Sunday, May 17, 2009

BTO: Inside stories

Business Times - 16 May 2009

Inside stories

Need a decent meal or a stiff drink? Head to the golf course, an amusement arcade or even the post office. The latest restaurant-bars are in the least expected of locations


Dempsey One Three O
130E Minden Road
Tel 6777-7292


THE latest F&B outlet to open in the Dempsey area is no Big Bertha, but it will likely hit the spot particularly for golfers teeing off at the Royal Tanglin Golf Course.


Tucked behind the booking office of the golf course under a canopy of trees, Dempsey One Three O is a charming little week-old bistro that is a spiffed-up version of the former Dempsey's Hut, which used to occupy the premises. The colonial building now sports a chic green-and-black colour scheme plus dark wood furniture, and is run by three partners, two of whom are behind the Sunset Way German cafe Peaberry & Pretzel. The third owner, Lydia Loke, runs a neighbouring bar along Sunset Way as well as another watering hole at Aroozoo Avenue.


The Dempsey outlet is the trio's first such collaboration, says Ms Loke, who explains that it came about thanks to a 'very good relationship'. 'Plus they have a good knowledge of the kitchen and I can do the bar,' she adds.


According to the owners, the project was intended 'to fulfil the dream of a bunch of foodies who love their drinks'. The idea, they say, was to take the dining and drinking experience back to basics - 'no fuss, no muss' - in a tree-surrounded environment set apart from the rest of the Dempsey scrum.


What will really score with golfers are the special benefits that Dempsey One Three O offers them. Because of its link with the golf course, the bistro will be involved in some golf activities and will extend additional snack menus and discounted rates to Royal Tanglin golfers and staff.


Members of the public, meanwhile, can tuck into a mostly Continental menu that sees things like caesar salad and Spanish meatballs alongside half-kilos of mussels and steak frites. There's also the Super Burger house special ($12.90), a hefty all-beef patty with chunky golden fries in between toasty slices of bun onto which you can pile bacon, onions, melted cheese, mushrooms or even a sunny-side-up for $2 per add-on.


Those who want to cool down (and there'll be a lot of that to do at this al-fresco-only joint) can take advantage of the full bar, which serves a range of international cocktails as well as wine that is 'cheaper than at many other places', declares Ms Loke. (A housepour bottle of Wolf Blass or Errazuriz here costs a pretty reasonable $38.)


Admittedly, the bistro isn't in the most obvious location, but the owners are optimistic about drawing diners. 'We have a very good location near the main road and a carpark that we share only with the golf office,' says Ms Loke. 'There's also already a natural flow of traffic to the area and if we do an advertising or media blast, people will be familiar with the location.'


She admits, however, that it could take some time before people realise there is a new business behind all that shrubbery, especially since the area is not as brightly lit as the main Dempsey cluster at night. But the owners also feel that this translates to a 'good natural environment which diners will appreciate'.


Certainly, it may not be set on a bed of Bermuda grass, but with its combo of casual fare, decent prices and unique surroundings, Dempsey One Three O looks to be heading for the flag.


1 Killiney Road
(Opening May 25)


CONVERTING old post office buildings into ultra-hip F&B outlets - while also retaining their post office functions - is fast in danger of becoming a trend, and if the soon-to-open KPO is anything to go by, postal chic is an idea whose time has come.


The former Killiney Road Post Office - for some time a slightly forlorn site in the prime Orchard Road belt - now has attitude to spare, thanks to a major makeover by the folks behind chill-out lounge Bala-clava. It will officially open on May 25 as a stylish cafe-bar called KPO and dish out comfort food and familiar favourites like nasi lemak and hokkien mee as well as steaks and burgers.


'We want to offer all-day dining in a bar-like atmosphere,' says owner Sam Yeo, whose other establishments include the nearby Bar-Stop and Sushi Yoshida as well as Wala Wala in Holland Village. 'It's the type of food that you crave for but don't know where to find, like patty melts and the barbecue pork ribs you get in Naughty Nuri's in Bali.'


Unlike the famed Naughty Nuri's in Ubud, KPO is no roadside shack. It is so named because it is located at the junctions of Killiney, Penang and Orchard roads and not because it shares a building with the Killiney Post Office.


KPO also has several things going for it which should ensure its immediate success. Not the least of these are a prime location, atypical views of the Orchard Road area and a great vibe that percolates through the entire two-storey space, including inviting outdoor decks and terraces.


The 5,500 sq ft, multi-level space - formerly a postmaster's house, an underused backroom and additional floor area that has been created by adding concrete slabs to parts of the original roof - features ample amounts of raw concrete walls and floors and recycled wood outdoor decks.


Malcolm Chua of design firm Avid has successfully created an urban oasis by taking the raw, natural approach and giving it an eco-friendly touch. Interestingly, he also designed the SingPost unit that adjoins KPO, giving it a refreshing new look. The two spaces are seamlessly integrated, thanks to an old-fashioned roller shutter between the post office and KPO that will remain open during regular post office hours.


Apart from the kitchen and bar equipment, the big ticket items are a high quality sound system (DJs will feature prominently on several nights of the week) and a four-sided teakwood bar counter that occupies almost the full length of the ground floor.


Unique features include an irregular glass 'box' grafted onto the rear of the building, allowing for high ceilings and plenty of natural light. Several vantage points offer views of lush greenery - a pleasantly surprising state of affairs.


'I think Orchard Road needs a nice bar,' says Yeo. 'SingPost put out the word that they were looking to share the building - so we came in and proposed that we literally share the space.' He secured a 10-year lease and the idea for a do-anything kind of place. It took a year to develop but according to Yeo, it was a lot of fun working together with SingPost. 'A stand-alone space smack in the middle of Orchard Road - where to find?' he asks. Buying stamps will never be the same again.


Bounce Restaurant & Bar
201 Victoria Street
#07-02/03 Illuma
(Opening in July)


BY THE end of this month, the seventh level of the Illuma mall at Bugis will be transformed into a super-powered gaming world called Tornado, where gamers can live out their wildest dreams in an alternate reality unhampered by earthly rules (or anaemic computer processors).


But they won't be the only ones doing that there. By virtue of the fact that his latest venture is located within the mammoth amusement arcade, chef and culinary consultant Daniel Koh is also getting a taste of this other universe.


Says Mr Koh, who most recently helmed the kitchens of Holiday Inn Atrium: 'Working in a hotel is very different, there are a lot of people to report to. Here, I've been given my own kitchen and a lot more freedom. As a chef, this has always been in my mind; it's what I've always wanted. Plus I'm almost 60 so it's a good way for me to keep young!'


His new project, which is owned by Singapore-based arcade owner Wah Lian Amusement Company, will open a little later than the gaming area as the kitchen is still being renovated.


It consists of two set-ups: an al fresco restaurant and bar called Bounce on the terrace outside the arcade, and a more casual dining area known as 360 Degrees that will be within the gaming section. The latter will convert to a lounge in the evenings. Both units will share a standalone kitchen that will be situated on the terrace too; this is in anticipation of event bookings such as for 'fashion shows, wedding cocktails - that's the main idea', shares Mr Koh.


It's not surprising that he is expecting the area to be in demand. The terrace is actually quite a pretty venue with landscaped gardens, a pleasant view of the Bugis area and a little path wending through it, which the tenants imagine could double up nicely as a fashion runway.


Such bookings, should they include a food component, could also see Mr Koh whipping up the fine Cantonese fare he is known for (he has cooked at restaurants such as Holiday Inn Atrium's Xin Cuisine, Sheraton Towers' Li Bai and Tung Lok's Imperium, to name a few places). Otherwise, the mainstay menus at Bounce and 360 Degrees will showcase a different style of cuisine. For that, the Western-trained Mr Koh is returning to his roots with a list of Western dishes like a gratin of black cod with goose liver mousse; the chef's signature roast ducklings; and mussels with herb butter and melted Camembert.


There'll also be more casual food such as burgers and salads - but 'with a twist'. The salads, for instance, will be topped with goodies like parmesan-crusted or cordon bleu chicken. And the burgers will come in four varieties including a Japanese burger in rice with shitake mushrooms and bean sprouts; and a chicken burger made of freshly-ground meat 'with breaded mushrooms, onions and potatoes, fried very crispy with a bit of sesame oil'. Even the plain beef burger will hardly be, well, plain: it will have cheese inside the patty instead of on top.


Because of the outlets' youth-oriented location, prices will be kept between around $10 and $25 per dish. 'I used to do all this fine food, but the market here is not suitable for it,' the chef explains. 'The spending power will only be so much, so I'm working around that range.' Still, he emphasises that quality will remain paramount and is sticking to a smallish menu so that 'everything will be fresh and I won't have to store so many ingredients'.


The new environment the chef has chosen to showcase his cooking is certainly worlds apart from what he's used to, but he is confident that it's pressing all the right buttons. 'This is something that's never been done before,' he explains of the entire Tornado concept. 'It's a vision of the future.'

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