Fresh faces on the food scene
THREE young entrepreneurs talk about crossing over from the fashion, music and design industries to make their mark as restaurateurs.
Pince and Pints
32-33 Duxton Road
When's the last time you had lobster during a casual, dress-down dinner with friends? Or have you ever?
Ponder no longer, as Mr Yap's lobster specialist Pince and Pints opens today.
The 46-seat eatery serves only three dishes, all priced at $48 each: a whole lobster - steamed or grilled - with a side of fries and salad; a lobster roll that encases hearty chunks of mayonnaise-coated lobster flesh in a butter-fried white bun; and chilli lobster, a take on the classic Singaporean chilli crab dish, served with golden-crusted mantous.
"Not many people get to eat lobster on a regular basis in Singapore, as it is typically very pricey and found only in fine-dining restaurants. But we wanted to make it accessible to the masses and serve lobster only, which hasn't been done in Singapore," the 27-year-old co-founder of fashion e-tailer Love, Bonito says of his first food-and-beverage foray.
For the meat in the lobster rolls, the seafood is steamed, de-shelled and chilled ahead of dinner daily, while the whole lobsters are slaughtered only after you place your order. Only American lobsters - or the Homarus americanus - are used, a species picked for its durable hard shells and year-round availability, says Mr Yap. Each lobster typically weighs 600-650g, which yields about 160g of edible lobster flesh.
If you think Pince and Pints bears an uncanny resemblance to London's immensely popular Burger and Lobster chain, you wouldn't be far off the mark.
After all, Mr Yap calls the Burger and Lobster's business model "an inspiration", and sources his lobsters from the same seafood suppliers in Maine, Boston and Nova Scotia in Canada. He even met up with the chain's co-founder on his last trip to London.
Rather than launch a franchised outlet of the brand here, however, Mr Yap says his aim is to create a made-in-Singapore brand designed for the local market.
The buns in the lobster rolls are baked by a traditional bakery in Chinatown, for instance, while the mayonnaise used in the lobster rolls is based on a recipe that the hobbyist chef concocted himself.
With two wok stations in the kitchen, Pince and Pints plans to roll out more dishes adapted from local zichar classics, such as a deep-fried XO lobster and lobster e-fu noodles, when it expands to all-day dining hours eventually.
"I'd rather build a brand myself. Pince and Pints can grow as a name," says Mr Yap, who has his sights set on regional expansion.
Besides Pince and Pints, he has also launched a distribution arm supplying lobsters to establishments such as Tanjong Beach Club and the Naked Finn, and ultimately aims to launch a central kitchen to package retail products - such as lobster butter and lobster oil - from the restaurant's lobster spare parts.
Babette - Restaurant and Bar
165 Tyrwhitt Road
#01-03 Parc Sovereign Hotel
11am to 11pm daily
Mr Wee doesn't just gush about food on the radio - he puts his money where his mouth is.
After hosting The Sunday Brunch weekend show on 987FM for the last two years, the part-time radio deejay launched his second restaurant venture, Babette, last week.
"Everyone wants to expand at some point. Doing it when you're younger means you have more energy to commit to your business," says the 29-year-old, who also runs two-year-old massage parlour-cum-heartland cafe Chillax in Serangoon Gardens.
His sophomore effort is a slightly smarter 64-seat tenanted space within the brand-new four-star Parc Sovereign Hotel in Tyrwhitt Road. Named after the 1980s Danish movie Babette's Feast, "a poetic film about how food can bring people together and right wrongs", Mr Wee hopes the modern restaurant-bar will, likewise, channel the same positive vibe.
"It's like how asking where the best char kway tiao or chicken rice is in Singapore will always break the ice and get people talking," he elaborates.
Beyond a menu of salads, pasta and crowd-pleasing small plates such as truffle fries, tuna tartare and octopus tempura ($8 to $14), Babette's star orders are its small but thoughtfully crafted selection of mains, which fuse French techniques with Japanese ingredients tailored for local palates.
Says Mr Wee: "Most Singaporeans enjoy Japanese food and are familiar with French cuisine, and what I especially like about the two cuisines is that a lot of effort and thought go into them, right down to the plating."
This multicultural cooking philosophy is best epitomised in Babette's signature dish, the duck confit donburi ($28), which folds in a leg of crispy duck leg on a bed of Japanese rice topped with homemade Japanese sauce and pickles - or what Mr Wee jokes is "my version of atas roast duck rice".
Other mixed-marriage creations include the pork and bacon hamburg donburi ($16), or a rice bowl topped with a plump roll of bacon-wrapped pork sausage and a slow-poached "onsen egg" that you mix into the rice before eating, and the fully indulgent steak and foie gras donburi ($28), which comprises plumply sliced striploin cuts of beef paired with pan-seared foie gras, and a garlic and soya sauce-based Babette sauce.
Lighter plates such as the chirashi donburi ($19), or marinated assorted raw fish chunks on a bowl of plain Japanese rice, and sous vide-cooked salmon steak served on coils of soba noodles ($17) will satisfy those looking to avoid a post-lunch food coma.
"French-Japanese cuisine is typically found in fine-dining restaurants, but at Babette, we wanted to translate that into one-dish meals that you can eat daily," says Mr Wee.
The 1925 Microbrewery and Restaurant
369 Jalan Besar
10am-midnight (Mon-Sat), 10am-10pm (Sun)
What does game design have to do with running a restaurant? Very little, yet very much, according to Mr Yeo of Jalan Besar's latest dining spot, The 1925.
"Running a restaurant was never really a definite goal I had worked towards, yet everything I've done has led to this," the former head of a mobile-gaming agency remarks.
Granted, the microbrewery-restaurant has been open for only six weeks and is still undergoing many changes: Its second-floor wine lounge cum communal dining area (a large central table seats up to 20) opened only last week, its wine racks will be set up only in a fortnight and its alcohol licences - for the restaurant to serve the light and dark pilsner beers produced by its on-site microbrewery - are still pending.
Still, Mr Yeo concedes: "It's a different kind of stress. I can sleep much better now."
The 33-year-old dabbled in the design industry for close to two decades, from website development to interactive multimedia design and even social media marketing, and most recently headed a mobile application development company, which he spun off from a larger group in which he was creative director.
He observes: "In the design industry, after you deliver a project to a client, you still have to continue to make sure your campaign or website works well, but it is then also left in the hands of many people, which makes it open to potential problems beyond your control.
"F&B is a tangible business that appeals to many senses; you can see, smell and taste the food to determine its value. For design, most people judge the final product only visually, so you constantly have to justify the value of your intangible ideas."
At one point in his earlier career, he branched out into interior design with a local furniture company, where a part of his responsibilities was to oversee the company's F&B spin-off, a cafe in Tiong Bahru.
It was also there where the seeds for The 1925 were sown, Mr Yeo recalls. A few friends had gathered at the cafe to knock back his uncle Yeo King Joey's home-brewed craft beers post-dinner some time last year, and encouraged the younger Mr Yeo to run his own microbrewery. (The older man, an aeronautical engineer by day, now oversees the four 600-litre tanks of beers on the restaurant's ground floor.)
It didn't matter to the Yeos that none in the family have any F&B experience. Mr Yeo admits that, while there are indeed challenges as a relatively unknown name, such as food suppliers often wanting cash on demand - resulting in tighter cashflow and a higher chance that some items on the menu will run out - the upside is that "we will never know whether we are doing things right".
"This means we won't do things the usual way, which is refreshing for our customers," he says.
Unusual items on the menu include the crispy egg aglio olio ($16), a chilli and garlic-tinged spaghetti coiffed with wisps of the crispy fried egg typically seen in zichar dishes, and the raw Canadian oyster shooters ($10 for two) that you knock back with a shot of Alaskan smoked salmon vodka and a sprig of thyme.
In place of dessert, pick from an array of dessert-inspired cocktails like the gula melaka and pandan-tinged Zoot Soot Riot ($16) or the Ziegfield Follies ($16), which blends vanilla vodka, strawberry puree with strawberry ice-cream topped with parmesan cheese cookie crumbs.
THE BUSINESS TIMES