Dempsey Hill might be known as a dining enclave today, but its affinity with food began way back in the 1850s – when it was used as a nutmeg plantation site. Today, the verdant greenery and lush landscape remain, lending an idyllic charm to the various lifestyle offerings and upmarket restaurants that have taken root in the neighbourhood.
And that tranquil allure, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, continues to draw both patrons and tenants alike. A new crop of eateries has sprung up in the Dempsey enclave in recent times, adding new tastes and reasons to visit this off-beat precinct.
If three-Michelin-starred Odette was a loving tribute to his grandmother, then chef Julien Royer’s third and latest concept, Claudine, is a heartfelt ode dedicated to his mother. The casual restaurant takes over a converted chapel (where former The White Rabbit stands); the storied locale layered with Royer’s memories of growing up.
“Claudine is inspired by what I call ‘joie de vivre’ – the joys of home,” shares the chef-patron. “It presents an intimate side of French cuisine.” Here, the menu comes imbued with a deeply personal touch – well-loved dishes that Royer grew up eating, classics prepped according to time-honoured family recipes, and even current favourites that the chef would cook for friends and family. “This is meant to be a place to return to all the time – from everyday meals to special celebrations,” adds Royer.
Dishes include the comforting vol-au-vent and rich bouillabaisse, to chou farci or stuffed cabbage jazzed-up with foie gras. Notes of prune peek through to lighten the dish – a delightful addition that Royer learned and picked up from his mother.
And it helps that the space is designed to exude homey charm. The heritage building comes dressed in a maroon-hued ceiling to invoke a sense of cosiness, while organic lines from existing wrought-iron window grilles are complemented by panels of pressed blooms to add texture and warmth.
39C Harding Road, Singapore 249541.
The dining enclave welcomes its first traditional Omakase restaurant: Sushi Sato. And working behind the nine-seater counter is chef Yuji Sato, formerly of Hashida Singapore. Seasonal catch, flown in four times a week from Japan, is used to create its debut menu.
He chooses to break up the usual cadence of sushi courses by alternating hot and cold courses – a warm steamed crab cake, for instance, might be chased with a slice of raw Pacific saury, fatty and rich in flavour. Almost everything is prepped before your very eyes – an approach that Sato refers to as “hot is hot, cold is cold”. It helps explain why the chef chooses to cook everything right behind the counter: so nothing is lost in terms of heat and texture. There are also three rare labels of sake exclusive to Sushi Sato, with highlights that include Juyondai Gold Label Takagi Shuzo and N by Hidetoshi Nakata Junmai Daiginjo.
The space provides a feast for the senses, too. Windows look out to a zen-like garden, and interior motifs of abstract leaves and 200-year-old hinoki wood counter invite a piece of the outdoor into the room.
6B Dempsey Road, Singapore 247662. Tel: 6971 8265
The largest organic and natural food store in Singapore blooms in Dempsey. Terra Madre, which boasts a retail and dining concept, occupies over 6,000 sq ft of space, filling each corner with healthy pantry staples and wholesome café grub.
Browse and shop from over 1,000 products, then fuel up at the adjoining Terra Madre Restaurant. All-day, Australian-inspired plates make for nourishing options for all; the hearty, family-friendly menu features butternut hummus dressed with dukkah, wild red snapper grilled in banana leaf, spiced vegetable fritters paired with Asian slaw, and grilled sausage and mash for the little ones. Desserts are an equally guilt-free affair, with vegan bakes and gluten-free treats available.
#01-02, 71 Loewen Road, Singapore 248847. Tel: 6250 2052
The bistro might be named after an old topographic surname (Hathaway refers to someone who lives buy a path across a heath), but its menu is decidedly modern. Local flavours are drawn as the main source of inspiration, with touches of Japanese, French, and Middle Eastern influences sprinkled throughout to present novel treats.
Thick-cut slices of French toast come accompanied by pengat pisang, or caramelised banana sewed in coconut milk; Straits of Dempsey combines spice-scented butter chicken with rounds of potato latkes; and Ah Nya’s fish curry is made based on the owner’s family recipe, finished with deep-fried okra. The food and beverage list has also been designed to be as inclusive as possible, and chooses to omit pork, lard, and alcohol.
To complement the Asian-leaning menu, the insides of the colonial building come decked out with rattan-lined fixtures – chairs, stools, wall panels, and more. The material not only helps add a casual tone to the dining space, but its widespread use in Southeast Asian context harkens back to the brand ethos: of celebrating “our people and culture”.
#01-07, Block 13 Dempsey Road, Singapore 249674.
Canchita Peruvian Cuisine
A tiny slice of the Peruvian Amazonia arrives at Dempsey. Tucked away in a quiet corner, and nestled among verdant greenery, Canchita Peruvian Cuisine is the latest venture by husband-wife duo Tamara Chavez and Daniel Chavez (from now-closed Ola Cocina Del Mar and Tono Cevicheria) that seeks to celebrate colourful Latin American cuisine. “Canchita is the next bold step in my journey where I hope to continue spreading the vibrant flavours and rich traditions of Peru and the continent in my adopted home,” says Chavez.
Spread across two sprawling compounds, settle down at the larger dining hall, which comes flanked by floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the forest; or grab a seat at the breezy upper deck, which houses a ceviche bar. Either way, look forward to vibrant plates and punchy aroma typical of Peruvian cooking.
The usual Tiger’s Milk recipe comes presented in fresh ways to present ceviche with new tastes; try Canchita’s spicy take on the cured fish dish, where rocoto chilli lends a soothing heat; or the luxed-up, uni-crowned variant dressed with passionfruit-tinged marinade. There are other lesser-seen finds on the menu; dishes, including the lomo saltado, or beef stir-fry and arroz chaufa, reflect the Chinese diaspora – and help showcase the multicultural influences of the region’s cuisine.
9A 9B Dempsey Rd, Singapore 247698. Tel: 6232 7895
After setting up shop at Teck Lim Road in 2013, one-Michelin-starred Burnt Ends will be smoking up the Dempsey neighbourhood come early December. Drawn by the roomy space and lush surrounds, the expanded smokehouse will house all of chef Dave Pynt’s ideas under one roof.
“I am really looking forward to having enough room to explore all the things that we haven’t had a chance to at Teck Lim,” shares the chef-owner. “The space is close to 10 times the size of the old Burnt Ends.”
Pynt is particularly excited to play with a new wood-fired bread oven designed by Alex Chernov. Previously, all the baking had to be done in a separate space on the second storey of the restaurant. But at 7 Dempsey Road, the roomy location will be able to accommodate Burnt Ends Bakery (currently in its soft launch phase) – in addition to a bar, a private dining room outfitted with its own cooking facilities, and a garden area.
The main dining space is slated to open in early December, and will come outfitted with a similar open kitchen concept. Only this time, the space is much bigger and more visible, with extra space to play with “anything and everything”. Pynt adds, jokingly: “And we can’t hide behind anything now.”
7 Dempsey Road, Singapore 249671.