SINGAPORE’S TOP 20 RESTAURANTS
In our inaugural bid to distil a year’s worth of amazing feasts into a list of 20 exceptional restaurants, we’re again reminded of this island’s uniquely diverse dining scene. Don Mendoza ponders the defining spirit each one has helped affirm
For more than three decades, T.dining by Singapore Tatler’s Best Restaurants guide has assessed and reflected the rapid growth Singapore’s celebrated dining scene continues to enjoy—represented once again in the list of more than 220 restaurants that made the cut this year.
What’s more, given the volatile nature of the industry, we felt that a more concise list of 20 of the year’s top performers—restaurants that delivered exceptional experiences while displaying the potential to offer more—was in order.
Joining T.dining’s in-house team, which includes digital dining editor Dudi Aureus and myself, is a panel of reviewers (page 70) who are our diverse group of reliable palates and expert appraisers of the food and beverage scene, and who tasted and rated this edition’s selection with us. Each restaurant is scored based on key criteria, from the setting to the food, and, more importantly, is judged on its ability to stand out from the pack.
The establishments on the Top 20 list have been determined to offer that and more. In short, while a restaurant can perform brilliantly on paper, making the Top 20 requires it to exceed expectations and surpass its fame.
Our reviewers were encouraged to include additional notes not covered by the scoring matrix; these have helped us shortlist the top performers. With no final scores to influence them, reviewers were further tasked to select 20 restaurants they felt were most deserving of inclusion and to share further appraisal of their qualities. After much deliberation and voting, we are proud to reveal our definitive list of restaurants that, in short, blew us away.
CAPTURING THE ZEITGEIST
Expectedly, the list also captures the unique variety of world-class dining we’ve managed to squeeze onto this tiny island. Even if what you really want is an elevated yet genuine expression of contemporary micro-seasonal Japanese fare in a relaxed kappo-style setting, there’s at least one restaurant that does so with an almost fanatical attention to detail. It’s also the reason why Esora (page 129) is our Best New Restaurant this year, led by the talented Shigeru Koizumi, whose experience includes a recent stint at Singapore’s modern-french champion Odette (page 138), which is not surprisingly also part of our inaugural Top 20. Pundits such as veteran food writer Annette Tan feel the latter sets the standard for fine dining here. She says the fact that Odette’s food is produce-driven is evident in the smart, creative and delicious way the kitchen creates its dishes.
Equally fine examples such as Jaan
(page 132), led by Kirk Westaway, and Jason Tan’s Corner House (page 128) continue to blend fine dining’s enduring elegance with an imaginative understanding of modern gastronomy. This year, Westaway broke the mould and introduced his take on British cuisine in a studied expression of the season’s best, though not how a typical Brit would see it, while Tan’s gastro-botanical cuisine style quietly continues to improve—though not as much in complexity as in taste.
The point is that many of the city’s best dining experiences echo a powerfully honest celebration of the gastronomic ties that bind. It’s a refreshing shift away from the mainstream and a favoured approach of many of today’s culinary rebels, the likes of “crossroads cooking” maestro Ivan Brehm of Nouri (last year’s Best New Restaurant, page 137) and
Sun Kim of modern French-asian marvel Meta
(page 136)—and not forgetting Sri Lankan-born Rishi Naleendra, who champions conscious mod-aussie cuisine at Cheek by Jowl (page 126). Another winning import from Down Under is renegade Dave Pynt of modern Australian barbecue restaurant Burnt Ends (page
125), which is arguably the most celebrated restaurant of its kind this side of the continent.
Complementing this defiant faction of toques leading a new era of chef-driven restaurants is Andrew Walsh, whose first venture as a chefowner, at Cure (page 128), offers more than creative fine-dining fare in a casual setting; new dishes like his beetroot tartare with blood orange and potato bread, as well as the ensemble of summer tomatoes with goat cheese dumplings and pesto prepared tableside, reflect a growing focus on plant-based menus, micro-seasonals and, quite possibly, a resurgence of the bistronomy concept.
It’s an approach that has worked well in a market obsessed with value, as it does for chef-restaurateur Beppe de Vito of Braci
(page 125), the veteran chef’s intimate twoyear-old casual-luxe open-kitchen concept in which progressive Italian cuisine thrives the way the Puglia native envisions. Another pair of stalwarts enjoying renewed attention after a stylish facelift are classic French finedining restaurant Gunther’s (page 131) and Cantonese favourite Jiang-nan Chun (page 132), which is under new Chinese executive chef Tim Lam, who took the helm last November.
A fast-growing appreciation for local flavours, coupled with the need to safeguard and innovate Singaporean dishes, has kept the spotlight on a few custodians of local heritage foods and flavours. The quality representation found at National Kitchen by Violet Oon
(page 137) is undeniable. And Malcolm Lee of
Candlenut (page 82) is applying new ideas to traditional Peranakan fare, as he believes innovation is key to ensuring that the cuisine stays relevant in an increasingly fickle market. So is Han Li Guang of Labyrinth (page 134), who’s confident that mod-singapore cuisine will soon find its place on the global stage. Of course, no amount of choices will keep us from frequenting Cut by Wolfgang Puck (page 129) for some of the best steaks money can buy, expertly grilled over hard wood and charcoal.
Alternatively, diners are also lapping up the opportunity to dig into prized proteins that are sustainably sourced and served with a mild Mediterranean flair—comfort food reimagined for the affluent and cosmopolitan diner—at
Origin Grill (page 100). A restaurant’s ability to command impeccable ingredients at your table is one of its biggest draws, says another seasoned food and drinks pundit, June Lee, who recalled some of the best-quality Alba truffles she can remember having at Tetsuya Wakuda’s Waku Ghin (page 147), which prides itself on being able to meticulously source its seafood and wines, prepared and served exactly as they should be. That’s often also the pride of any top-class sushi-ya, as with Sushi
Kimura (page 144) and Shinji by Kanesaka at
The St Regis (page 142). It’s about the oftenoverlooked aspects, such as serving the right proportion of rice at the right temperature, so that the flavour of the expertly sourced and prepared fish is amplified, raves professional wine and food geek Henry Hariyono. It’s amazing how many restaurants don’t get these basic fundamentals right—and so, we rightly applaud those who excel at them.
CRAFTY ELEGANCE Modern kappo-style restaurant Esora (above); Grandma’s Fish Maw Soup by Labyrinth’s Han Li Guang (opposite)
DEFINING VALUE While more consumers are seeing the value of casual-luxe concepts like two-year-old Braci (left), many can’t get enough of a restaurant like Waku Ghin (above) and its ability to bring the finest ingredients to the table