year in review

Photos: Lo Quay

If 2022 was the year of recovery for the food and beverage industry, 2023 can be best described as a year of revenge dining. The past 12 months have been a bumper year, with a slew of high-profile openings like Cédric Grolet’s first Asian outpost at Como Orchard and establishments such as Zeniya, Sushi Takahashi, Brasserie Astoria, Cote Korean Steakhouse, FYSH by chef Josh Niland and Draft Land branching out here.

The city has also played host to some of the world’s biggest wines and spirits events, including the World’s 50 Best Bars ceremony, held outside of Europe for the first time. With travel back in full force, chefs and bartenders around the world travelled freely, which led to a bonanza of multiple-hand collaborations and guest shifts.

Despite perennial challenges such as labour shortages and rising rents, restaurants mushroomed across Singapore.

Based on business registry statistics from the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority, over 2,800 F&B business entities were formed in the first three quarters of 2023. However, the turnover rate of restaurants is equally high, with more than 2,000 closures over the same period. With a weakened economic outlook for next year, rising inflation, and a growing priority on travelling, consumers are more cautious about their local dining budgets. Some restaurants are bracing themselves for an economic slump next year as the demand for fine-dining recalibrates.

We look back and take stock of this year’s highlights in food and drink with these five trends.

1. Growing diversity in Singapore’s fine-dining scene

year in review
Photo: Lo Quay

Singapore has always been a multicultural city with a kaleidoscope of cuisines to offer, but this year, fine-dining has not felt this fresh and exhilarating in some years. Besides the Malay archipelago, a diverse range of cuisines from other parts of Southeast Asia were also elevated. Burma Social in Tanjong Pagar serves elevated Burmese plates like Laphet Nay Wai Thoke (fermented tea leaf salad) with influences from neighbouring China, Thailand, and India.

Contemporary Thai restaurant Khiri offers a refined degustation menu that spotlights the depth and breadth of Thai cuisine. The popular Esaan Kor moo yang has Iberico secreto marinated with a Northern Thai flavour combination of herbs and aromatics like coriander root and garlic. At Lo Quay, Vietnamese cuisine gets a playful reimagining by Chef Quynh Brown, who brings almost 20 years of experience, including 14 at Noma and Zuma, to her New Vietnamese Cuisine restaurant. Other cuisines from Asia were also elevated, including Sichuan (Kun) and Korean (Onmi).

year in review
Araya’s chefs Francisco Araya and Fernanda Guerrero. (Photo: Araya)

From South America, restaurants serving Colombian and Chilean cuisines made their mark. 

Bacata by chef Fernando Arévalo is a creative showcase of his native Colombian food. Araya in Mondrian Singapore Duxton serves Chilean South Pacific cuisine that features indigenous and Japanese ingredients by chefs Francisco Araya and Fernanda Guerrero. Highlights include Brazilian Moqueca (fish stew) elevated with Japanese kinki and its unique take on ceviche with tangy shio koji-cured slivers of scallops topped with a tiger’s milk sorbet.

“At Araya, our cuisine is defined by the generosity and freshness of ingredients, characterised by the use of acids, meat, naturally sweet ingredients, potatoes, and, most notably, seafood. It’s well-loved in Chile because it is affordable and delicious. Our goal is to elevate the native Chilean cuisine experience through the use of fresh and premium ingredients,” they explain.

2. A mushrooming of hotel-led F&B concepts

year in review
Bottega di Carna at Mondrian Singapore Duxton. (Photo: Mondrian Singapore Duxton)

“F&B drives Mondrian’s development,” quips Robert C. Hauck, general manager of Mondrian Singapore Duxton. “We are bars and restaurants with rooms on top.” Besides its own collection of concepts, including modern Italian eatery Bottega di Carna (a partnership with renowned butcher Dario Cecchini) and cocktail bar Jungle Ballroom, the chic boutique hotel also houses Suzuki, an omakase restaurant, and Araya. Local F&B operator Ebb & Flow Group launched two concepts in December — Tribal, a modern Asian grill, and Slate, a modern Asian bar — and will roll out Japanese grocer Modern Provision in January.

“Mondrian hotels are always located in the most vibrant cultural scenes in the world. If you look at the original hotel in Los Angeles, it has an incredible vibe. It’s not just a hotel; it’s a destination with great places to eat and drink.”

The Singapore EDITION
Photo: The Singapore EDITION

Pan Pacific Orchard’s newly refreshed biophilic hotel houses Mosella, a Peruvian-Mediterranean dining room, as well as champagne and oyster bar Florette. Pullman Singapore Hill Street captures the pool party crowd with Mexican rooftop bar El Chido, while Como Metropolitan Singapore follows the success of Cedric Grolet Singapore with its upcoming opening of Michelin-starred Korean steakhouse Cote.

The brainchild of restaurateur Simon Kim, Cote is a unique fusion of a Korean barbecue and an American chophouse. Also, award-winning chef Josh Niland debuted his first restaurant outside of Australia with FYSH at the Singapore Edition, which serves a mouthwatering menu of sustainable seafood-focused and steakhouse-inspired dishes.

3. The year of Southeast Asian cuisine

year in review
Restaurant Fiz’s chef Hafizzul Hashim. (Photo: Fiz)

A new crop of chefs is forging the future of Southeast Asian cuisine, with notable openings including home-grown chef Law Jia-Jun’s Province and Restaurant Fiz by chef Hafizzul Hashim. Law’s minimal Joo Chiat dining space is hyper-focused on seasonal produce sourced from local and regional farmers, fishermen, and growers. The 29-year-old Singaporean, who cut his teeth at award-winning Californian restaurants, is keen to highlight Southeast Asian ingredients in his culinary creations, which include local frog yakitori and grilled squid with pomelo and betel leaf. 

Malaysian chef Hafizzul, on the other hand, was inspired to explore the potential of Southeast Asian food when he saw familiar ingredients like galangal being used in modern European dishes while working at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s JG Tokyo. Now, his fine-dining establishment at Tanjong Pagar features blood cockles and paku pakis (wild fern) alongside caviar and Wagyu ribeye. 

Of course, the biggest hurrah for the genre came when Seroja scored a hat-trick in this year’s Michelin Guide Singapore selection, nabbing its first Michelin star as well as Singapore’s first Michelin Green Star, awarded to restaurants committed to sustainable gastronomy. Chef-owner Kevin Wong went on that evening to win the Young Chef Award, all but guaranteeing him a spot in the culinary record books.

4. An eventful year for the drinks industry

The World's 50 Best Bars 2023
Photo: The World’s 50 Best Bars 2023

Singapore is no stranger to large-scale boozy events, being home to festivals and trade shows like Beerfest Asia, ProWine Singapore, and Whisky Live. However, May marked the first time Vinexpo — the flagship event for the wines and spirits business in Asia — was held in Singapore, attracting almost 10,000 trade visitors. The international fair also saw the inauguration of the B+D Grand Tasting, a new partnership between Vinexposium and wine experts Bettane+Desseauve, where wine enthusiasts get the exclusive chance to taste an exceptional curation of wines all rated 90 points or above.

The resounding success of the biennial wines and spirits fair, which debuted in Hong Kong in 1998, convinced organisers to hold the exhibition annually moving forward, alternating between Hong Kong and Singapore. 

In October, the global cocktail community convened here for the 15th edition of The World’s 50 Best Bars and countless guest shifts across some of the country’s top bars. Significantly, Singapore was the first Asian country to host the prestigious event.

year in review
BCB Singapore debuted this year. (Photo: BCB Singapore)

Just weeks later, Bar Convent Singapore (BCB Singapore) debuted here. The Asian offshoot of Bar Convent Berlin, the largest trade fair of the bar and beverage industry, the two-day event featured over 150 global brands and educational sessions and masterclasses for trade professionals. 

“BCB Singapore was the first event of its kind dedicated to Asia’s bar and beverage industry,” said Henry Stonham, Senior Project Manager of BCB Singapore. “Overall, we were delighted with how the fundamental values of BCB were so well represented. For us, the aim is to give the regional industry a yearly opportunity that they can always rely on to connect with key partners, learn new things, and find amazing new products or inspiration, all within a highly concentrated environment. Next year, the goal is to build on these foundations through continuous conversations with brands, bars, and industry partners to ensure that we are delivering to their needs.”

5. The rise of the gastrobar

year in review
Fura’s This Hotdog Doesn’t Need To Explain Itself. (Photo: Fura)

Crispy oyster mushrooms with charred leeks and black garlic caviar. Blue swimmer crab croquette with polenta. Scallop ceviche with dashi, mango, and pink peppercorn. You’d be forgiven for thinking they belong in restaurants, but these are the elevated bites at some of Singapore’s latest cocktail bars.

Paelet, Keong Saik’s new “cocktail and culinary den”, is serving meal-sized portions of beef rendang with lime aioli and half chicken with agave glaze alongside its innovative drinks. Flow, formerly attached to Restaurant JAG at Duxton Road, has been reimagined as a Californian resto-bar, forging its culinary identity with chef Imran Yunus’s menu. You can order a proper Teys Full Blood Black Angus ribeye to pair with your Maxwell MRTini (thyme-baked onion Old Tom Gin, Flow-blended dry vermouth, and bitters). 

At Fura, the elegant plant-based menu by chef Christina Rasmussen (ex-head forager at Noma) is designed to pair with the sustainability-minded cocktails by Sasha Wijidessa (ex-head bartender at Operation Dagger). “We think the trend started as a response to the challenges posed by Covid-19,” muses Rasmussen.

“Due to the curfews, people didn’t bar-hop in the same way they used to, choosing to stay at a single location for most of the night. As we transitioned from developing Mallow, our pop-up space, to Fura, it also made sense to put a 50/50 focus on food and drinks. We wanted to be recognised equally for our roles in growing the brand, rather than having Sasha exclusively behind the bar and me on the floor. We share a similar palate and also incorporate our ideas and flavour experiences to support each other in refining our concepts.”