Business Times – 19 Apr 2008
Over the past couple of years, bars, cafes and restaurants have been sprouting up across Singapore faster than you can say ‘lifestyle hub’. As a result, we are seemingly spoilt for choice when it comes to new F&B clusters to check out. BT Weekend weighs in with some of the new candidates
Wessex Village Square
5B Portsdown Road
THE leafy confines around Wessex Estate, a quiet, 28-hectare colonial-era residential enclave in the Portsdown Road area, are looking pretty spiffy these days, having been given a polish as part of an extensive makeover that is intended to retain the area’s retro charm while injecting some new life into the neighbourhood.
Previously, social and culinary life in the area revolved around Colbar, the cult local hangout and eating house that has been around, in one form or another, for over half a century. It was relocated a few years ago to its present tree-lined site and has now been integrated into Wessex Village Square, the just-opened multi-purpose space that master developer JTC hopes will become the heart of the Wessex Estate community.
The Village Square, comprising a couple of single-storey buildings that were disused for many years and the spruced-up open courtyard between them, is made up of an arts-themed space and a three-pronged F&B component, that already has eager residents licking their lips in anticipation. The estate is already home to many people in the creative industry and The Village Square is seen as a natural extension to the existing community.
Laurent’s Cafe & Chocolate Bar
IT’S been almost two years since Laurent Bernard, the man behind those distinctive turquoise boxes and some of the best hand-made chocolates in Singapore, opened his cafe and chocolate factory at The Pier in Robertson Quay. When a space in Wessex Village Square came up, he grabbed the opportunity to expand the business and increase production.
‘For me to work as an artisan, it’s the best place,’ says Bernard, citing the artistic environment, the greenery and a sense of like being in a small town in France, where locals gather in the village square for coffee and to pass the time away. Here, he will focus on chocolate production, which has increased five-fold since he started business. ‘Since the beginning, we’ve only had good problems,’ he says.
The larger space will also enable him to devote a section of the cafe to displaying and promoting works by local artists, specifically those who live and work in Wessex Estate. Bernard also plans to move to the area when living space becomes available later on this year.
Customers who drop by can select from a menu that offers the likes of hot chocolate, chocolate souffle and a variety of cakes – not to mention those delectable chocolates, of course. ‘The environment is calm and beautiful,’ says Bernard. ‘When I first saw it two years ago I fell in love with it. We are artisans – I’m not into mass production. I’m happy to work in this kind of place, where, there is something for the eyes (art), the palate (chocolate) and ears (music from Klee, the new bar next door).’
NAMED for the Tuscan town where the owners come from, Pietrasanta is the latest family-run Italian neighbourhood eatery to open. Loris Massimini, his wife Jennifer and his brother Giuseppe have created a little slice of Tuscany in Wessex Village Square. It’s the sort of place that works well in Singapore, appealing to people in search of a casual trattoria that serves decent Italian fare.
Pietrasanta – the restaurant – is the personification of rustic charm, and there is also a strong connection to art. Its 1,200-year-old namesake in northern Tuscany is famed as the place where Michelangelo sourced the marble for his sculptures. ‘I’ve been in Singapore for 12 years and for the last 10 years, I’ve wanted to do something in this place,’ says Massimini, who like Laurent Bernard, also plans to live in the neighbourhood. ‘For my wife and me, it’s a dream come true.’
Steaks, pastas and pizza take precedence on the current menu, but owner chef Loris Massimini, who worked previously at restaurants such as Portofino and La Braceria, plans to gradually introduce a full slate of Tuscan food and wine. ‘Sixty per cent of high-end Italian wines are produced in Tuscany, and it’s the same for food,’ says Massimini. ‘Tuscany is the mother of culinary culture and we will slowly turn this place totally Tuscan.’
KLEE, the cocktail bar located in a separate building next to Laurent’s Cafe and Pietrasanta, is the third piece of the new F&B puzzle at Wessex Village Square and like its neighbours, seems to have captured the mood of the place. Housed in a building that used to be the caretaker’s lodge for Wessex Estate, it exudes an easy sense of laidback cool and savoir faire that people with artistic intent do so well.
Klee, which opened last week, is run by the people who own the Timbre F&B outlets at The Substation and The Arts House. It may be a neighbourhood bar, but don’t expect it to serve wine or beer and peanuts. According to co-managing director Edward Chia, the bar will feature specialty cocktails, made with freshly squeezed fruit juices and premium brands of alcohol.
‘The main aim is to lift cocktail culture,’ says Chia. ‘We will go back to the basics by offering bespoke cocktails, focusing on the product, the level of service and creating a sense of intimacy between the bartender and the customers.’ Customers sit in retro-style chairs alongside a bar that runs the length of the room.
By next month, there will be live entertainment as well, and weekend barbecues are on the cards. There is also a gallery component, with works by local artists displayed on the walls. It may be a different generation from Colbar a stone’s throw away, but Klee, and the rest of Wessex Village Square, has retained the original spirit of the place.
By Geoffrey Eu
6-9 Rochester Park
IF the new outlets at Dempsey Village have taken wining and dining traffic away from Rochester Park, four new concepts opening in the remaining black-and-white houses there soon should entice the crowd back.
Numbers six to nine are four buildings on the elevation above the existing row of Rochester Park dining outlets that opened last year. What foodies, drinkers and even cooking fans can expect is a gastronomical ‘village’ of sorts, featuring a smart casual restaurant, a gastrobar, a bakery and a vodka and caviar bar.
Even as walls are yet to be painted, works of art to be hung and tables re-arranged in all four buildings, the first to open is Cassis, a restaurant helmed by young French chef Eric Guilbert, who earned a Michelin star when he was at Lido restaurant at the Las-Dunas Beach hotel and spa, in Marbella, Spain, in 2004.
Cassis soft-opened this week, but it’s best to give it a couple of weeks for serving and kitchen staff to ‘settle in’ and iron out the kinks. The two bars and the bakery will soon open their doors at this ambitious gastro-project, which comes under Caprice Holdings, set up by Singapore-based Tolaram group which is an international conglomerate.
In the process of food ventures in Africa, Tolaram’s folks came across ‘lifestyle entrepreneur’ Mahesh P Ramnani, who had built up a chain of cigar lounges in Estonia besides founding the Gastronomy Society there. With Mr Ramnani heading Caprice Holdings and Italian-Finn Elena Natale as his right-hand ‘woman’, who has also overseen F&B establishments in the Nordic region, we can surely expect a dose of Euro-style management at the new establishments.
The combined energy of Mr Ramnani – Ghana-born, English educated, by the way – and Ms Natale should surely inject some fresh vibes into Rochester Park; on top of the new F&B concepts.
CHEF Eric Guilbert made all his male cooks shave bald the minute they showed up for work. We saw a shave in progress when we popped by earlier this week for a pre-arranged media tasting. Guests can easily check out the cooks’ shorn heads by peering through the show kitchen, although all of them still have their hats on, so maybe you’ll see shaved sideburns.
Anyway, that’s a good illustration of the precise nature of the 33-year-old’s cooking. There’s a touch of perfectionist in the fare that we tried, which isn’t your standard French French, but is more contemporary and ‘international’ in feel.
The dishes are sophisticated but not formal, and quite approachable – such as a duet of scallops, served as a flavourful flan and pan-seared. The grilled beef tenderloin was dramatically plated – a very tender, thick and round meat smack surrounded by a moat of creamy celery puree. Those are some of the chef’s signature dishes, including a seven-hour slowcooked leg of lamb which wasn’t stringy, served with a truffle potato puree. Entrees are between $30 and $40, while main courses are between $40 and $60.
Chef Guilbert didn’t go through formal cooking school, although he has taught Cordon Bleu students before. Given his apprenticeship roots – he started work at 15 – all the fine on-the-job training he has received shines through. One should go there with high expectations of this master of the kitchen.
In terms of decor, Cassis is flamboyant with a touch of eclecticism: ‘sunken’ outdoor seating surrounded by shimmering ‘pools’; a glass-covered patio with creepers trailing up on curved ladders; and a swanky indoor double-storey dining area complete with ornate modern chandeliers.
Pinchos Gastro Bar
SHADED in deep red and black, the gastrobar flaunts a modern yet rustic feel. It will boast a list of more than 300 quality wines in a walk-in wine ‘cava’, while an extensive menu of nibbles will be served.
WITH a floor painted macaroon pink and furniture in French country style, this bakery is meant to delight children and the inner child in adults. The name is derived from the 13th century term baker’s dozen, used in times when bakers would characteristically give 13 for the price of 12, thanks to a law which dictated that customers should not be short-changed.
Once the bakery is up and running, cooking and baking lessons will be held upstairs – for adults and children.
OPENING in May, Minx will be the ‘jewel’ of 6-9 Rochester Park, smacking of Russian opulence. Caviar takes centre stage while drinks will focus on vodka. Caprice Holdings’ owners have had a long trading history in the land of vodka, so guests can expect the best.
By Cheah Ui-Hoon
Singapore Polo Club,
80 Mount Pleasant Road.
THE Singapore Polo Club isn’t the first place you’d think of for a quiet meal in an interesting location, but given the number of restaurants opening in green neighbourhoods (such as Wessex Village Square and Rochester Park), perhaps it’s time to view it in a different light.
Restaurants in the vicinity of The Saddle Club and former Turf Club, such as Mimolette and Picotin, have shown that stables and staples go well together, but it isn’t so well known that the restaurants at the Polo Club are open to the public. The club took over F&B operations from an outside caterer earlier this year, and now offers various dining options at four different outlets – The Mountbatten Room, which is a fine-dining restaurant, a bar, an al fresco dining area and a poolside grill.
The Polo Club was founded in 1886, and along with an unmistakable sense of history, it has retained a veneer of its colonial-era charm – overhead fans, comfy armchairs, trophies in the display cabinet and the clink of gin and tonic-filled glasses on the verandah. On the wall beside the open-air bar, there are photographs of polo-playing luminaries, plus a painting of a scene in India, titled ‘The Game of Sahibs and Rajahs’. And of course, there’s the vast green expanse of the polo field just beyond the verandah railings.
‘At any other polo club in the world, you’d expect a certain standard of cuisine,’ says Dennis Kool, F& B manager at the club. ‘It used to be the same menu at all the outlets, with both local food and Western dishes but now we offer a fine-dining option as well.’
The menu at the more formal Mountbatten Room features a selection of classics such as lobster bisque, stuffed quail and beef cheek, as well as one or two Chinese cuisine favourites, such as braised lobster noodles. ‘In a sports club like the Polo Club, you have so many different cultures, so you want to make sure that you have something for everybody,’ says Kool.
A meal at the club is good value, with a daily three-course set lunch at The Mountbatten Room priced at $19.90. The public pays 10 per cent more than members but in return, you can immerse yourself in a storied venue, have a decent meal and let that peaceful, easy feeling wash all over you.
By Geoffrey Eu