Singapore Offers a Blueprint for Restaurants Back in Lockdown

by BLOOMBERG

Singapore has been heralded as the pandemic escape for the superrich.

So in the middle of May, when the city shut down in-person dining following a surge in Covid-19 cases, restaurants had to decide how best to serve customers remotely. Through June 13, food and beverage establishments will be limited to take-away and delivery only. The measures are similar to those from last year’s so-called circuit breaker, so most places have experience this time around. The question for many of the city’s upscale establishments was whether to follow last year’s trend toward comfort food, or to appeal to the population of high-income and wealthy people in Singapore who might still cling to a more elevated experience.

Many restaurants have embraced simplicity and are offering dishes that were popular during last year’s circuit breaker. The Tippling Club, a mainstay on Asia’s 50 Best lists, has returned to selling standards such as leek and potato soup and Wagyu beef pastrami sandwich.

Jonathan Lim, chief executive officer of Oddle, an online food-ordering system with more than 3,000 brands in over 10 countries, says his firm has been encouraging restaurants to get away from the most extensive offerings.

“Generally over the past 12 months, we’ve been telling them to steer away from eight-course meals because the experience is not the same,” Lim said in a phone interview. “It’s quite clear that fine dining won’t be replicated in delivery form.” Customers, he says, are looking for family style meals rather than tasting menus.

Approaches vary across the high end of the city’s culinary spectrum. Odette, a three-star Michelin establishment and currently No. 2 in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, is sticking largely to the dishes it created when restaurants shut in the middle of 2020. It has a slightly expanded food selection for this round, including a S$98 ($74) Kampot pepper crusted pigeon and a S$118 honey-glazed Burgaud duck with apples and miso jus from chef-owner Julien Royer. Bestsellers include the dark chocolate cake Le Balinais. 

“We’ve noticed a strong demand for desserts and pastries, as they make for great gifting options, especially with us having to celebrate special occasions from afar,” says general manager Steven Mason. 

The Michelin-starred Nouri, meanwhile, has pivoted to a new, more informal specialty. The S$48 “perfection burger,” served with nori fries and a milkshake, is a contrast to the S$210 multicourse dining-in menu made up of dishes like pigeon marmalade—fire-grilled Brittany pigeon with mole and cacao nibs. 

Ivan Brehm, Nouri’s chef and owner, says it’s hard to figure out exactly what people want because this break is scheduled to be only a few weeks long. In addition to the burger and other, more fast-casual-style meals, he’s offering a weekly delivery of farm-to-table vegetables.

“There is a definite preference for things that are less complicated. People are cooking more, and markets are well stocked,” Brehm says. “We’d like to believe there is a market” in Singapore, he says, for produce from his partner farms in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands.

Buying in bulk has become appealing, too. No Sleep Club, which ranked No. 8 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars list for 2021—with the added bonus of “Highest New Entry”—is selling 750ml bottles of cocktails for S$120, such as a miso-infused Bloody Mary that uses wasabi, and a Reverse Harvard, which combines yuzu vermouth with seaweed-steeped cognac.

“A lot of people know what they want already, and having more of it makes more sense than to pick up multiple cocktails that they may or may not like,” says Juan Yi Jun, founder and head bartender. “Especially during this time of high costs for delivery and logistics, it also makes more financial sense for the customer to buy a bigger bottle to last them a little longer. What else are we going to do at home, right?”  

Emmanuel Stroobant, chef and owner of two-star Michelin restaurants Saint Pierre and Shoukouwa, is bucking the trend toward less elaborate meals by offering Room Service by Saint Pierre. The at-home omakase meal comes with breads, starters, a main course, cheese, dessert, and petit fours. His upscale menu goes all-out: The main course is wagyu beef with spring vegetables and wasabi; starters include amela tomato with hairy crab and avocado, and cherry trout with horseradish.

The concept doesn’t require cooking, reheating, or replating. The restaurant brings everything in cookware and on plates that can be picked up the next day; the meal starts at S$800 for four.

For Saint Pierre, its package dovetails with Oddle’s trends in at least one way: ease of use.

“The idea is not to give customers too many choices, but give signatures and things that pair well,” Oddle’s Lim says. “Putting it together so the consumers can just go in and click and check out.”

“All of them are thinking common meals, family meals,” he says, and “you can see them removing some of the signature dishes that don’t travel as well.”

The approach taken by Saint Pierre’s Stroobant looks like it’s catching on.

In the first week of service, the restaurant saw two orders a night. In its second week, orders have risen to three or four every evening. “We hope families can continue to enjoy great conversations with their loved ones over a good meal through this elevated home dining experience,” he says.