Tatler 10: The Most Stylish Restaurants in Singapore
Contemporary French restaurant Odette hasn't stopped snapping up accolades, earning two Michelin stars within a year of opening and ending Bangkok restaurant Gaggan's four-year reign at the top of the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants list. Its acclaim is largely due to French chef Julien Royer's “essential cuisine” approach, which sees seasonal, artisanal ingredients featuring in elegant dishes.
Designed by Sacha Leong of Universal Design Studio, the London-based architecture arm of design firm Barber & Osgerby, the restaurant's interiors mirror this cooking style through the use of natural materials such as oak timber, pink terrazzo marble, and nickel and brass accents. Located in the historic National Gallery, the restaurant's design also references the classical, colonial architecture through mosaic-patterned floors and faceted columns.
The restaurant itself is filled with art, too. Titled A Theory of Everything, this series of artworks by local artist Dawn Ng is inspired by the raw ingredients utilised by Royer, deconstructing and rendering them into surreal objects. The series cumulates in a mobile centrepiece of oak, brass and paper that hangs from the ceiling. Finally, a light palette of pastel pink, grey and white is a refreshing departure from your typical dark, staid fine dining restaurant, while velvet banquettes are comfortable without skimping on the sophistication. A glass-enclosed kitchen allows diners to watch the chefs at work.
2/10 Restaurant Zén
“Residential-inspired design” may be an oft-used term these days, but this restaurant takes that homely inspiration to heart, every step of the way. The dining experience starts with from the door, with a ring of the restaurant’s doorbell, followed by a gastronomic sojourn held across all three floors of the shophouse building. Opened by celebrated Swedish chef and restaurateur Björn Frantzén in partnership with the Unlisted Collection, Restaurant Zén is the Singapore outpost of the three-Michelin-starred Restaurant Frantzén in Stockholm, Sweden, and is designed by Joyn Studios Architects to reflect its Nordic roots.
Taking over the space formerly occupied by Restaurant André, the restaurant’s interiors references its tasting menu, which pairs its modern Nordic cuisine with Japanese-influenced elements. The journey starts at the handsome kitchen-styled lounge area at level one where guests nibble on light bites, before proceeding to the modern dining room on the second floor for the main course. The evening concludes at the “living room” on the third storey, where diners are served petit fours while lounging on the cosy sofas.
Each section has been designed as individual rooms—the first floor is a handsome space furnished with leather upholstered seats and dark wood cabinetry, while the dining area on the second storey has a softer palette comprising light wood and rose gold finishes. Much like a home, the dinnerware selected feels as personal; these include the custom-made knives by Swedish manufacturers Morakniv, which feature shafts hand-painted by Swedish artist Pernilla Nordman. The resulting space conveys an elegant yet unfussy atmosphere that embodies the essence of that Scandinavian hygge (cosiness) and Nordic heritage.
(Related: Swedish Top Chef Björn Frantzén Opens Restaurant Zén In Singapore)
3/10 National Kitchen by Violet Oon
“Violet Oon has been a brand that’s been close to heart,” says Cherin Tan, the creative director of homegrown design studio Laank. Tan has long admired the grand doyenne of local and Peranakan cuisine; so it felt like a dream come true for Tan to design a series of spaces for the restaurant group. The collaboration began with the original Bukit Timah location, with the designer subsequently crafting the interiors of each of the new restaurants that followed at the National Gallery, Ion Orchard, Clarke Quay and Jewel at Changi Airport.
“We wanted every little part of our restaurant to tell a story,” shares Tan. “The biggest challenge at the early stages for us was defining what a Singapore restaurant would look like. It had to be uniquely Singapore but yet recognisable internationally. Together with the clients, we started looking into Singapore’s local heritage and iconic colonial influences in Singapore.” While each restaurant has been individually designed to suit its unique concept, it also features recurring elements such as the Peranakan tiles and an emerald bar counter, which is inspired by Violet’s Chinese name, Swee Gek (which means “beautiful jade” in Chinese); green is also a shade closely aligned with the group’s Peranakan heritage.
Among the five restaurants, the National Kitchen by Violet Oon is perhaps the most striking, because of its historic location within the National Gallery. “National Kitchen is our favourite so far among all the other outlets; it’s one that pops to mind when you want to bring a friend from abroad to try Singapore's food,” quips Tan.
(Related: Is The Restaurant Industry Tougher For Women? Violet Oon and Her Son Tay Yiming Discuss)
It’s always a visual treat to walk through an interior designed by Takenouchi Webb; and Whitegrass is no exception. Founded by husband-wife duo Marc Webb and Naoko Takenouchi, the practice’s holistic approach to design has resulted in unique and elegant spaces attentive to its context.
Conceptualised as a series of dining rooms, each with its own design scheme, this venue at Chijmes celebrates its classical architecture while drawing reference to the restaurant’s focus on fresh, seasonal produce. A soft palette of blush and emerald tones draw reference to its nature-inspired inspiration, with metallic trimmings adding an elegant sheen to the venue. The studio also collaborated with homegrown talents—marine life and divers mingle on a colourful mural wall painted by Singapore illustrator Messymsxi. Various shelves in the restaurant also proudly display decorative vases by local ceramist Studio Asobi.
While the restaurant has since changed hands—it was originally led by Australian chef-owner Sam Aisbett—its interior has been kept largely intact through its continued relevance to its new culinary direction. Currently helmed by Japanese chef Takuya Yamashita, the restaurant’s five- and eight-course French-Japanese degustation menu is crafted around the concept of “la cuisine naturelle”, which brings out the unique essence of each natural ingredient featured.
5/10 Olivia Restaurant and Lounge
KeSa House is a hotel and dining destination that fills 10 shophouses along happening Keong Saik Road in Chinatown, with venues such as Spanish restaurant Olivia Restaurant & Lounge. Upon stepping into the establishment, however, you’ll feel as though you've been transported to a breezy home along the Mediterranean coast.
With chef Alain Devahive of elBulli fame at the helm, the restaurant offers quintessential Catalan cuisine, and Barcelona-based design firm Lázaro Rosa-Violán has infused the space with Spanish charm. Much of the coastal-inspired furniture—as well as the warm, earth tone floor tiles—were flown in straight from Barcelona. Hand-painted ceramics and sculptures grace the white exposed brick walls, with an abstract statement art piece and blue leather seating bringing the ocean to mind.
Other hand-painted details along the bar area reference locales throughout Barcelona, and materials were selected for their ubiquity in Catalan terraces—such is Lázaro Rosa-Violán’s attention to detail. Wicker and wooden chairs, as well as linen and other natural fabrics, accentuate the beachside vibe. During the day, sunlight spills into the space and reflects off of the white walls. Diners can opt to sit at the counter for a casual bite, in a cosy booth for a more intimate meal, or at one of the wooden communal tables.
Olivia Restaurant & Lounge
55 Keong Saik Road #01-03
6/10 15 Stamford by Alvin Leung
“Demon Chef” Alvin Leung might be well known for his flair and big personality, but this establishment marks a return to tried and true simplicity in both its cuisine and design. The second of Leung's restaurants in Singapore, 15 Stamford by Alvin Leung at The Capitol Kempinski Hotel Singapore serves up straightforward Asian comfort food elevated by sweeping interiors not unlike those of a swish gentleman's club. Designed by New York design firm AvroKO, the restaurant definitely makes a statement with a black and white geometric floor, art deco arched windows and metallic details, and rich dark woods. The hotel's signature aesthetic is also showcased in the restaurant's clean structural lines.
The restaurant isn't so refined to the point of stuffiness, however. Comfortable leather chairs, a sense of airy spaciousness and a buzzing brasserie-like vibe balance out the elegance. Following the style of the original Stamford House—one of two historic buildings that was converted into The Capitol Kempinski Hotel—15 Stamford by Alvin Leung blends colonial and Asian inspirations; as much is evident in the Peranakan tile accents and colourful floral crockery that Leung designed himself.
15 Stamford by Alvin Leung
15 Stamford Road, The Capitol Kempinski Hotel Singapore
7/10 Origin Grill
A Work of Substance, a multi-disciplinary design studio with offices in Hong Kong, Paris and Stockholm, always ensures that its creations tell a story—and as much is true for Origin Grill & Bar at Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore. Taking inspiration from Singapore's history as an important trading port as well as the nostalgia of steam train travel, Origin is designed to resemble an upscale train station—note the many pre-existing arches that grant the main dining room the appearance of a train platform, plus the hand-stitched Tripolina leather chairs and hanging globe lamps.
The bar area, meanwhile, is a moodier affair with its deep blue walls and upholstery, velvet curtains, and kinetic wall sculpture next to the drink cabinets. A Work of Substance describes setting foot into Origin as a journey from ticket counter to platform to carriage; and through traversing the copper-arched entrance to the bar, main dining room, and more intimate private dining areas, you definitely witness a specific design narrative unfold. The spectacular luxury of Shangri-La, which has been in business since 1971, adds to its charm, while Australian chef de cuisine Heidi Flanagan whips up sumptuous dishes created from quality meats and seafood sourced from Australia, Southeast Asia and Japan.
8/10 The Dempsey Cookhouse & Bar
Making waves as New York celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's first restaurant in Singapore, The Dempsey Cookhouse and Bar has earned just as many accolades for its lush interiors as it has for its menu, which comprises a range of dishes originating from Vongerichten's 30-plus restaurants across the globe. Although famed Italian designer Paola Navone spearheaded the interiors, Vongerichten employed his typical approach of being closely involved with all aspects of the restaurant—including architecture and design. Straddling the line between casual eatery and fine dining, the restaurant is located within a 19th-century heritage building at the Como Dempsey lifestyle and dining destination.
The interior design takes its cue from the verdant Dempsey Hill area; the airy space is furnished with tropical touches, delicate filigree wicker chairs, and checkered black-and-white flooring that evoke a garden-like vibe. A horizontal garden of sorts even graces a beam above the bar. By night, a combination of oversized, geometric lantern-like lights and hanging lights crafted from crystal pieces bathe the restaurant in a gentle glow. An open kitchen, where installations of pots and pans add interest to the decor, contributing another sensory layer to the experience.
Conceived of by hospitality firm The Lo & Behold Group, with local architecture studio Zarch Collaboratives restoring the shell and creative agency Asylum doing the interiors, The Warehouse Hotel’s design references the building's history while delivering it into a modern era. Pó, the hotel's flagship restaurant, makes a similar nod to local culture. As with the rest of the hotel, the restaurant features plenty of furnishings by local and Asian firms, as well as ample greenery.
Named after popo, the Mandarin word for grandmother as well as the restaurant's signature popiah dish, Pó is a collaboration between The Lo & Behold Group and Mod-Sin master chef Willin Low. The restaurant serves up elevated Singaporean favourites in a homely space filled with casual rattan chairs by Japan's Feelgood Design and potted plants. The custom-designed lights, much like the statement-making piece in the hotel lobby, were inspired by the pulley systems of the warehouse; an original detail that has been preserved. The entrance is fronted by a copper host station topped with forest marble, also created by Asylum, and a woven wooden screen. Similar shades and materials continue inside; a lighter green colours the booths, while more woven screen panels grace the walls. There are plenty of communal tables, too—perfect for popiah parties.
320 Havelock Road, The Warehouse Hotel
(Related: 5 Design Details You Should See At The Warehouse Hotel)
10/10 Publico Ristorante
New York design firm AvroKO is well-known for its innovative hospitality spaces, so it comes as no surprise that the convivial Publico Ristorante at InterContinental Robertson Quay is not your average hotel restaurant. The Italian establishment that takes full advantage of its location along the Singapore River with a breezy, tropical terrace and an indoor dining room that will transport you to the Amalfi coast.
The interiors take their cue from modern Italian architecture, with Italian geometric granite flooring and masonry details at the bar, from which diners can watch pizzas being prepared in two rustic wood-burning pizza ovens. Custom furnishings, also by AvroKO, millennial pink marble table tops and metallic pendant lighting add interest. The indoor and outdoor spaces are seamlessly connected thanks to greenery in earthenware and concrete planters in the dining room and floor-to-ceiling windows that flow onto the terrace, letting plenty of soft natural light spill inside.
1 Nanson Road, InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay