The range for casual restaurants is rather wide; $20 can get you a decent meal at a chain restaurant, and $50 can put you in an independent restaurant with fantastic ambience. Some are good for families, some for friends’ gatherings, and some for romantic dates.
Since we try to avoid chain restaurants because we think standalone restaurants have more character, most of the 10 best casual restaurants in Singapore 2016 are unique.
Unlike other lists, where we can analyze the trend of the category, this category spans too widely for a critical analysis. There are KoMex (Korean Mexican) food, Cantonese food, Peranakan food, etc. But diversity is always good, because this gives us consumers more choices; diversity is strength. Perhaps the diversity is indicative of how globalized Singapore.
These are the 10 best casual restaurants in Singapore for 2016:
Redpan is the Grub Group’s latest culinary venture, and it’s the best one yet. It is a collaboration with DP Architects, and hence the name reDPan. Like other eateries under Grub, Redpan serves mod sin (modern Singaporean) food, clean food that they would only serve their family. The must-orders here are the pork pops ($9) which are sous vide and then deep-fried, creating a crispy surface and a tender meat; and hae bee hiam pasta ($16) from a traditional recipe of Chef Mervyn Phan’s grandmother. Recommended for families and groups of friends.
The National Kitchen opened with much fanfare. After all, it is by Dame Violet Oon, damed by the French Grand Ordre du Rocamadour du Diamant Noir. After my initial less-than-stellar review, I returned several times to The National Kitchen and each time, the food gets better and better that my doctor friend, who is a fussy foodie, approves of it. I emailed them to compliment them about the improvement and they replied that they read my review, took my feedback, and improve the recipes; they took feedback from other customers too. It’s heartening to see restaurants taking constructive criticism and improving themselves. Recommended for families and groups of friends.
Considering that 60% of restaurants close after a year, the 6 year-old The Disgruntled Chef making this list is quite a big deal. The kitchen is helmed by celebrity chef Daniel Sia, who serves European cuisine with touches of Asian flavors. The weekend brunch set is priced reasonably at $32++ for two plates and $39++ for three. The truffle bikini ($10) is an atas grilled cheese sandwich, zng with black truffle and iberico ham; umami max. Also get the crispy lamb shortribs ($21), sprinkled with cumin. I recommend brunch for lovers and families; and dinner for lovers and large groups.
The 6 year-old Australian cafe has a brilliant new menu this year, combining Australian cuisine with touches of Indian spices. The food is full-on bold, no-holds-barred masculine like their Hollywood exports Hugh Jackman and Chris Hemsworth; the food is often made from scratch and ingredients are hormone-free. Their fantastic cherry-let cocktail won an important competition. Definitely must get the hand-cut curry pasta ($19.50) and the complex vegetarian grilled haloumi sliders ($13). Good for after-work gatherings.
#6. Yhingthai Palace
Yhingthai Palace has been around for years but every time we walk past, we are frightened by the atas decor, thinking the PALACE would be very expensive. The Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand restaurant cost us about $40 each, expensive for Thai food, but the dishes were so delicious we wouldn’t mind the price. Order the olive rice ($15/$20/$30), which is fragrant with bits of garlic, with crunchy bits of hae bee. For families and groups.
For the past 30 years, York Hotel has invited Penang hawkers to Singapore to cook for us. Some of the hawkers have retired, so you can’t eat the food even if you visit Penang; you can only eat it at this buffet. Their kway teow soup made it to our 10 Best Dishes of 2016, although there are other delicious items at the buffet such as assam laksa, char kway teow, nasi lemak, and ban chang kueh. It occurs only thrice a year. Catch it when it comes again in 2017. It’s worth it.
#4. Tanuki Raw
Tanuki Raw reopened after a hiatus for renovation. I’ve resisted going to Tanuki Raw for the longest time because (1) I don’t want to queue–they don’t accept reservations and there is always a queue—and (2) because of my prejudice that a hipster restaurant won’t be good. I was wrong. It serves westernized version of Japanese one-bowl meal, such as the popular foie gras truffle yakiniku ($23) and the signature chirashi ($22.90). Not only is the food delicious, there is invention in the East-meets-West fusion, appealing to young, modern tastebuds. During happy hours, they serve very cheap oysters if you order a cocktail.
When friends ask me to recommend them Mexican food, it’s always Vatos. And my friends all love it. Vatos serves an innovative KoMex (Korean Mexican) food; think tacos with gogungjiang. Their tortillas are homemade, none of those dry tortilla nonsense in other Mexican joints. They also serve Korean inspired cocktails, which makes this restaurant great for afterwork gatherings. Get the baja fish tacos ($10 for 2, $14 for 3), Korean pork belly tacos ($10/$14), and Sexy Sanchez ($28), a strawberry margarita with an inverted apple and strawberry cider.
#2. Inaniwa Yosuke
One of the 16 concepts at Japan Food Town at Wisma Atria, Inaniwa Yosuke was established in 1860. The udon is different from the thick udon we know; this Inaniwa-styled udon is thin like mee sua. It takes 3 days to make the udon, and the entire process is manual, done in Japan, imported to Singapore. Get the set with everything ($32+) consisting hot udon in umami, smoky, bonito broth; cold udon in two dips; and tempura. It is quite costly, but it’s very delicious. Recommended for families and dates.
Man Man Japanese Unagi Restaurant is by the wildly successful Teppei. They import fresh live eels from Mikawa Isshiki region; they are displayed, swimming in the tanks at the front of the restaurant. If you sit by the counter, you can see the chef walk to the tanks, pick an eel, bring to the kitchen, and slaughter it. First, the chef uses a pin to pierce the eel through the eye to the chopping board. Now that the eel is fixed on the chopping board, the chef slices it along the stomach, from the head to the tail. He then skewers it and puts it on hot charcoal. Some say it’s barbaric, I find it manly.
The unagi is very bold, much char on the surface while the flesh is still moist and tender. It’s very salty and very sweet.
The ventilation needs some improvement, and this isn’t a place to linger; it’s eat and go. So it’s good for families, because you don’t care how you smell to your family, and because you don’t feel like talking to your family, so you just want to eat and go. Haha.
To summarize, for
–families: Man Man Unagi Japanese restaurant, Inaniwa Yosuke Udon, Penang buffet at York Hotel, Yhingthai Palace, National Kitchen, The Disgruntled Chef (brunch), and Redpan
–friends and colleagues gatherings: Vatos Urban Tacos, Tanuki Raw (happy hour), Yhingthai Palace, Sarnies, National Kitchen, The Disgruntled Chef, and Redpan
–casual dates: Inaniwa Yosuke Udon, Tanuki Raw, The Disgruntled Chef
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.