Food firms add new flavours to their brands
AFTER investing much time and effort building their brands, restaurants and food concepts are spawning brand extensions in the form of upscale offshoots and avatars.
ION Orchard #04-11
Joshua Khoo and Dylan Ong first broke into the scene back in 2011 by serving decent French food at unbelievably low prices - think foie gras for under $10 in a coffee-shop setting.
Their French hawker stall, Saveur, is a success story: one that includes expanding to bigger shophouse premises in Purvis Street and a second outlet at Far East Plaza in April last year.
Now, three years after their hawker endeavour, they are going more upmarket. Saveur Art, a swankier version of Saveur, opened the week before last at ION Orchard.
The duo come from a fine-dining background: Mr Ong cut his teeth at Raffles Hotel Singapore and Flutes at the Fort; Mr Khoo worked at the now-defunct celebrity-chef restaurant Guy Savoy in Singapore.
For Saveur Art, they pulled out all the stops with Laguiole steak knives, pristine-white tablecloths, leather-bound menus and a jazzy soundtrack. The cuisine has been elevated with fancier plating and premium ingredients such as Mangalica pork.
With a display of paintings from Singaporean artists Wong Keen and Lim Tze Peng, Saveur Art seems to fit right into the luxurious surroundings of ION Orchard, which boasts tenants such as Opera Gallery.
But its philosophy is still rooted in keeping prices down. Main courses are mostly within the $20 range while a four-course tasting menu is $52.
You can expect all the extras that come with a fine-dining meal: There are canapes of squid-ink crisps with marinated anchovies and pimento coulis, an amuse bouche of rice puffs and seaweed sabayon in roasted potato dashi, and even petite fours at the end. The French-focused wine list won't break the bank either, with the most expensive bottle of Chateau Bernadotte costing $119.
"Where else can you find a langoustine dish like this at $13?" asks Mr Ong, referring to cold angel-hair pasta with Mozambique langoustine and olive-oil emulsion garnished artfully with a sprig of oyster leaf to play up the ocean flavours.
And if you find the egg confit with truffled potato mousseline, roasted macadamia nuts and brown butter foam a tad similar to the cuisine at the award-winning Jaan restaurant, that's probably because Saveur Art's chef de cuisine, Tyler Lai, worked under Jaan's executive chef, Julien Royer, for three years.
SELFISH GENE PATISSERIE
40 Craig Road, 1st floor, cafe;
2nd floor, patisserie
Serving poached eggs cooked in a circulator and the kind of roast-beef sandwiches that feature eight-hour, low-temperature roast beef, Selfish Gene Cafe is more than a cafe, but not quite a restaurant.
All that is going to change next month, when chef owner Gene Mok extends his opening hours (it usually pulls its shutters down at 5.30pm) to serve bistro food in prix-fixe dinner menus, "as people don't eat scrambled eggs at night". Taking the Selfish Gene brand further, Mr Mok is also launching a dessert concept, Selfish Gene Patisserie, above the cafe next month.
"The lease for this space kind of fell into my lap. The tenants from the second floor of the shophouse decided to vacate, so the landlord offered it to me," says Mr Mok, who decided to take the plunge and turn what was previously an office for a hedge-fund company into "a late-night dessert place where people can chill out".
Running in tandem with the cafe on the first floor, Selfish Gene Patisserie will focus on baked items such as savoury scones, sticky buns, quiche and open-face tarts in the late afternoon, and transition into a bar serving drinks and plated desserts at night.
"We are going to push Selfish Gene Cafe Patisserie as one concept. I want the dessert extension to be integrated with what we already have at our cafe," explains Mr Mok.
He doesn't call it fusion, but Mr Mok will meld Asian sensibilities with French techniques to offer a twist on Nonya pineapple tarts, with an ensemble of French biscuit, pastry cream, and roasted pineapples spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, star anise and dried chilli.
His tofu cheesecake will draw inspiration from chendol by incorporating flavours of pandan leaf, red bean and gula melaka.
"Upstairs is like an adult version of downstairs," says Mr Mok of the intimate atmosphere at his newly acquired second-floor space. He has kept the concrete walls and exposed wood beams as it is, but added minor touches like wood furnishings to bring warmth to the minimalist interiors.
Besides offering a sweet ending to the meal, Selfish Gene Patisserie will be available for private events and pop-up dinners.
GRUB NOODLE BAR
221 Rangoon Road
Having supper is common in Singapore, but finding quality food late at night can be tricky. Nocturnal city dwellers can now skip MSG-laden dishes, roti prata and deep-fried dim sum, as healthier options are available at Grub Noodle Bar, a spin-off of Grub bistro at Bishan Park. The food offerings are completely different, but Grub Noodle Bar delivers the same promise of cooking with natural ingredients and without the addition of MSG, artificial preservatives, additives or flavouring.
Behind the Grub brand are husband-and-wife duo Mervyn Phan and Amanda Phan, who together with two other friends, Dexter Tai and Kelvin Lim, started Cookyn Inc (a cooking events company) and FIX (a Halal cafe promoting corporate social responsibility programmes).
Joining other supper joints such as Founder Bak Kut Teh Restaurant and Whampoa Keng Fish-Head Steamboat in the Rangoon Road area, Grub Noodle Bar opens late into the night. The laid-back eatery offers myriad seafood appetisers that can be paired with German craft beers, but the star of the show is its beef noodles.
Springy egg noodles are served dry with minced beef, beef balls, stewed mushrooms and your choice of pasture-fed beef brisket ($12) and 150-days grain-fed Angus ribeye ($19) or sirloin ($17). The accompanying soup is simmered with two types of beef bones while the chinchalok dip (fermented shrimp paste) is a nod to Mr Phan's Hainanese roots.
"What you get at hawker centres will not be of this quality and quantity," he adds.
Mrs Phan says: "The premium beef we use is more common in a steakhouse than a casual noodle eatery, and the meat portion is 100g - that's almost half a steak."
Other noodle options include piquant Assam Laksa and Stewed Pork Noodles with lap cheong lardons and pickles.
THE GOURMET FOOD CO
18 North Canal Road
Looking at the sleek interior of The Gourmet Food Co, you'll never be able to guess that behind this modern purveyor concept is Chin Guan Hong, a well-established dried-seafood wholesale company that started in 1940.
Chin Guan Hong is one of the main players in the local dried-seafood industry and has been supplying hotel chains and restaurants such as Imperial Treasure and Crystal Jade. "We decided it was time to put a facade and face to what we've been doing for so many years," says Yio Jin Xian, who belongs to the third generation of the family-run business.
As a result, a new branch of the business was born and an empty shophouse in the Central Business District area was converted into a showroom for restaurant owners and chefs to drop by to examine its offerings.
With the new storefront came a new name - The Gourmet Food Co - to help the wholesale company project a more contemporary image. The space also functions as a retail outlet for foodies to pick up premium ingredients.
As oriental seafood is at the core of Chin Guan Hong's business, The Gourmet Food Co stocks highly prized Kansai dried sea cucumbers that cost up to $3,300 per kilogram and premium dried scallops packed into jam jars. The frozen section packs a range of ingredients from Hokkaido scallops, sea perch fish maw, white teat sea cucumbers, to sustainably sourced shark's fin.
Over the years, Chin Guan Hong has expanded to offer a variety of meat and other food products. "But steak doesn't come to mind if I were to mention Chin Guan Hong," says Mr Yio.
Hence, The Gourmet Food Co provides an opportunity to highlight meat products such as Japanese Miyazaki Wagyu, oxtail cuts and veal, as well as products such as wines and condiments.
THE BUSINESS TIMES