Anybody who has been visiting the Robertson Quay area would have noticed that a gradual but distinct change is underfoot. The Quayside – the quiet little sister to Robertson Walk – seems to have finally come of age. The area has welcomed an influx of hip concept eateries such as Summerlong and Super Loco. The crowd is cool, and the vibe relaxed.
The mastermind orchestrating this transformation is Kishin RK Hiranandani of RB Capital Group, who acquired The Quayside’s retail podium in 2012 and the former Gallery Hotel in 2013 (this development has been transformed into the new InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay, to be launched in October this year).
The 34-year-old Singaporean might be the founder and CEO of the company, but he doesn’t limit himself to “high level” decisions. Every single detail of his projects – from curating the tenant mix to choosing the right lighting – is important to him. He doesn’t just set trends – he builds them from ground up. We find out more from him in this exclusive interview:
You mentioned before that when it comes to property development, you focus on business-to-consumer first, which then allows you to shape the positioning of that property. In terms of the F&B landscape today: what are consumers looking for?
They are looking for fine casual option. The people here have the ability to spend, are well-travelled and discerning, but there is less and less of a want to dress up to go out for a meal. Summerlong is a perfect example of an option that caters to these desires – fine, well-curated food served in a casual setting, without compromising on quality. These such concepts are what people are missing – and not just in Singapore, but on a global level. In fact, a lot of celebrity chefs are now developing concepts for the fine-casual segment. The white table cloth has and always will have its place but its not key focus amongst top end restauranteurs.
Seems like you prefer going back to tried-and-tested establishments.
I am a creature of habit but also get to try a lot of the new places for work. I look at the evolution of the dining scene all over the world, and in fact, most of my inspirations come from outside of Singapore. When I dine out while travelling, I look for something that could be relevant for Singapore; something that I know I can transplant here. In New York it might be iconic places like Locanda Verde in Tribeca and Balthazar in SoHo; in London, it might be Scalini on Walton Street or the hugely popular Japanese restaurant Dinings. I eat out not just for that gastronomic experience, but to absorb the energy of the place. That’s why, before I decide on a restaurant concept, I first look at the operator I will be working with – the people who will be curating the energy. Working with people who understand the energy that I look for to suit the Quayside dynamic was the most important ingredient to the success of this development.
Are you also venturing into operating your own F&B concepts?
Indeed! At InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay (Singapore’s first residential-inspired hotel), we’ll be launching Publico, which incorporates an Italian-inspired deli, a casual ristorante and pizzeria with waterfront al fresco area, and an Italian cocktail bar helmed by one of Australia’s top mixologists, who is originally from Italy. We came up with the concept – you probably can tell where I got my inspirations from! The space is designed by AvroKO (award-winning New York-based design house F&B design house). The space will be open in October.
What do you look for when you are dining out?
For local fare: Boon Tong Kee on River Valley Road. For business entertainment, there are a few places that I enjoy: Otto, which is a great place for a power meeting; Luke’s for more relaxed Friday appointment; and for a serious business lunch, Gunther’s. The commonalities between the three are great food, great energy and unpretentious service.
Is there a city that you are so familiar with that you call your second home?
I visit London about four times a year – not just for work (though there is no separation between work and fun these days!) My family also enjoys going there. It is a destination that fits our needs: it’s got great food, great shopping, and we have great friends there. Plus, I’m a city person. When I am done with work commitments I schedule a day or two to explore the city, always by foot. That’s the only way to feel a city. I might go to Jermyn Street for my shaving stuff, a tailor on Bond Street… The quirky, bespoke retail experiences excite me, and I think that’s what people are looking for, rather than yet another double-storey flagship store. To be honest, I’m not really a shopper, but it is nice to browse through the retail scene and get a sense of the pulse of the city – and in the process I might get lucky and find a new shirt!
When was the last time you travelled solely for pleasure?
I just came back from a friend’s wedding in Majorca. The food was absolutely amazing: the paella was the best I’ve ever had, but everything else was excellent too. What’s also amazing is how reasonably priced a gastronomic meal is over there – and with the beautiful blue waters as the backdrop, it’s unbeatable.
Between big-name luxury hotels and boutique establishments – which would you personally go for?
On a work trip I want certainty: meeting rooms, knowing exactly what I am going to get. But for the extended days when I stay on for leisure, I switch it up – or down! So if I am in New York, I might be at Four Seasons from Monday to Friday, but on the weekends I might stay at The NoMad Hotel or Mercer Hotel – the very first boutique hotel there was.
Have there been any hotel stays that have impressed you by surpassing all expectations?
The best hotel experience I’ve ever had in my life was at Rosewood London. Sonia Cheng (the CEO of Rosewood Hotels & Resorts) has done an amazing job by providing guests with the certainty of the big branded hotel, injected with personalised service that has such a strong boutique hotel touch. Prior to me checking in, they had asked my personal assistant about my preferences. When I got there, I found Fortnam and Mason sandwiches in the fridge; dark chocolate in the pantry; almonds. Everything that I liked. You might expect that of a 20-room hotel, but to deliver that kind of highly curated experience in a luxury hotel (with more than 300 rooms and suites) is taking luxury hotel to the next level. I think Singapore is ready for a Rosewood. Is that a hint for something to come? I’m not saying!
What are your family meals like?
I eat with my parents about two to three times a week and because we run a family business, we are usually talking about work. In terms of food: my mum enjoys healthy eating, and I grew up eating quinoa and kale. We don’t have white bread or white sugar at home. For breakfast this morning I had buckwheat pancakes.
Do you entertain at home?
We entertain a lot outside, but not at home. It is our private space for switching off and to be ourselves.
(Note: Find out more about the new InterContinental Robertson Quay and the Quayside enclave in the latest issue of Gourmet & Travel magazine)