How Singapore’s Food Industry is Helping Save Its Design Heritage

Dining and design crown these restaurants at the helm of Singapore’s transformation of its heritage sites

by Patricia Chong

In Singapore, clean lines are apparent in every building and façade, and glass cityscapes follow the laws of functionality. It’s all premeditated, an urban planner’s dream come true, thanks to the high premium government puts on design, and Design Singapore Council, a committee tasked since 2003 to develop design for economic growth and citizens’ well-being. So invested is Singapore in design, it’s set an ambitious goal: according to gov.sg, Design 2025 will see the country as a thriving, innovation-driven economy and a loveable city by design in eight years’ time.

 

 

Heritage conservation has been a design initiative for years, embraced in the steadily growing trend of adaptive reuse by the country’s top restaurateurs. With Design 2025 fast approaching, this initiative goes full swing as more and more heritage sites are reclaimed, revamped, and repurposed into hot dining destinations. The result? A gastronomic experience that isn’t just enhanced by aesthetics, but by a building’s back story, one that whets the imagination as much as the appetite.

 

Odette

When Singapore’s National Gallery—once the Supreme Court and City Hall buildings, the latter dating back to 1929—opened late in 2015 after renovations that saw the addition of glass and metalwork to the British colonial structure, Chef Julien Royer’s Odette opened its own doors to a flood of acclaim from critics and guests alike. Nine months later, the Modern French restaurant was awarded with two Michelin stars.

 

Inspired by Royer’s grandmother and her love of pure ingredients, Odette stays faithful to the chef’s beloved muse in almost all aspects. From the relaxed dining area filled with soft-edged furniture, curved screens, and subdued hues, diners can watch chefs in the glass-enclosed kitchen working on dishes such as Royer’s signature organic eggs, poached and pine-smoked for 55 minutes. Artist Dawn Ng’s mobile art installation, abstract collages of deconstructed food photography called “A Theory of Everything,” floats above the quadruple banquette from the high ceiling.

 

Odette, National Gallery Singapore, 1 Saint Andrew’s Road

 

Botanico at The Garage

Originally a parking building, The Garage has been transformed into a hip food destination. Situated in the middle of Singapore’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Singapore Botanic Gardens, the white, two-story Art Deco-styled structure, with its seven bays and distinctive vaulting entrances, is home to contemporary bistro Botanico.

 

Complete with their original dark wood rafters, wide windows on both sides of the high-ceilinged dining space open up to a lush landscape that complements a menu inspired by the elements of nature. Chef Antonio Oviedo uses only fresh, seasonal ingredients for must-tries like Botanico Salad, Lamb Tartare, and Braised Pork Belly with Sherry Sour Sauce. Enjoy your meal in the restaurant’s simple monochromatic interiors—or dine al fresco in a wood-decked terrace with a garden bar.

 

Botanico, Level 2 of The Garage, 50 Cluny Park Road, Singapore Botanic Gardens

 

 

Pó at the Warehouse Hotel

Tall tales of opium dens, secret societies, and underground distilleries on the banks of Robertson Quay are just that; the area was officially just part of a trade route through the Straits of Malacca. Built with a triple-pitched roof and masonry walls in 1895, a warehouse in the vicinity has since been repurposed into the Warehouse Hotel, modern-meets-industrial 37-room accommodations that opened in the beginning of the year.

 

A tribute to popo, the Mandarin word for grandmother, the boutique hotel’s flagship restaurant Pó takes nostalgia and runs with it. Curated by Mod Sin (that’s Modern Singapore) pioneer, Chef Willin Low of Wild Rocket fame, Pó piques the palate with Singaporean flavors of yesteryears; signature dishes include the Charcoal-grilled Iberico Satay, Carabinero Prawns and Konbu Mee, and Spicy Tamarind Barramundi. Like the hotel, Pó’s interiors combine the building’s industrial roots with the coziness of home: savor a meal in a restaurant with a muted palette, terrazzo flooring, and marbled tables juxtaposed with chic rattan chairs and warm lighting.

 

Pó, Warehouse Hotel, 320 Havelock Road, Robertson Quay

 

 

The Summerhouse

Located up north in Seletar, The Summerhouse is situated in a rolling landscape reminiscent of an English countryside. The area that was once an airbase for the Royal Air Force is now a dining destination set in a colonial-style, two-story structure built in the 1930s, its sprawling verandas and original timberwork and fretwork kept intact.

 

Occupying the second floor, The Summerhouse Dining Room and Balcony Bar boasts open spaces enhanced with the addition of a mirrored ceiling, and tapered panes echoing the geometric patterns of the windows. The dining area’s furniture is done in dark wood punctuated by floral upholstery—all of it kept light to reflect the nature-inspired, farm-to-table menu by Chef Florian Ridder. Order Beetroot, a whole raspberry-pickled beetroot with a surprise center, and the Panzanella, eggplant “caviar” served in a local tomato broth.

 

The Summerhouse, 3 Park Lane, The Oval @ Seletar Aerospace Park, Seletar

 

 

Whitegrass

Formerly a convent and school, CHIJMES, the 19th-century Neo-Gothic structure with a tall spire, is now a lively lifestyle destination of eateries that includes the Modern Australian restaurant Whitegrass.

 

Whitegrass is Sam Aisbett’s first stint as chef-owner, and its inspiration is obvious in a hand-painted mural of land and sea creatures, and plants and herbs by MessyMxi. Its three dining rooms are awash in pinks, forest green, and vibrant blue, with patterned sofas, pendant lights, and rugs adding a vintage—and homey—touch. Handmade ceramics by local artists Lee Huiwen and Kenneth Lau include vases resembling baobabs, butter and salt dishes shaped like mushrooms. This playfulness is a nod to Whitegrass’s experimental menu of Grass-Fed Beef, Slow-Cooked Mangalica Pork, and the Young Coconut Mousse rife with influences from Japanese cuisine and Aisbett’s own fascination with Australian ingredients and local produce.

 

Whitegrass, CHIJMES, 30 Victoria Street