When in Singapore: Michelin-Starred Chef and Other Experts Recommend These Places For Coffee + Treats

The chefs behind Hey Handsome, Yardstick Coffee, and Candlenut share their recommendations.

PHOTO FROM SINGAPORE TOURISM BOARD

(SPOT.ph) A walk down Singapore’s busy streets tells you everything you need to know about its food culture. There’s a lot to take in, such as the eclectic signage advertising restaurants and their fare; the aroma of spices, herbs, and oils wafting through the crisp air; and the pleasant buzz of diners chatting over a good meal.

When you finally sit down and taste the food, the flavors and textures dance on your palate and entice you to explore even more. Every plate is a story of passion, and Singapore has countless tales to tell.

We asked the chefs behind a Michelin restaurant in Singapore, two of Manila's popular restaurants, and a café owner whose coffee has set a new benchmark in the Philippines, to share their first-hand experiences of Singaporean cuisine, as well as where they personally draw inspiration from. Here's what they had to say:

Andre Chanco, Yardstick Coffee

Along Esteban Street in Legazpi Village, Makati sits Yardstick Coffee, where owner Andre Chanco and his dedicated crew work tirelessly to raise the standard of Metro Manila’s coffee culture. His pursuit of the perfect cup, however, started more than 2,000 kilometers overseas, at Papa Palheta, a specialty roaster along Tyrwhitt Road in Singapore.

PHOTOS FROM SINGAPORE TOURISM BOARD

“My first experience there as a customer definitely blew my mind because back then, it was very difficult to find really delicious espressos,” Andre says about the cafe. “This was something that inspired me and my business partners to bring change to Manila’s growing and evolving coffee scene.”

Andre has since tried to replicate that same experience for everyone who walks into Yardstick Coffee looking for an excellent brew. And as Filipino coffee culture continues to grow, he sees Singapore’s as an ideal template to follow.

“What’s great about Singapore is the varied options available from the local specialty roasters. Coffee drinkers in Singapore are definitely spoilt for choice,” he says.

“For local coffee, most drink stalls in hawker centers offer the standard fare and you can’t go wrong with that. In Chinatown, the Nanyang Old Coffee is right around the corner and is a must-visit! For cafes, I’d say Nylon Coffee and Papa Palheta would be my top two favorites; not necessarily ‘local’ style coffee, but definitely two of the pioneering specialty coffee roasters in town.”

In the Philippines, he says, there’s a greater challenge to get people to buy into the idea of specialty brews, but it’s something he truly believes is worth the effort. “It’s very easy to be tempted to settle for just ‘okay’ because that’s what the market currently accepts, but we didn’t start Yardstick for the status quo to remain. Great coffees are complex while being able to easily identify its characteristics—aroma, flavors and other nuances. Once your palate has been excited by this wide spectrum of flavors and out of this world experiences, there’s no stopping from there.”

Nicco Santos, Hey Handsome and Your Local

For Nicco Santos, owner and chef of Hey Handsome at Bonifacio Global City, and Your Local at Legazpi Village, his connection to Singapore is much more intimate. “My cousin, who I grew up with, moved there, so I asked my grandmother to take me there after I graduated from high school to visit. That first visit led to a Singaporean food obsession,” he says.

If Nicco speaks a lot about his family, it’s because they’re so closely tied with the passion that drives him to create unforgettable culinary experiences for his customers. “My passion actually isn’t really food in general, but rather what takes place when there’s food on the table and the comfort it gives when we eat. I grew up with my grandparents, and whenever I’d visit my mom, she would be surrounded by a group of chefs cooking and just enjoying themselves. Those moments, I never forgot and eventually I started to miss them. So to recreate them, I would cook during the weekends as an excuse to have friends over.”

Singaporean food culture has always been a positive influence on Nicco’s palate. Hey Handsome, for example, takes its name from a phrase you’d commonly hear from hawkers trying to catch a customer’s attention, and its melting pot nature is what serves as the blueprint for his own offerings. “The fusion brought about by love and cultures getting married is definitely it,” he says.

Nicco's passion for food didn't start overnight; it was through his experiences that made him who he is today. Singapore's best restaurants and famous food strips have influenced his fuming passion for creating innovative dishes. When asked about his go-to places when he is in Singapore, Nicco laughs, saying, “There are way too many!” He does, however, love to go to the myriad of options along Jalan Besar and Keong Saik roads, as well as exploring the foodie neighborhoods of Tiong Bahru and Geylang.

“For local food,” he adds, “you need to hit up the hawker centers, especially Maxwell and Chomp Chomp.”

PHOTOS FROM SINGAPORE TOURISM BOARD

“For cafes, you should definitely check out Chye Seng Huat Hardware, Nylon and Common Man.”

The wealth of dining options is something Nicco attributes to the gung-ho attitude of Singapore’s restaurateurs. “One thing I really got from them is ‘anything is damn possible,’” he shares.

PHOTO FROM MALCOLM LEE

Malcolm Lee, Candlenut

Malcolm is the founder and chef behind Singapore's Candlenut, the only Michelin-starred restaurant in the world to specialize in Peranakan cuisine—a unique heritage cuisine that blends the rich, spicy flavors of Malay curries with simple, delicate Chinese dishes. It’s fusion cuisine at its best, and it’s the food that Malcolm grew up with as a curious boy.

“While watching my grandmother and mother cook, I would also sneak a taste of what they were prepping,” he shares. “I believe that has helped me develop my palate for the rich Peranakan flavors that I recreate at Candlenut. It’s all about retaining the soul of Peranakan cuisine and honoring time-tested tradition with an open mindset. Their food, to me, is the ultimate labor of love.”

In his downtime, the Michelin-starred chef loves to visit several restaurants and locales that feature diversity in Singaporean cuisine. He speaks glowingly of Keng Eng Kee Seafood as one of his top zi char restaurants or Chinese food stalls that offer affordable dishes, Whampoa Keng Steamboat for traditional charcoal-stove steamboat, and Wee Nam Kee Chicken Rice Restaurant for Hainanese chicken rice.

 PHOTO FROM SINGAPORE TOURISM BOARD

“A good start would be the Katong and Joo Chiat area,” he adds. “This vibrant neighborhood also known as the home of the Peranakans, is a charming enclave of heritage shophouses and quaint shops, with a good mix of traditional eateries and modern restaurants. Some must-tries include Chin Mee Chin Confectionery328 Katong Laksa, Eng’s Noodles House, and Kim Choo.”

PHOTO FROM SINGAPORE TOURISM BOARD

The dynamic nature of Singapore’s cultural intermingling continues to evolve the food that ends up on its plates. “Local cuisine is constantly being refined, refreshed, redefined and given a contemporary twist,” Malcolm explains. “I believe that good food can always be better. It’s a matter of having a respect for and really knowing what ingredients are going into the food, and striking the correct balance.” Malcolm’s passion for Singapore’s constantly evolving heritage cuisine is incredibly evident in the passion he puts into perfecting the dishes at Candlenut.

“I picked apart the different key elements in the Kueh Salat and experimented with different techniques to create the perfect balance. While definitely more time-consuming and laborious than making the traditional Kueh Salat, every step—from selecting choice ingredients, extracting the pandan essence to steaming the rice—is carefully orchestrated to produce this authentic Peranakan dessert,” Malcolm shares.

On plating one’s passion

Andre, Nicco, and Malcolm also had something to share about what it takes to transform your passion for food into a thriving business.

For Andre, it’s all about trying new things: “Work for someone else and get out of your comfort zone. It looks glamorous on the surface, but beneath all that is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.”

Nicco, on the other hand, reminds us never to lose sight of why we do what we do. “Don’t cook for yourselves. Cook for others. It’s really the passion of wanting to take care of people that got me to this point, and it’s what will keep me staying fulfilled in this work forever.”

And for Malcolm, when you use your passion as your motivation to persevere, you will get results: “While having a passion for food is a great start, it takes a lot of grit to pursue this dream. It’s akin to making Peranakan food. You can’t do it in a rush. You have to take time, put in the effort and most importantly, put in the love. Only then will the flavors flourish.”

Your passion to pursue your dreams could come from the people you meet, the destinations you visit, and the dishes you taste. For Andre, Nicco, and Malcolm, it was perhaps their immersion in the Singaporean culture that inspired them to go after what they like the most—creating food and drinks that fulfill and satisfy. So, discover new places and try new things, and you could always start somewhere in Singapore.

 

 

This article was created by Summit Storylabs in partnership with Singapore Tourism Board.
Follow Us: