being charged for water without being told by the waiters."
Chef/culinary director, Amber in Hong Kong
(No. 4 on Asia's 50 Best Restaurants)
"Cold-infused teas served in wine glasses. At Amber, we serve a cold-infused silver needle with notes of cucumber as a pre-meal palate cleanser. Locavorism: Every chef who is quality-driven wants to source as close to home as possible. Not all cities are surrounded by agriculture, so it doesn't work in every urban environment. But urban farming is on the rise and I think in Hong Kong, we have not even touched the surface!
"The trend now is for high-energy bars with informal food concepts as the bar programme worldwide has gained more importance, along with the phenomena of small bites/plates. This concept will continue to evolve in a positive manner."
"I'm not preoccupied with such things!"
Chef, Jaan Singapore
(No. 17 on Asia's 50 Best Restaurants)
"More small, independently-owned restaurants and casual dining concepts with pared-down menus and dishes. The concept of 'small plates' restaurants seems to work the best, and their popularity will continue into the new year. Fine dining is here to stay, but in a less classic and formal format. People still want to indulge on that special occasion.
"Locavorism will be more prevalent, but it's limited to our geographical boundaries. We can't practise it to the same extent as in Europe. I see a rise in the restaurant-bar concept, but the challenge will be how to integrate the two so that they are complementary and not competing."
"I don't favour the idea of cocktail pairing with food. Your palate is pulled in so many directions and is lost between the complexity of the cocktail and the dish. I prefer the more traditional approach of pairing wine with our food. As a chef, I know the price of a product, so I don't like being overcharged for dishes that don't justify the price tag. I also don't like long waiting times between courses in fine dining restaurants."
Executive head chef of Bacchanialia Singapore
"The idea of chefs being more interested in provenance. The market is still pretty much preoccupied with style and less objective about quality, identity or price structure. There is, however, a solid group of chefs here, with restaurants that set trends and have a distinct character (to offer). I'm certain that they are also less preoccupied with the trends. Local and regional places will still be the talk of the food world, and food that is created with more care for its roots, tradition and relevance will also hopefully be on the rise. Technique-driven dishes are the way to go, taste should be the focus and not design."
"Lazy chefs and lazy concepts, dirty kitchens, cold service, showy dishes and false advertising. All that, plus the disregard for reinvention and the lack of care for identity."
Managing director and owner of Pince & Pints
"Japanese food such as chirashizushi, wagyu dons, aburi sushi...Casual dining offering excellent food at good prices. For example, I think people have come to love lobster rolls as a 'timeless comfort food', because it's a simple dish that showcases the freshness of a lobster, which I don't think people will ever get tired of."
"Burgers don't seem to be very popular lately, although I'm a huge burger fan. The cafe concept, which has been quite overused here in Singapore."
TAN KEN LOON
Owner of The Naked Finn
"I always believe that trend is not important. Good products and service are the keys to successful F&B. Which is why I enjoyed the whole lobster roll saga. It showed the DNA of each restaurant: their philosophy, approach, marketing/PR...We should have more single dish crazes to push everyone to do better in both products and pricing, which will ultimately benefit customers. Thai food seems like the next possible wave that will definitely work in Singapore."
"There are too many cafes and cocktail bars now, and I am not sure if most are sustainable, because I don't see much differentiation among them. Unfortunately, I don't see them going away this year, because the barrier to entry is so low and it's still very cool to be a barista."
Chef-owner of Wild Rocket
"Counter service, from tapas to Japanese and grill restaurants. Everyone is doing counter service, and the food scene has become more personalised, although I suppose that is also due to the manpower shortage...there are a few interesting projects we are looking at, but will not be able to pursue until the labour market eases. Locavorism will increase, and I think mod-Sin is here to stay and will continue to evolve. It will be interesting to see if it will continue to have a cult following or become mainstream."
"More small standalone restaurants will find it very challenging to survive. In light of that, more restaurants might be acquired by big players, and we will see more franchise type casual eateries with production kitchens like Tim Ho Wan and Nam Nam."
Executive director of L Capital Asia, Ku De Ta
"Casual dining, particularly with 'tapas' and 'bites' menus. Small tapas venues are in - I was at East 8 New York Fusion Tapas + Bar a few weeks ago and it is really excellent. That said, I think fine dining will remain a force in the Singapore market.
"Cocktail bars with expert mixologists, or gastropubs with the mixologists driving cocktail menus and serving selective but good food. Wine bars are also in. Europe has a plethora of really nice wine bars, but we appear short on them in Singapore."
"The sushi train concept at some Japanese restaurants, as diners are becoming more discerning and sensitive to quality. Restaurants which serve overly large portions of fried everything: fish, chicken, vegetables. One of my pet peeves is bars with food menus offering only fried food, or 80 per cent fried food. I particularly dislike mediocre Italian, Greek, American - it can be any cuisine really - which have very mass market menus and inexpensive, artificial restaurant decorations."
THE BUSINESS TIMES