We take a closer look at the dining experience in Phase 2 and how it has changed over the last few months.
Phase 2 is the new normal for now. And we must say, the dining scene looks and feels different. It took us a few foodie misadventures to realise that eating out in Phase 2 is not as easy as pre-Covid times. For one, you can’t just head out to your favourite joint on a Friday night, because weekend activities require a little more planning than usual. So before Phase 3 hits us, we take a closer look at the landscape of Phase 2 dining and how restaurateurs and chefs have dealt with the cards given to them in 2020.
What we learnt from Phase 2 dining
Reservations are paramount
We’ll say this again and again. If you don’t make reservations, especially during peak hours, good luck to you. Chances are, you might end up on the back of a snaking queue, or worse – leave with a growling stomach. We initially didn’t think much about how social distancing would affect the way we dine out. But restaurants at buzzy areas like Club Street and Duxton Hill get filled up very quickly on weekends as maximum seating capacity is reduced. So, you know what to do.
Self-service buffets are a thing of the past
In following Phase 2 dining measures, buffet restaurants have adapted their ways to serve hungry diners. Hello, a la carte buffets! During our recent visit to The Line at Shangri-La Hotel Singapore, we were seated the entire time and dishes were made to order.
It was a QR code that led us to a digital menu on our phones. Everything was easy and simple, so we submitted our orders and received artfully plated dishes in perfect portions! Unquestionably, this changes the standard buffet experience, but for the better. Instead of spending time queuing at stations, we truly get to enjoy the free-flow meal with our loved ones. Plus, this significantly reduces food wastage as you won’t grab more than you can eat.
The service extends to communal areas in restaurants as well. For instance, steamboat chain Hai Di Lao has closed its condiment station to diners. Instead, you fill up your choice of preferred sauces in a form and servers send them to you in a jiffy.
No booze after half past 10
Revellers have to hold your breath as Phase 2 dining and drinking measures prohibit liquor consumption after 10.30pm. While this might feel like a blight on your weekend plans, we have to remind ourselves that we’re living in a pandemic.
But not all is doom and gloom. Our trip down to Keong Saik on a Sunday saw patrons basking in the sun at alfresco spots with a beer in hand. While a boozy Sunday session isn’t new, we’ve noticed a new trend of day-drinking at bars.
“The circuit breaker allowed people to pause and value the little things that make up their daily lives. Restaurants and social gatherings played a huge role. The idea of dining out and interacting taps into the same feelings as comfort food or a familiar scent,” says Eddy Montana, General Manager of beer bar Heart of Darkness, which recently moved to the Keong Saik enclave.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking to throw a house party (of five), let The Dandy Collection sort out all the logistics for you. And by that we mean the whole shindig. So that’s food and drinks from Neon Pigeon or The Fat Prince, a curated music playlist, and sleek tableware all brought to your doorstep. Totally fuss-free!
It’s all about SG Clean
We’re all familiar with the food hygiene ranking system that dishes out grades like A, B, C or D to restaurants and hawker centres. But in these Covid times, there’s a new certification that gives diners peace of mind. Enter SG Clean. This quality mark ensures restaurants comply with the best hygiene standards in line with the government’s guidelines. That includes increased sanitisation of common facilities and temperature-taking for staff and visitors.
Our local food scene is rolling with the changes
Despite the F&B industry taking a big hit from the pandemic, we’ve seen a spate of new restaurants setting up shop this year. Just take a look at our Hot New Tables column and you’ll know what we’re talking about. (On a side note, home bakers are totally making waves with their fab bakes and dessert boxes too!)
The newly minted Luke’s Lobster, like many other restaurants, faced a few bumps in the road. It was initially slated to open in early April but the circuit breaker came swooping in, halting all works. So September became the new date, and now it’s just as hyped up as before.
Vijay Pillai, CEO of Caerus Holding, which brought us iconic F&B brands like Lady M and the recently-opened Leckerbaer, shares the struggle of bringing in new concepts in a time like this.
“Even after the circuit breaker, our hands were tied as our contractors had their own set of problems with the construction crew still held back in quarantine. There were definitely very real concerns on opening such a popular brand known to draw snaking queues at a time when we had to encourage safe distancing.”
With time on their hands, the team took the opportunity to think ahead. “We have circumvented expectations of long queues by setting up queue demarcations outside the Shaw Building entrance of Isetan Scotts – allowing two groups at a time once at peak capacity – and rolling out online pre-orders for takeaway as early as 17 September.”
Creativity is key
In the pristine kitchen of Michelin-starred Jag, owners Anant Tyagi and Jeremy Gillon used the downtime to experiment in the kitchen. Jumping on the restaurant delivery bandwagon at the height of the circuit breaker, chef Jeremy thought of new ways to showcase the unique Savoie herb-inspired menu.
“Chef Jeremy suddenly had the luxury of time to design wholesome seasonal menus that could be reheated, easily plated and shared with the entire family. We worked very hard to ensure only the finest ingredients and chef’s signature cooking style was reflected in each meal delivered but without the fuss,” says Anant.
The duo also took the opportunity to increase their partnership with local suppliers to show support to smaller players.
“While Singapore has limited natural resources, there are still great ingredients that can be sourced locally and we have been surprised by the quality of seafood, micro-herbs and vegetables we get delivered fresh to our kitchen,” explains Anant.
At the time of writing, Jag has reduced its seating to five tables due to Phase 2 dining guidelines. But, instead of seeing it as a restriction, the pair view this as an opportunity to fully focus on their diners and degustation menus. “We now have the time to deliver a fully bespoke dining experience for each guest without rushing them through the service.”
As Winston Churchill once said, “Never waste a good crisis.” And it looks like the F&B scene has done its best to bounce right back, despite the hurdles thrown at it in 2020. Let’s continue to support our chefs and eateries as much as possible, while waiting for Phase 3 to come around (fingers crossed!).