Celebrities are following the footsteps of chefs and restaurateurs to set up eateries, but how good is the nosh? We try out six spots and give you the lowdown.
204 TELOK AYER ST, S068640. TEL: 6220-0723. Open daily except Sun. Mon-Fri noon-midnight; Sat 5pm-midnight. Last orders at 11.30pm. www.mojosingapore.com
THE CELEB TOWKAYS: It’s his first foray as an F&B businessman and local actor Shane Pow, 26, is all psyched up about his modern Japanese restaurant Mojo, which opened at the hip Telok Ayer stretch last month.
THE RESTAURANT: Mojo, which alludes to a magic charm Shane hopes the food here will have over diners, serves grilled protein bowls by day; yakitori, modern Japanese tapas, a few “dinner bowls” and cocktails by night. Shane partnered his chef pal Sean Lim, 27, who’s also the owner of hipster café Sin Lee Foods at Jalan Bukit Ho Swee, to set up shop. If you want to catch a glimpse of local actors, you’re in luck. Shane tells us that he heads to the restaurant on most nights, when his filming schedule permits. He says: “I want to be as hands-on as possible and help out whenever I’m free. I have experience in [part-time] bartending so I can work at the bar as well.” Indeed, when we popped by for lunch, we spied Shane clearing dirty dishes. His appearance at the eatery drew double takes from customers, who later asked him for selfies. Shane’s celeb friends such as Rebecca Lim, Joshua Tan, Julie Tan, Michelle Chong and Pornsak have dropped by. Does Shane’s bae, 987 jock Kimberly Wang, come by to help out? “Kimberly visits often, but mostly to eat,” deadpans Shane. Nice.
The business cost close to $400,000 to set up, and Shane invested a five-figure sum. “I’ve always been interested in F&B and the opportunity came up when I was having lunch at Sin Lee Foods and Sean told me about this new venture, so I decided to invest in it,” says Shane. He adds: “I’m a foodie, and I like to drink as well (laughs). Telok Ayer is very vibrant, so we want Mojo to be a new place in the area where people can hang out and unwind after work, and on weekends.”
THE LOOK: The 50-seater looks much fancier at the entrance where the bar is, but much, erm, more budget looking at the inner dining area where there are beige tiled floors that were clean when we visited but dirty when our colleague went on a another occasion. In the day, the eatery functions as a fuss-free lunch spot where cubicle rats in the neighbourhood grab protein bowls self-service style, eat, and run. In the evening, the lights are dimmed for a slightly classier feel, and waiters, mainly students — some friendly and efficient, others completely clueless — serve you. There’s a glass walled kitchen where you can watch the chefs in action. Sean, who worked at the now-defunct Restaurant Guy Savoy at Marina Bay Sands for six months, isn’t based in the kitchen here, but he trained the young chefs who helm it.
Build Your Own Lunch Bowl ($14)
Create a lunch bowl by choosing one carb base, one protein, three sides, a topping like almond flakes and a sauce. We order the grilled salmon, glazed miso eggplant, wok-fried mushrooms, home-made kimchi, quinoa and broccoli. The fish is sufficiently tender and the soft, flavourful eggplant garnished with fried garlic is delish. Meanwhile, the spicy kimchi complements the plain boiled quinoa perfectly. We’ll gladly return for this affordable, hearty serving of chic cai png if we’re in the area.
Tsukune Yakitori ($9; dinner only)
This huge skewered minced chicken ball is served with a raw egg yolk swimming in a sweet teriyaki-esque sauce. Unfortunately, we find the meat rather dry and bland. Dipping it in the too-sweet sauce made with soy, mirin, sake and sugar didn’t help either. In fact, most of the yakitori our food editor tried here on another occasion is mediocre.
Foie Gras Chahan ($18; dinner only)
Think fried rice with foie gras, but using the healthier grain quinoa. It’s tossed with eggs and garlic, and topped with fried shallots. The grains are fragrant and smoky with wok hei while the small slabs of pan-fried foie gras perched atop are melt in the mouth.
Uni Soba ($38)
This decadent dish is served with raw Hokkaido scallops, Hokkaido uni, ikura, and prawns. While the seafood — the creamy sea urchin in particular — is good and fresh, we find the soba doused in nutty sesame sauce jelak after a few bites.
This signature cocktail, a blend of sake, Japanese cucumber and black and white sesame seeds, is served in a sake cup made of pine wood. We found it refreshing and light, while our colleague declared it a sweeter, less sophisticated version of the one served at cocktail bar Operation Dagger, where the head bartender here used to work.
BOTTOM LINE: We like the hearty, value-for-money lunch bowls. Dinner is a more hit-or-miss affair. Still, it’s not a bad place to drop by for a casual meal and (hopefully) a glimpse of some local actors.
2. Love Bento
#01-28 WILD MARKET, SHAW TOWER, 100 BEACH RD, S189702. Open daily 9am-9pm. Last orders at 8.15pm. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Love-Bento/745191268981288
THE CELEB TOWKAY: Actor-singer Nat Ho, 32, partnered with a chef pal to set up this takeaway stall serving Asian-Western protein salads in bento boxes at food enclave Wild Market. It quietly opened last November. “I’ve always wanted to do two things: set up an F&B business and do a world tour [for my music],” shares the Tanglin star, who got to know professional private chef Zech Wu, 40, at a gathering where the latter was hired to cook. Nat was convinced by Zech’s “passion” for food and the duo decided to venture into F&B together with Zech manning the stall and cooking there. “My role in Love Bento is as an investor, and I also help with the marketing and branding,” says Nat, who declined to reveal how much he had invested except that “it is a substantial amount which could have gone into my music”. They chose to serve healthy bento meals as Nat reckons “the office folks near the stall need grab-and-go food that they can eat in the comfort of their offices without having to squeeze with the lunchtime crowd”. The bentos include wholesome ingredients such as brown rice and tofu as Nat says, “After I started working out, I realised how hard it is to find healthy food in Singapore!” According to Nat, the shop’s moniker came about as “food is an expression of love, like how my mum ask me, ‘Have you eaten?’ as a way of showing her concern”.
THE LOOK: A no-frills, cheerful takeaway stall where you can grab a bento to go or have it at one of the communal seating areas within Wild Market.
Nat’s Gym Bento, $13.80
The price of this bento is a good deal, considering the enormous portion we got. That’s cos this dish was modelled after Nat’s protein-rich diet to go with his workouts, with two generous slabs of chicken, one grilled and the other steamed. The chook is tender and well-marinated, and goes well with the lightly-grilled tofu skewer drenched in a tasty sesame dressing. The only carb here is a small scoop of mashed sweet potatoes. We feel healthier already. We'd prefer onsen eggs over the two runny soft-boiled eggs, though. Ask for a dollop of the potent house-made sambal belacan.
Gimbap with Salad, $6
Go for this Korean-style brown rice roll (‘gim’ means seaweed while ‘bap’ means rice in Korean), loaded with steamed chicken, strips of omelette and veggies. “It’s tasty without feeling like it’s unhealthy,” commented our colleague who tried the rolls. Served with a small portion of crunchy greens tossed in a sesame dressing.
BOTTOM LINE: Wallet-friendly, generously-portioned bento sets. Nat is thinking of opening more stalls and offering food delivery services. He muses: “I don’t want to be too ambitious and open a dine-in restaurant for now, ’cos I’d be paying a lot more rent just for extra space!” $
3. Cafe Football
48 WOODLEIGH PARK, S357844. TEL: 6717-8282. Open daily Mon-Fri 11am-midnight, Sat & Sun 9.30am-midnight. Last orders at 10.30pm. www.facebook.com/pg/cafefootballsg
THE CELEB TOWKAYS: Former Manchester United luminaries Ryan Giggs, 43, and Gary Neville, 42, plus Rowsley, the Singapore-listed real estate and hospitality firm owned by the non-celebrity but somewhat famous local tycoon Peter Lim, 63. Lim also owns Spanish football club Valencia CF.
THE RESTAURANT: Cafe Football was born in the UK, where it has three outlets. Those serve more typically English pub grub like fish and chips, while the Singapore branch offers generic Western stuff and a few local dishes. The Singapore franchise opened in January and is run by Singaporean co-owners and buddies Derrick Goh, 44, and Simon Tan, 38. Derrick is also the co-owner of hip hawker centre Bedok Marketplace, while Simon is a former national youth goalkeeper who played for Balestier Khalsa Football Club. The duo also owns The Arena, a fitness hub that encompasses the cafe’s adjoining football and futsal pitches. Giggs and Neville weren’t in town during our visit, however, they will drop by for the cafe’s official opening on April 8. Oh, and we spotted former national footballer Razali Saad (above) at the cafe too. The man, who memorably captained the Singapore team for the 1993 Malaysia Cup finals, is working for The Arena as a general manager now. The affable Razali tells us his current gig “is a way for retired footballers to upgrade our skills and have a second career”. The kitchen is helmed by a chef previously from Harry’s Bar and TGIFridays Restaurant & Bar.
THE LOOK: The 200-seat cafe, which Simon says costs “a million plus plus” to set up, is divided into two sections. One half is decked out like the sexier version of a locker room with sports jerseys hanging on the wall and plush leather banquettes. It is just the spot for a boys’ night out with beer and football. The other half, with an entrance shaped like a giant goalpost, is more spacious and family-friendly. The cheerful, brightly-lit space is filled with large tables and an island bar counter dispensing beer and wine. It is also tastefully decorated with golden footballs and large TV screens showing football matches. A surprisingly elegant spot to chill out in for a sports bar, even if we aren’t exactly football fans. But if you are one, you’ll be pleased to know Fandi Ahmad has dined here. THE FOOD:
Good for Giggsy ($18)
Bring along a kaki or five — the portions here are generous. This Welsh-style bone-in lamb shank dish pays homage to Ryan Giggs’ Welsh roots. The lamb is braised in vegetable broth till tender, along with carrots and potatoes. The meat is not gamey, and comfortingly delish with the creamy, coarsely mashed potatoes. Gary Neville’s favourite cup noodles was initially considered for the menu too, but was later scrapped as Simon says, “We don’t think Singaporeans would be receptive towards paying for cup noodles in a cafe”. Good call.
Team Mates Platter ($18; feeds two)
A moreish selection of sinful fried grub like crispy ebi fry (crumbed prawns), umami fried chicken wings and succulent satay sticks which you dip into a shiok peanut-chilli gravy. The platter also comes with crunchy nachos and three types of dips — salsa, ranch and a plasticky cheese sauce that looks as orange as Trump’s tan.
Crayfish Hor Fun ($18)
While the cafe’s menu largely follows its UK counterpart faithfully, it also includes local picks such as Nasi Goreng and this hor fun. It is much pricier than your neighbourhood kopitiam’s, though it comes with a whole fresh, springy crayfish atop rather bland rice noodles drenched in eggy oyster sauce. We say go for the good value Western nosh here instead.
BOTTOM LINE: Surprisingly yummy, affordable cafe grub in this refreshingly un-hipster cafe. Pity about the ulu location. Psst, you stand a chance to play football with Giggs and Neville during the eatery’s grand opening — sign up at www.cfcup.sg.
4. Cafe Flo (Food Lovers Only)
#02-15A IMM, 2 JURONG EAST ST 21, S609601. TEL: 6896-1396. Open daily 11am-10pm. Last orders at 9.30pm. www.facebook.com/flo.foodloversonly
THE CELEB TOWKAY: Former Project SuperStar contestant Candyce Toh, 37. After taking part in the reality singing competition in 2005, she went on to marry fellow contestant and music producer Hong Junyang (who was runner-up in the contest) and welcomed baby daughter Azalea last year. Candyce and her sister bought over New Zealand-style local cafe chain Cafe Manuka in 2014.
THE RESTAURANT: The Manuka outlet at IMM is now revamped as the casual Cafe Flo (which stands for, um, ‘Food Lovers Only’). The revamp was quietly launched last July, and the biggest change is that it is now certified halal. Cafe Manuka, which has one outlet left at Paragon, is not halal. And instead of the Kiwi-style nosh that Manuka is known to serve, the menu at Flo focuses on Korean-Western dishes. It’s cooked by spunky 18-year-old Korean head chef Kim Jin Myeong. The teenager helped out at her family’s Korean restaurant back home before moving to Singapore to study English and applying for a job as a chef on a whim.
Says Candyce: “My sister knows Cafe Manuka’s previous owners, they wanted to sell their business as they were moving out of Singapore. They asked my sister if she was keen to take over, so we just jumped in. We didn’t have any F&B experience, but it’s been okay so far. We made Cafe Flo halal as there aren’t many halal cafes serving Korean food.” While Candyce is in this full-time, hubby Junyang is not actively involved in the biz. “I try not to disturb him lah, since he needs his creativity for his music,” she quips. “He gives his opinion every now and then, but I’m the more hands-on one. (Laughs)”
THE LOOK: A comfy 36-seat space done up in perky turquoise, which Candyce says costs a cool half a million to revamp. It’s a pretty good place for people-watching, but you probably don’t want to linger here as the fumes from the open-concept kitchen will seep into your clothes.
Korean Inspired Marinated Chicken ($16)
Juicy chicken chunks stir-fried in a sweet-spicy sauce and accompanied by fragrant, garlicky kimchi fried rice and salty myeolchi bokkeum (Korean ikan bilis) that hits the spot. Skip the gimmicky Korean fusion bites like an insipid Beef Bulgogi Sandwich ($15).
Tom Yum Prawn Pasta ($15)
This lone Thai-style dish is out of the place on the menu. But it’s pretty good, with al dente spaghetti, springy prawns and mushrooms slathered in a rich and tangy chilli-infused cream.
BOTTOM LINE: We wouldn’t travel all the way to Jurong for a meal here. But Cafe Flo offers passably tasty Korean and Western dishes for Westies looking for a halal meal.
17 BALI LN, S189853. TEL: 6291-8028. Open daily 5pm-11pm. Last orders at 10.30pm. www.facebook.com/pg/fatpapassg
THE CELEB TOWKAYS: Rapper Sheikh Haikel and Class 95FM radio deejays The Muttons.
THE RESTAURANT: A halal offshoot of American-style burger chain Fatboy’s. We can’t think of better makan kakis than radio jocks Justin Ang, 35, Vernon A, 44, and Sheikh Haikel, 42. The three men enjoy hearty dude food the same way some folks are addicted to... shopping. So it is unsurprising that they ended up joining forces to open FatPapas together with Fatboy’s owner Bernie Tay last month. The Muttons are already acquainted with Bernie, having worked with him to set up a franchised Fatboy’s burger chain called The Burger Bar. Justin says, “But FatPapas is really Haikel’s baby. He took seven years to convince Bernie to open a halal version of Fatboy’s and now he is at the restaurant every day, welcoming diners with open arms.” Drop by the restaurant, and you might just dine next to celebs like Gurmit Singh and Taufik Batisah. FatPapas mainly serves a halal version of Fatboy’s burger-heavy menu, as well as a few new additions (see below).
Country Fried Sheikh Burger ($20)
This is the burger version of Fatboy’s Country Fried Steak, Sheikh’s fave dish on the menu (also known as chicken fried steak, which is really a piece of breaded flattened rib-eye steak drizzled in bechamel sauce). Comes with fries and turkey bacon.
Available online at www.hopshop.com.sg and at selected restaurants and retailers including Mischief, #01-10/12 Esplanade Mall, 8 Raffles Ave, S039802. Tel: 6532-0106. www.brewlander.com
THE CELEB TOWKAYS: A Singaporean craft beer label owned by beer buddies, ex-radio jock Daniel Ong, 41, and hunky TV host Allan Wu, 44. “Allan and I have known each other for many years from attending events together, since we are both [formerly] from Mediacorp. But it was only recently that we started hanging out more, when I reached out to ask him for advice after my divorce [from Jaime Teo]. He has really become one of my best friends,” shares Daniel, who is no stranger to F&B, having co-founded cupcake chain Twelve Cupcakes and restaurant-bars Rookery and Mischief. Meanwhile, F&B newbie and craft beer lover Allan has always toyed with the idea of “opening a restaurant”, and was convinced by Daniel to join Brewlander as a co-owner ’cos he “really believes in the product” though his role is more about “spreading the word [for the brand]”. The duo have partnered local award-winning brewer John Wei to launch the beer line, named after John’s ‘Brewlander’ nickname. The sleekly packaged beer, available in four flavours named after emotions, is brewed in a rented brewery in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The beer line has no brick-and-mortar shop or bar for now, though the duo does not rule out opening a brewery and pub in the future.
Hope ($8.50 for 330ml)
This malty ale is our favourite, a light and lively brew with citrusy notes and a crisp, dry finish.
Love ($9,90 for 330ml)
Go for this slightly piquant wild IPA (India Pale Ale) if you like your beer softly bitter and hoppy, and kissed with hints of pineapple, passion fruit and mango.
Pride ($8.50 for 330ml)
A subtly spicy, light-bodied tipple with a refreshing, pronounced citrusy note from the lime zest and orange marmalade used in the brew.
Courage ($10.90 for 330ml)
A double IPA with the highest alcohol by volume (ABV) at 8.2 per cent (the rest measure only 6.5 per cent or less). It also tastes the strongest, its hoppiness almost aggressive. But it is tamed with a pleasant hint of fruitiness.
BOTTOM LINE: A local craft beer line is a rarity, made even rarer by the fact that its owners are in showbiz. But it’s not hard to #supportlocal when the brews are this good.