Chefs have always had four-hands nights with other chefs, and mixologists often do guest sessions in bars other than their own. But these pairings have become more common, as food entrepreneurs look for new ways to entice customers. As with many new developments on any front, fast and furious collaborations have to be seen through the lens of the Covid-19 pandemic. Restaurants and bars took a beating during the circuit breaker period, but chefs and restaurateurs banded together to help one another, and new friendships were forged.
Some of these have resulted in collaborations. Trapped and unable to travel, the new hobby for many Singaporeans is dining out. Restaurants, bars, hotels and private-dining businesses are going all out to woo customers, sometimes by transporting them – figuratively – away from here.
Others, meanwhile, are upping the ante by wooing private-dining chefs for collaborations. Reservations for meals at the homes of these chefs are hard to get. Some of these businesses are booked for the next two years.
Food brands are also getting in on the action, teaming up with cafes, patisseries and other food businesses to build brand awareness. As these groups continue to find ways to work together, one thing seems clear: When the collaborations are well thought through, all parties win – restaurants, brands, chefs, kitchen crew and diners.
Ahead, we list down the food collaborations you need to book now (though its quite possible some have already sold out!).
To celebrate its fourth anniversary this month, The Masses, a restaurant serving French-Asian food in Beach Road, has lined up four collaborations that will run from June to September. Chef-owner Dylan Ong wanted to collaborate with independent restaurants and restaurateurs. He tells The Sunday Times: “After the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the restaurant industry, this series of collaborations is our expression of solidarity with home-grown, independent F&B business owners.”
So on June 29, he will collaborate with chef Brandon Foo of French restaurant Le Bistrot du Sommelier; with chef Sunny Leong of natural wine bar Wine RVLT on July 28; with chef Daniel Surendran of appam stall Heavens on Aug 8 and 9; and with chef Jack Ding of Teochew restaurant Shao on September 28. Part of the proceeds from these collaborations will go to the Children’s Wishing Well, a nonprofit organisation which helps children and young people from low- income families.
Chef Ong, 33, says: “Even though people in Singapore are self-proclaimed food lovers, there are countless options around. It is virtually impossible to know or remember every restaurant that is worth visiting. Through cross-marketing and word-of-mouth, diners are more likely to retain information about places new to them. These restaurants stand a better chance of welcoming new guests.”
During the circuit breaker period, the restaurant collaborated with chef Surendran, 33, who runs Heavens, an appam stall in Ghim Moh Road Market & Food Centre. They came up with two versions of appam (pictured), a South Indian fermented rice pancake, which they filled with non-traditional ingredients. One featured prosciutto, mushroom and spinach ragout and a sous-vide egg; while the other had mimolette, aged parmesan and halloumi cheeses plus a runny egg.
Chef Ong says: “It was a huge success. We had guests try, for the first time, Suren’s sublime appam. Hype is great, but I’m more motivated by cultural exchanges like this one. “The collaboration also proved to me that hawker dishes deserve a spot on the restaurant table too.”
For the collaboration, chef Surendran trained staff at The Masses to make appam and supplied them with ingredients for the pancakes. He has no qualms about sharing his recipe. He says: “I believe our traditions can be kept alive only if we share. I don’t want to see appam die out in Singapore. Besides, I know it’s a tedious process, so realistically, I know I am not going to face too many competitors.”
That collaboration, he adds, brought awareness and publicity for Heavens, and younger customers started patronising the stall too. He says: “Over about three months, I spoke to about 50 customers who went to Heavens for appam after having them at The Masses. If I had time to speak to all customers, the number might have been higher.”
For their next collaboration, for brunch over National Day, he will be in the kitchen at The Masses, turning out the brunch items the two will dream up. Chef Leong, 31, of Wine RVLT, will be working on modern Asian dishes involving fermentation for his collaboration with The Masses. It will feature snacks and four or five courses. He will take to The Masses ingredients he has been fermenting for months – lemon kosho, honey-fermented blue ginger and pulot hitam rice wine. He will also introduce, for the first time, lentil tempeh that he is making. Tempeh is usually made with fermented soya beans.
Chef Ong says: “Pushing boundaries has helped us get to where we are, and my team and I are not stopping. We will carry on pitching a collaboration, planning and executing it. We will struggle at some points, for sure, but will emerge more mature in our thought processes and with even more experience to draw from in future. “We go home each evening wiser and sharper.”
SO/Singapore, a boutique hotel in Robinson Road, has teamed up with Israeli restaurant Miznon in Stanley Street to recreate the vibe of Jaffa, the ancient port city in Israel, in the hotel (pictured). Diners are treated to an Israeli barbecue, with mezze, salads and dips. The collaboration runs until April 28 at the hotel’s Xperience Restaurant, with lunch priced at $59++ a person and dinner at $79++ a person.
Others are making the hard-to-get a little more accessible. Michelin Guide Singapore had its first Gastrobar Pop-Up last month, pairing four restaurants with four bars to offer cocktails created by the bars, paired with snacks by the restaurants.
One of these collaborations was between two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Zen, where dinner for two with wine can easily run into a four-figure sum; and No Sleep Club, a bar in Keong Saik Road. For $180++ a person, diners could have a set of five cocktails from the bar, paired with five snacks from the restaurant, served at the bar.
Nicolas Achard, managing director of Michelin Food & Beverage Asia, says: “Many Singaporeans could not get out of the island due to the travel restrictions, so we wanted to bring the world to them. The bars were affected by Covid-19 and it was a good chance for us to try a food and bar collaboration and raise some awareness for the bar scene in Singapore.”
He adds that response to the Gastrobar Pop-Ups was overwhelming, with tickets selling out for all the four collaborations.
Pictured: Chef Tristin Farmer (left) of two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Zen and Juan Yi Jun are co-owners of bar No Sleep Club.
The Raffles Hotel is collaborating with private-dining chefs throughout this year. Its programme at the Raffles Courtyard started last month with Tinoq Russel Goh and Dylan Chan of PasirPanjangBoy (pictured) offering ngoh hiang, beef rendang and prawn noodle soup.
The second collaboration in the series will be with Annette Tan, who runs Fatfuku, offering modern takes on Peranakan and other Asian food. She will showcase some of her signature dishes and sweets, including Mee Siam Rosti, Nasi Lemak Buah Keluak With Achar and Pandan Koh Swee. The collaboration runs from May 12 to June 11, and she will be at the Raffles Courtyard every Wednesday and Thursday from 6pm to 8pm.
A hotel spokesman says the collaboration with PasirPanjangBoy was a success. “The prawn noodle soup, which was first made available only on Wednesdays, was subsequently offered on Tuesdays as well, following popular demand and great reception from our guests. During the period of the collaboration, Raffles Courtyard was also fully booked.”
Parkroyal on Beach Road is collaborating with Haig Road Putu Piring (pictured) to offer the latter’s steamed rice flour snack at the hotel’s all-day dining restaurant, Ginger. The collaboration runs until April 30 and there is a live station where the putu piring is made to order.
Its general manager, Paolo Campillo, says the hotel is in discussions with home chefs, which he declined to name, on collaborations. He says of Ginger: “It is a restaurant specialising in Singapore flavours and we’d love to be able to work with local talent to offer a variety of dishes and cooking styles.”
Also tapping a private-dining chef is home-grown burger brand Wolf, with outlets in Funan Mall and PasarBella at Suntec City (pictured). It is working with Shen Tan, who runs private-dining business Ownself Make Chef. From April 29 to May 30, people can order the Wolf Rendang Beef Burger and Wolf Rendang Loaded Fries, plus a drink, for $16.90, in the restaurants or have it delivered. The chef’s secret beef rendang sauce is used in the burger and on the fries
Publico Ristorante, an Italian restaurant at the InterContinental Singapore at Robertson Quay, collaborated with private-dining chef Antonio Miscellaneo, 47, (pictured) of Casa Nostra. The chef’s private-dining business is booked for months and the April 6 collaboration was an opportunity for more people to be able to taste his pizza. The meal cost $108++ a person and featured starters, main course and dessert, plus three of Miscellaneo’s pizzas.
Solo Ristorante in Amoy Street teamed up with Lee Yum Hwa (above left) of Ben Fatto, a home-based food business selling handmade pasta and offering private dining. Recently, the restaurant’s chef Simone Fraternali (above right), 35, worked with Lee to present a $138++ a person meal featuring pasta such as chestnut truffle tortellini, burnt yellow corn pasta, cappelletti and farfalline paired with seasonal ingredients such as white asparagus.
A spokesman says: “The pandemic has brought about more possibilities than before in our industry. There is also a need, more than ever, to continually engage our customers with new menus and promotions. Many people view dining out as a way to indulge in lieu of a holiday. As restaurateurs, we would love to be able to offer experiences with a difference.”
Lee, 39, says: “With Ben Fatto being a home-based business, I feel it helps to work with established operators in the industry as it raises the credibility and awareness of the brand. It also provides me with different perspectives of how operators work in various sectors of the industry – from pasta bars to Michelin-starred restaurants.”
His next collaboration will be in May, with Brooklyn-born chef Nick Pelliccione of Mia Tavola in the Balestier area. They will be working on Italian American food in the collaboration, expected to last three to four days.
Irvins, which sells salted egg snacks, has teamed up with pizza chain Pezzo on a Salted Egg Fish Skin Pizza. The pizzas come spread with Irvins’ salted egg sauce, topped with the brand’s fish skin crumbs and mozzarella cheese. They are available until April 30 at $6.90 a slice at the chain’s 18 outlets here.
A spokesman says: “Pezzo was looking for unique offerings. The collaboration came about because both brands are looking to create offerings our customers enjoy.”
Two chocolate brands have also teamed up with food businesses to widen their reach. Home-grown chocolate brand Mr Bucket Chocolaterie has collaborated with Laut, a bar in Stanley Street, on a set of chocolate bonbons for Earth Week, inspired by three of the bar’s signature cocktails.
The $15 set is now available, but only when dining in at Laut (pictured). Its co-owner Frank Shen, 31, says the collaboration highlights the philosophy both businesses adhere to – sustainability. The cocoa beans are responsibly sourced from Malaysia and India, and the bonbons are made with upcycled ingredients from cocktail-making, including banana peels.
He adds: “The people and establishments we collaborate with resonate with what Laut does, which is to focus mainly on South-east Asian flavours and ingredients, local resources and sustainability. “We continue to strive for awesome flavours and taste, but it must also be sustainable so that we continue to grow with nature and the region.”
Swiss chocolate brand Laderach Chocolatier Suisse is tapping home-grown pastry brands to showcase its dark chocolate couverture. The beans come from its farms in Trinidad, Ecuador and Ghana. A spokesman says Laderach wanted to show that the chocolate works as well in pastries as it does in the brand’s FrischSchoggi or fresh chocolate, planks of chocolate, often studded with fruit or nuts.
In the first of a three-part collaboration, it partnered L’eclair Patisserie to create four eclairs using Laderach’s dark chocolate. Both have shops in Jewel Changi Airport. Later this year, it will partner Brotherbird Bakehouse in Lavender Street and Haji Lane, and famous for its croissants. The third collaboration is to be confirmed.
The spokeswoman says this is the first time the chocolate brand, founded in 1962, has embarked on this sort of collaboration. She adds: “To survive the circuit breaker period, we saw brands exploring the most unlikely of collaborations. Brands no longer had the luxury to view other players as competitors. Instead, we were compelled to explore opportunities, even if it meant working with a brand once viewed as competition.”
Lolla, a restaurant in Ann Siang Road, and Wine RVLT, a wine bar in Carpenter Street, collaborated recently. Lolla’s sous chef Imran Selamat (pictured) did a one-day kitchen takeover at Wine RVLT last month, working with its chef Sunny Leong. The menu featured some of Lolla’s signatures, including its sea urchin pudding and burnt cheesecake.
Pang Hian Tee, 53, one of the owners of Lolla, says: “It was an opportunity for us to feature our sous chef; to give him a platform to create a menu that showcased his talent and manage a fun project. It was also a morale-booster for our kitchen team. Although I’m sure we share some customers with Wine RVLT, we wanted to introduce Lolla to the slightly younger customer base that it enjoys.” He adds: “We have already welcomed quite a few customers who attended the collaboration event. I feel collaborations could open doors to opportunities we may sometimes not even be aware of.”
Ian Lim, 36, co-founder of Wine RVLT, says: “Collaborations allow us to learn and try something new and different – things that we might not normally do. It is also about creating a community of like-minded industry players who are willing to cross-market to our respective customers.”
The restaurant has done many collaborations pre-Covid-19 and is looking to do more. It is planning a collaboration with Small’s, chef Bjorn Shen’s pizza omakase restaurant, next month. All of its collaborations have sold out. He adds: “We don’t believe in doing collaborations for the sake of collaborations. It has to make financial and marketing sense for both parties too.
“From new customers to regulars, there’s a renewed sense of discovery of Wine RVLT during every collaboration. We like that we get to introduce new things to more people.”
Text: Tan Hsueh Yun/The Straits Times