SINGAPORE, March 2 — Singapore's restaurants have made quite an impression for the 2016 Asia's 50 Best Restaurants list, with establishments from the Lion City taking up 10 places.
Andre Chiang's Restaurant Andre tops an impressive list of 10 Singapore restaurants to make the list, moving up two spots to land at No. 3. Burnt Ends made the biggest leap upwards, from No. 30 last year to No. 14.
The 2016 list also includes familiar Singapore favourites such as Waku Ghin (No. 6), Les Amis (No. 12), Shinji By Kanesaka (No. 21), Jaan (No. 29), Tippling Club (No. 31) and Iggy’s (No. 36).
But while the awards ceremony was in Bangkok, that did not make what is arguably Singapore’s best showing on the annual Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list any less special.
It wasn’t only because the country’s total of 10 restaurants on the list — equalling Japan’s total — puts it just behind China’s leading haul of 13 restaurants. Or that Restaurant Andre’s rise to No. 3 has earned a Singapore restaurant a place in the top three. Or, for that matter, that Cheryl Koh of Tarte by the Les Amis Group was named Asia’s Best Pastry Chef (the win makes her the second Singaporean pastry chef to take home the award after Janice Wong, who won it twice).
But for the first time, not one but two Singaporean-chef-led-restaurants have made the list. Making its debut at No. 17 is Jason Tan’s Corner House, an achievement made more impressive given the restaurant’s relative youth (having been open for only a year-and-a-half), and the fact that it is the 33-year-old’s first venture.
“I’m extremely happy and very honoured, though surprised; as Corner House is a relatively new entrant on Asia’s dynamic dining scene, I did not think to even consider being shortlisted for the guide,” said Tan, who added how particularly proud he was to fly the Singapore flag.
“It has been an especially rewarding journey, to be able to start this restaurant with my Singaporean business partner, to house our restaurant within a unique and charming conservation building, at Singapore’s first Unesco World Heritage Site, the Singapore Botanic Gardens.”
The other debut is chef Willin Low’s Wild Rocket, which makes an entry onto the list at No. 38. It is the only restaurant specialising in local flavours — or, specifically, what 43-year-old Low had famously coined “Mod Sin cuisine”. Low is certainly no stranger to the scene; the former lawyer left the practice in 2005 to open Wild Rocket and has since garnered quite a reputation for drawing inspiration from some of the country’s most-loved flavours.
“I don’t think we did anything differently, to be honest,” said Low. “The mystery (of getting selected for) any list or awards continues... Having said that, it feels good that the hard work of my team is recognised.”
Similarly, Tan’s cuisine style is uniquely his. Dubbed gastro-botanica and based on French cooking techniques with “global influences in flavour”, the cuisine focuses on giving vegetables fuller elaboration in range and equal weight on the plate as the main protein.
So why has it taken Singaporean chefs this long to make their mark on the list? “It is difficult to answer this question briefly,” said Tan. “From my point of view, Singapore is still a young nation of 50 years, and for a large part of it, our food culture and its publicity have predominantly been focused around our multi-cultural local street-food beginnings.”
He addded that until 15 to 20 years ago, most premium Western concepts were run by international hotels and by foreign chefs, and that “there were few Singaporean chefs who ventured overseas to gain the necessary skills and knowledge”.
“Most of the independent premium Western restaurants that opened in the 1990s and 2000s were run mostly by overseas chefs who chose to live and work in Singapore,” Tan said, although he added that thanks to the development of the restaurant and F&B scene in Singapore, including the fact that more culinary schools were established, a new generation of young Singaporean chefs such as Tan were able to join the industry.
“Today, my generation of chefs and the younger aspiring culinary students are now offered (many) more opportunities to explore a career in this field,” he said.
Equally proud of the country’s recent haul is Raymond Lim, spokesman for the Les Amis Group, whose flagship French restaurant climbed up one position to the No. 12 spot this year.
“I’m such a big believer in our local talent in recent years because I believe our local chefs have had the perfect ecosystem to thrive in; from the supportive Singapore Tourism Board that profiles them, to world-class chefs working in Singapore who pass on their best practices,” he said, highlighting that, most importantly, it helps the scene that local diners no longer mind paying the same dining prices for food cooked by a local chef as they would dishes prepared by a foreign chef.
“This showing (at the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants) is vindication that our local chef-owners have arrived,” said Lim.
Which Singapore restaurant made the cut for the 2016 Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list?
Restaurant Andre (No. 3)
Waku Ghin (No. 6)
Les Amis (No. 12)
Burnt Ends (No. 14)
Corner House (No. 17)
Shinji By Kanesaka (No. 21)
Jaan (No. 29)
Tippling Club (No. 31)
Iggy’s (No. 36)
Wild Rocket (No. 38) — TODAY