Post-circuit breaker, Singapore’s high-end restaurants are thriving. Here’s why
Foodies, eager to spend time with friends outside of homes, and the travel ban have brought diners back to restaurants in droves. It helps that chefs have really upped their game to offer some of the best dining experiences they’ve ever served.
Had you ventured to Amoy Street last Friday, you would have witnessed a steady stream of cars winding their way through the narrow lane, horns blaring as vehicles stopped, with little warning, for passengers to alight in front of a restaurant.
It was a similar scene along Keong Saik Road, as cheerful Singaporeans made their way to their favourite eateries and queued for coveted seats at the likes of zichar stalwart Kok Sen.
Inside the acclaimed dining rooms within these enclaves, diners supped on elegant dishes featuring the likes of caviar and truffles, knocked back cocktails and sipped on wine. Anyone without a reservation would have found themselves back out on the street as restaurants report full houses on weekends, having been booked weeks in advance.
What a difference five months make. In April, these same restaurants were mired in a vastly different story. After months of poor traffic, as fear of the coronavirus kept people indoors, eateries found themselves deep in the red. And as the country stared down the barrel of a two-month lockdown, the prognosis was grim.
Eventually, Government grants and wage off-sets from the Resilience, Unity and Solidarity Budgets weathered restaurants through the storm. And as the country returned to its new normal on Jun 19, the “revenge dining” began. Singapore’s denizens flocked to restaurants and malls, relieved to be out and about again, and to share a meal with friends and family, albeit in groups limited to five.
BACK TO BUSINESS
“We clocked our second highest sales in our restaurant’s history in July.” – Ivan Brehm
By the end of July, numerous restaurants reported some of their best performances in years. “We clocked our second highest sales in our restaurant’s history in July,” said Ivan Brehm, chef-owner of upscale restaurant Nouri. “(It was not) our highest sales only because we weren’t able to do events.”
It was a similar story at other restaurants including modern Spanish establishment Esquina and Italian fine diner Buona Terra. “Our restaurant was extremely busy in July and August, with an increase in lunch crowds as people returned to support their favourite restaurants,” explained Buona Terra’s resident chef Denis Lucchi.
Not only are diners back in force, they are also spending more time in their choice restaurants. “They seem to have more flexibility in their work hours so they can have a leisurely meal. Additionally, with the travel restrictions in place, many diners have stayed in Singapore instead of travelling for their summer holidays,” Lucchi added.
“Our restaurant was extremely busy in July and August, with an increase in lunch crowds as people returned to support their favourite restaurants.” – Denis Lucchi
BETTER THAN EVER
It’s a good thing then that chefs like Lucchi are dishing out food of higher calibre than ever before. Regular diners at contemporary restaurants such as Buona Terra, Meta, and Roketto Izakaya have noticed a marked improvement in the food at their favourite restaurants post-lockdown.
“It’s like the chefs have so much pent-up creativity that they weren’t able to express during the Circuit Breaker,” joked Ling Lee, an avid foodie who dines at restaurants like the aforementioned at least thrice a week.
S Lim, another regular diner at upscale restaurants, observed a marked improvement at Michelin-starred establishments Odette and Meta immediately after the Circuit Breaker.
“My wife and I weren’t expecting much when we first went back to these restaurants. We just wanted to support our favourite businesses,” he said. “But we were blown away by their improvements. The chefs at Odette had been off the pass for months, but there were so many new dishes that were really balanced. It’s some of the best food we’ve eaten from them. Meta, too, had really stepped up. They had clearly done a ton of R&D during the lockdown so that they could launch these new, excellent dishes.”
When asked if there was any truth to these observations, chef-owner of Roketto Izakaya Willin Low said, “I think we all got a chance to hit the reset button during the Circuit Breaker. Yes, we were scrambling to pivot to delivery and whatever it took to keep us afloat, but chefs are creators, and it’s not often we get much free time to really formulate ideas. The pause that was forced on us during the Circuit Breaker afforded us time to hone new dishes and really refine them.”
“Chefs are creators, and it’s not often we get much free time to really formulate ideas. The pause that was forced on us during the Circuit Breaker afforded us time to hone new dishes and really refine them.” – Willin Low
IN WITH THE NEW
Some restaurants, such as Riviera Forlino and Pollen, had just installed new chefs when the Circuit Breaker hit. They too used the lull to refine their offerings and ideas to capture their intended audiences.
Pollen’s general manager Ashwan Suppiah said he spent time polishing his restaurant’s extensive wine list while executive chef Michael Wilson honed the modern Mediterranean cuisine he wanted to purvey.
Nouri’s Brehm, whose new establishment Appetite opened just weeks after lockdown, said it is heartening to see that diners are back in force and that response to his new concept has been enthusiastic.
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We couldn’t be more proud and excited to welcome you to Appetite starting today. We’re bringing together an R&D kitchen, record bar, art gallery, and events venue to create a new kind of community across boundaries. We’re right above our big sister @restaurantnouri. Come find us soon, and call +65 9751 5300 to make a reservation!
“We will make less money in the coming months as rental waivers come to a close and wage subsidies are reduced, but I am optimistic and thankful that we are managing in these hard times and hopeful that we will emerge stronger.”
“We will make less money in the coming months as rental waivers come to a close and wage subsidies are reduced, but I am optimistic and thankful that we are managing in these hard times.” – Ivan Brehm