Dining

Riding the wave: Cult Singapore F&B brands that opened in the pandemic

Despite the economic uncertainty, these new local lifestyle brands were launched during the global pandemic to much success. Crystal Lee and Annabel Tan discover their appeal.

Le Matin Patisserie

Pictures of the elusive Le Matin Patisserie pastries were the cause of much envy on Instagram during the Circuit Breaker in Singapore two years ago. Scoring a box felt like winning the lottery, as it was often sold out within minutes. Back then, the business only operated online and chef- owner Mohamed Al-Matin and his team churned out about 30 boxes of specially curated French pastries a day for delivery – inadvertently kickstarting the popular pastry box trend among patisseries in Singapore.

Initially, each Le Matin box contained a variety of four to five freshly baked sweet viennoiseries such as the crowd-favourite Kouign Amann, Pistachio Escargot and Almond Croissant. Savoury pastries followed and have continued to be mainstays.

Le Matin was born two years after chef Matin returned home to fulfil his dream of opening his own patisserie. He was previously the pastry sous chef of Noma in Copenhagen, and has also worked with top chefs around the world the likes of Adriano Zumbo of Adriano Zumbo Patissier, Christopher Thé of Black Star Pastry, and Andre Chiang of Restaurant Andre.

Following the online business’ success, the chef opened a small physical outlet in Raeburn Park to great response despite the inaccessible location. They have since moved and expanded to two new and more central stores at 77 Robinson Road and Porcelain Café by Le Matin at Paragon that offers a high tea menu. Customers can also continue to order pastries for delivery.

Rockpool Rum

Rockpool Rum is proof that passion can get you very far. Created by four connoisseur friends who have no formal background in the spirits industry, the independent label eschews the norms of the rum world with a contemporary blend that is complex but easy to drink.

Smooth enough to be sipped neat and versatile enough for cocktails, it’s made with three- to five-year-old rums from Barbados and the Dominican Republic, all aged in American oak barrels. No sugar, colour or flavourings have been added. The result is a fruity palate, with vanilla, orange peel and marzipan.

Impressively, in less than a year since its launch in late 2021, Rockpool won a Gold Medal at the World Rum Awards 2022. Staying true to its namesake – which are an integral part of coastal ecosystems – Rockpool is also a member of 1% for the Planet, a global network of businesses, individuals and non-profit organisations founded to prevent greenwashing and tackle the planet’s most pressing environmental issues.

Rockpool is available for purchase at rockpoolrum.com and can be found in a variety of rum cocktails around bars in Singapore, including Lime House, Rumours Beach Club and 28 Hong Kong Street.

Dearborn

After cooking in acclaimed restaurants like the two-Michelin-starred Waku Ghin in Singapore and one-Michelin-starred The Nomad in New York City, chef Christopher Kong decided to start a Modern American fine casual concept in 2019 called Dearborn. It started out as a home- based supper club before being derailed by Covid-19, forcing Kong to pivot the business.

Back then, the chef used to gift granola to his supper club diners and received many requests to sell it but never had the bandwidth to do so. With a lot more time on his hands during the pandemic, he finally acceded. Almost as soon as he announced the sale on Instagram, it sold out.

This unexpected venture was such a hit that Kong went from baking the granola out of his home oven to expanding production with a team of 10 in an 860 sq ft space. Dearborn offers its granola on a rotation of interesting flavours such as Hot Cross Bun, Lemon Pistachio and Mango, and Passionfruit and Coconut. To ensure freshness and minimise wastage, only about four to five flavours are available every week.

Kong says: “I’m extremely proud of the attention to detail that we pay to our product, from sourcing to packing. As a chef from a career in fine dining, I know that the granola we produce is of a very high quality and I would stand behind it any day.” Dearborn granola is available to purchase at dearborn.sg and from its 1 Everton Park location.

Cheeselads

In the middle of the first Circuit Breaker in Singapore, Chloe Lee, Leonard Teng and Alfred Low founded Cheeselads to make artisanal cheeses more approachable and enjoyable. All in their early thirties, the trio were able to capitalise on the trend of ordering food to send to friends, families and clients with their visually pleasing and well packaged cheese platters. To date, Cheeselads has worked with a long list of corporate clients including Patek Philippe, Bentley, Unilever, DBS and more.

According to Lee, a key factor that sets Cheeselads apart is its house-made cheese platter accompaniments, such as the signature jam, hummus, water crackers and soft chewy nougats. “That means people can’t duplicate our platters at home as easily,” she says. “For cheeses, we also import them directly from farmhouses and producers, and age them in our cheese ageing room so every cheese tastes unique.”

Its most popular item, the Signature Truffle Brie, is also made in-house. In addition to its online platform cheeselads.com, Cheeselads has grown to also operate out of a physical store with a cheese bar at 117 Tyrwhitt Road.

Morning

When Nespresso’s capsule patent expired in 2011, industrial roasteries, independent cafes and speciality labels flooded the coffee pods market with more flavours than you can count. Local speciality coffee pioneer PPP Coffee (formerly known as Papa Palheta) is among the brands that are taking a bite out of Nepresso’s pie, but founder Leon Foo was not content with how the one-size-fits-all capsule machines dampened the flavour of each bean.

So, together with manufacturing expert Bowen Chiou and award- winning innovation agency Stuck, he set out to build a smart espresso maker that would elevate home-brewing. The result is the Morning Machine, which achieved its funding goal within two days of launching on Kickstarter in September 2020. Even before the product reached tabletops worldwide in May 2021, it also nabbed the coveted Red Dot Product Design Award for its sleek, minimalist look.

Morning offers 10 default recipes, including the Bloom & Brew, its flagship espresso; long coffees; filter brews; and a Kyoto Style Slow Drip inspired by the big coffee contraptions seen in Japan.

To make a cuppa, simply insert the capsule, choose the blend on the Morning app, and the WiFi-enabled machine will select the intended recipe for the specific brew. Designed to afford control to the user, its technological features – such as a built-in scale for accuracy; proportional- integral derivative temperature control that can be set anywhere between 65 to 98 deg C; and pressure profiling to calibrate coffee flow – can be tweaked via its app for a highly personalised drink.

And with the Morning Marketplace that stocks capsules from partner roasters like April Coffee Roasters (Denmark), Colonna Coffee (UK), St. ALi (Australia) and Center Coffee (South Korea), you’ll never get bored of your morning Joe with this machine. Available for pre-order at drinkmorning.com.

Love Handle

We’re in a meat-alternative zeitgeist, with a growing number of brands offering a slew of plant-based chicken, beef, pork and lamb. A local “butcher” that is funnelling many of these meatless meats under one roof is Love Handle, the first of its kind in Asia.

Divided into three sections – raw meats, marinated and prepared meats, as well as condiments and dairy, its offerings include products from major players like Impossible, Tindle and Growthwell, alongside in-house creations such as the Love Handle pastrami, made from jackfruit and seasoned to produce its big, smoky flavours.

Understanding that plant-based meats are new to many home kitchens, Love Handle has an open online resource with recipes and videos on the ways you can cook your newly acquired proteins.

Want a taste before you buy? Head up to the second-floor diner to find a hearty menu of burgers, Western courses and Asian dishes made with ingredients sold downstairs. Its Pulled Rendang Burger features the Green Rebel Rendang, accented with housemade pickles. If you love Impossible meats, the Love Handle Double Cheeseburger comes with two slabs of its patties, smashed and slathered with housemade burger sauce, pickles and caramelised onions sandwiched between fluffy buns. For the Chick’n & Waffle, Tindle’s “chicken thighs” are deep-fried and served on egg-and-milk-free waffles.

Those not too keen on jostling with the crowd at its Ann Siang Hill space can order from the butcher or the diner online.

Upgrain

Perfected over two decades of research and development by a medical doctor, Upgrain is a Singapore food tech company that created the world’s first low-carb, high-fibre flour. All natural and made with no preservatives, Upgrain’s revolutionary range of products include breads and noodles containing just half the carbs but with six times more fibre.

Founded by Angelena Chan, the brand hit the market at an opportunistic time with a compelling proposition that resonated. With the growing trend of consumers wanting to eat better and more mindfully, especially when the pandemic hit, Upgrain provided a healthier version of breads and noodles without sacrificing taste and texture.

Currently, the brand offers Asian staples like fresh Wonton Noodles and Ramen, as well as various breads like burger buns and the Raisin Cinnamon Demi Loaf. According to Chan, one of the oldest members’ clubs in Singapore recently put out a tender for Upgrain’s burger buns to be supplied to its outlets after a blind taste test.

There are plans to expand global access to Upgrain’s products as well as widen the range to include items like instant noodles, puff pastries, dim sum, chapati and more. For now, customers can shop online at upgrain.com, various e-stores like Redmart and 9s Seafood, as well as at retail stores like Little Farms, Meat United, Ryan’s Grocery and Ace Fish Market.

This story first appeared in the August 2022 issue of Prestige Singapore 

Crystal Lee

Prestige Singapore's Managing Editor wonders if she's better with words or numbers. Some days she thinks she's terrible at both. But most of the time, she's pretty good at eating, drinking, admiring beautiful things, and exploring new worlds.

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