Singaporeans are famously proud of their culinary heritage. After all, the Lion City’s dining scene is one of its greatest draws. And it hasn’t escaped notice from the coveted Michelin Guide, one of the world’s most esteemed culinary institutions.
In recent years, it has also honoured some of Singapore’s beloved hawkers, granting them both Bib Gourmand awards and stars. Stalwarts like Odette and Les Amis continue to impress, retaining their trio of stars. This year, a total of 33 new restaurants and hawkers join the Michelin Guide, across the starred, Bib Gourmand and Michelin Selection categories. Here are 7 newcomers and old favourites to note.
Michelin stars are the most coveted awards a restaurant can receive. They stem from the Guide’s past as a French motoring guide, where one star denotes a restaurant worth a stop, two stars denoting that the excellent food is worth a detour and three stars being exceptional cuisine that’s worth a special journey. In order to make the cut, five universal criteria are taken into account: quality of ingredients, harmony of flavours, mastery of techniques, consistency and the personality of the chef as expressed through their cuisine.
Newcomer Born clinches its first star
It’s always thrilling when a new restaurant joins the ever-growing pantheon of Michelin-starred restaurants in Singapore. The Malaysian-born chef of Born, Zor Tan, has had a storied culinary journey involving stints at acclaimed restaurants like Restaurant André in Singapore where he learned under the tutelage of André Chiang. At Born, set within former rickshaw depot Jinricksha Station, Tan presents his enigmatic marriage of French and Chinese cooking through a nine-course menu that highlights eclectic dishes that include pickled starters, fish bacon and a Spanish-inspired fried “bao” – dishes that represent his culinary journey.
Seroja’s stunning hat trick
This newcomer managed to snag a Michelin star less than a year since opening – an impressive feat in itself. Even more impressive is that Seroja is the first and only restaurant in Singapore to be awarded the Michelin Green star, which recognises restaurants that maintain sustainable and ethical practices. Chef Kevin Wong, who also received a Young Chef Award from Michelin – completing Seroja’s hat trick – celebrates the varied cuisines of the Malay Archipelago through his menu. Its efforts towards sustainability include sourcing local, seasonal dishes and utilising vegetable trimmings in their cocktails, all of which serve to emphasise regional flavours.
A two-star exemplar of modern-Indian cuisine
We’ve said it before, modern-Indian cuisine is having its heyday in Singapore. If you need convincing, consider that Thevar is one of only six restaurants on the island to clinch two Michelin stars. Helmed by Penang-born Chef Mano Thevar, the eponymous restaurant champions, in the chef’s own words, “Indian flavours by way of the Malay Peninsula”. What’s also striking about Thevar’s menu is that it presents dishes that defy the usual ideas of what Indian food is, broadening the perception of the cuisine. The best way to experience Thevar’s offerings is through the Chef’s Menu that features unique dishes like Madurai pepper crab rassam and Iberico pork thogayal (chutney) along with classics like lamb biryani.
A three-star stalwart that’s going strong
When it comes to Singapore’s trio of three-star MICHELIN restaurants, Zén often doesn’t get as much attention as its contemporaries Odette and Les Amis. While its peers favour French and European cooking with Asian influences, chef-owner Björn Frantzén instead champions a neo-Nordic menu with Japanese inflections and an emphasis on seafood. Zén’s dining space also defies fine dining archetypes and is instead set within a charming shophouse on Bukit Pasoh Road, adding an intimate vibe to this exceptional culinary experience.
Bib Gourmand entries
While not as prestigious as a star, the Michelin Guide is firm in the belief that a Bib Gourmand isn’t merely a consolation prize. This award honours restaurants that offer “exceptionally good food at moderate prices”. Among these 79 establishments, you’ll find a mix of hawkers and affordable restaurants that have quietly distinguished themselves.
Another hawker hero clinches a Bib Gourmand
Mutton soup is a primal affair – it’s messy, you use your hands and you’d be silly to wear white while eating it. Essentially, it’s far from the white tablecloth affairs most people would associate with the Michelin guide of old. Joining the list of Bib Gourmand awardees this year is Bahrakath Mutton Soup, housed in the much-loved Adam Road Food Centre. Open since the ’70s, the stall offers a variety of mutton soups made with leg and ribs along with offal like tripe and even brain. The richly spiced soup is replete with tender portions of meat, and is best enjoyed with chunks of bread to sop up the gravy.
A contemporary take on a classic Malay dish wins mention
The Coconut Club’s entry into Singapore’s dining scene was met with scepticism by some Singaporeans – mostly due to its upmarket price for the typically humble hawker dish nasi lemak (fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf). But they’ve more than proven their merit with ample portions, high quality ingredients and an exceptional sambal that ties it all together. In addition to their nasi lemak, you can add other homestyle Malay dishes to your meal like chicken satay, sayur lodeh (Indonesian vegetable soup prepared with coconut milk) and a delightfully tender homemade otah to your meal.
Michelin Selection eateries
Being in the Michelin Selection is a “sign of a chef using quality ingredients that are well cooked; simply a good meal,” says Michael Ellis, International Director of the Michelin Guide books. While not as prestigious as the aforementioned awards, these are certainly establishments to look out for – it’s not unheard of for Michelin Selected establishments to rise to the ranks of Bib Gourmand, and perhaps even a star.
One of Singapore’s cheapest hawker dishes takes the spotlight
More than half of the 33 new Michelin Selected establishments are hawker stalls, but the humblest of them all is perhaps the chwee kueh, a rice cake served with chilli and chai-poh (preserved radish cooked in lard). At Bedok Chwee Kueh, a single piece will set you back just $1.20 (though a pair is considered the usual portion). Served on its own, these tender rice cakes have little to no flavour, but the magic is in the stall’s spicy chilli and their distinctively fragrant chai-poh. While the stall didn’t earn a star or Bib Gourmand award, the recognition of such a humble local dish is something that Singaporeans can certainly be proud of.
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