What’s Cooking for 2020

Magic of the Square

Shane Gan, Sook Yi Lai
Shane Gan and Sook Yi Lai are two chefs headlining Magic Square.

By late March, the second version of Magic Square will open in a permanent space at 7 Portsdown Road, as founder Tan Ken Loon takes the plunge to cement the former pop-up’s reputation as a training ground for young chef talent.

“We will have four chefs instead of three,” he says. Two chefs have already been recruited: Sook Yi Lai who had worked at the one Michelin-starred Nouri, and Shane Gan, who also hails from starred restaurants such as Candlenut and Cheek by Jowl. Mr Tan is still in the midst of recruiting the remaining two chefs.

“It will be a dedicated research kitchen for the team to focus on exploration and experimentation. This time, it’s all counter seating with 21 seats instead of 18. We’re also opening up a position for a general manager/sommelier-type role to help develop the next generation of Front-of-House staff. The format remains the same with one chef driving the menu for one month and the other three as sous chefs. It’ll be S$78 per head, with two seatings.”

(RELATED: Magic Square: A secret restaurant helmed by young Singaporean chefs)

Small is the new big

Bjorn Shen
Bjorn Shen of Artichoke.

Intimate, low-on-investment-but-big-on-ideas concepts seem to be a thing in 2020 with both Naked Finn and Artichoke embarking on tiny passion projects. “Small’s is a four-seat chef’s counter/private dining room within Artichoke itself,” says Chef Shen, who adds that he’s making use of existing resources rather than commit to a new lease and team somewhere else.

“I’m running it myself three days a week, so my time and energy is the only real overhead. This way, I can afford to take huge risks and do really out-there kinds of things that any sensible restaurant owner won’t ever do. If what I do doesn’t work out, so be it. Right now, the plan is a pizza omakase menu and if it turns out to be absolute rubbish, it’s no real loss apart from the $5,000 plus pizza equipment that I installed. The space is generic enough to be home to the next concept, be it a chicken nugget and champagne bar, or a takeout banh mi shop. I’ve got so many ideas and Small’s is where I’ll be road-testing them.”

In turn, The Naked Finn’s Mr Tan will open a counter seating-only concept in the second half of 2020, serving “a simple multi-course menu with a small team”. The menu will be Japanese-French, and he got the idea after meeting a talented chef on one of his trips to Japan. Impressed with his cooking, Mr Tan wanted to offer him an opportunity in Singapore, and at the same time showcase the plethora of Japanese seafood which he imports, and locally farmed vegetables.

He hasn’t got a name or space just yet, but it will be a 12-seater, and he intends to make the prices reasonable, rather than go the fine dining route. Although he acknowledges new restaurants are always a risk, “we still need to grow and we believe in our products”.

Returning to his roots

Six months ago, Sri Lanka-born chef Rishi Naleendra was nervous about opening Cloudstreet, his most ambitious and personal dining concept that could either make or break his culinary career. But now that it’s a certified overwhelming success, he’s not only elated, but he’s also got the confidence to open a new restaurant that’s close to his heart – serving Sri Lankan food.

A joint venture with Loh Lik Peng (who also co-owns Cloudstreet) – “we’ve been wanting to open a Sri Lankan place for the longest time” – Chef Naleendra adds that the new eatery will be located at the newly-refurbished Wanderlust hotel. Originally owned by Mr Loh, the building was sold two years ago to 8M Collective, which will re-open it with the same name.

(RELATED: Where to find Sri Lankan cuisine in Singapore)

Scheduled to open in March, the restaurant – he has a name in mind but hasn’t officially bought it yet – will serve classic Sri Lankan food in a modern, funky environment designed by the same people who did Cloudstreet. Think three kinds of Sri Lankan crab curry, string hoppers, lamprais, koththu roti and the like. “It’ll be vibrant, colourful and very cocktail-driven.” The cocktails will have a cricket theme, and be named after the game’s shots and positions. The chef is from Sri Lanka, whom Chef Naleendra met two years ago when he was doing a consultancy project, and will move to Singapore early in the year.

While he had never thought about serving Sri Lankan food, Chef Naleendra adds that Cloudstreet has proved to him that “when you come up with concepts that people can appreciate and enjoy, it has a higher success rate”. And while he’s “always nervous” about opening new eateries, it’s clear that with his sense of authenticity – and Singaporeans’ love for crabs – there’s a ready crowd that can’t wait for him to open.

(RELATED: Cloudstreet: Someplace quite magical)

Chill out and be Nourished

Ivan Brehm
Ivan Brehm, chef-owner of Nouri.

At Nouri, chef-owner Ivan Brehm brings food cultures together with his brand of Crossroads cooking, but some time in 2020, he’ll be offering guests a chill-out space to have a drink, listen to music and enjoy a streamlined version of his cooking.

(RELATED: Chef Ivan Brehm on what to expect from “crossroads cuisine” at the new Nouri)

“We want to continue to talk about culture, but in a way that is accessible and interesting for people who might not be the typical Nouri dinner,” says Chef Brehm. Besides working on reaching out to a wider audience with Nouri’s culinary direction, he will also be taking over the space above the restaurant in Amoy Street.

“Singapore lacks a serious music and art scene outside of the gallery space or concert hall, and people who crave this are coming together and making it happen with their own hands. We are some of these people,” hints Chef Brehm. “Imagine a flat built for the enjoyment of good food and drink, great music, art and a ton of grown-up parties. All with the intention of bringing people closer together.” Watch this space.

Designer Chinese and Japanese cuisine

There are two major dining experiences awaiting at Marina Bay Sands this year, and the first off the block is the highly-anticipated Hong Kong import, Mott 32. The design-centric eatery’s USP is to offer “a unique experience different from any other Chinese restaurant that people are used to”, says its managing director and culinary director, Malcolm Wood. With branches in Vancouver, Las Vegas and Seoul, each Mott 32 has a distinctive look that reflects the city it’s in and for Singapore, “we drew inspiration from the city’s botanicals, and chose to highlight elements of rich foliage and flora to showcase the city’s love for gardens, parks and natural trails”. What’s on the menu also promises to be stunning – namely Apple Wood Roasted 42 Days Peking Duck featuring ducks that are literally 42 days old and imported from Beijing; and barbecued Spanish iberico pork with yellow mountain honey.

Modern Chinese cooking aside, the return of veteran chef Tetsuya Wakuda to the refurbished Waku Ghin in February will also be an anticipated experience. “Designed by award-winning interior designer Yohei Akao, the new Waku Ghin will continue to showcase the brilliance of Chef Tetsuya Wakuda’s cuisine through four distinct dining spaces,” says Ms Kaelbel-Sheares.

(RELATED: Chef Tetsuya Wakuda on Sustainability and Managing Food Waste: It’s Everything)

Return to Raffles

He started out as the first chef to head Shinji Kanesaka’s debut sushi restaurant in Raffles Singapore and now, 10 years later, Koichiro Oshino has come full circle, but with his own name on the door.

Koichiro Oshino and wife
Koichiro Oshino and his wife Motoko.

After several delays, Oshino Sushi will open at the former Ah Teng’s Bakery premises in mid-February, says Joni Ong, managing director of Shinji by Kanesaka, which includes the Michelin-starred outlet in Carlton Hotel, and another in St Regis Singapore. “I see Oshino as a separate restaurant from Shinji,” says Ms Ong. “It will be helmed by Oshino san and his wife Motoko, and a washoku chef. It will be very much a dining experience focused on the chef’s skills, seasonality and quality of the food, as well as the service of the husband-wife team.”

Oshino will be small at just under 1,000 sq ft, “but it’s appropriately intimate for an eight-seater only counter.”

(RELATED: Shinji by Kanesaka)

This article was originally published in The Business Times.

Photos: BT/SPH, Marina Bay Sands, Lo & Behold Group & Bjorn Shen.