This flexible living concept at the heart of Keong Saik Street's feted dining enclave is slated to open by the end of the month. But its attractive ensemble of bars and restaurants already has food lovers curious about what it will bring to the table

It’ll be the hottest address on Keong Saik Road when it's officially launched at the end of the month. And that’s because the 60-room flexible-living concept that is KeSa House is also home to a group of six new food and beverage concepts, many of which are already open for business. There isn’t a fancy modern restaurant in the line-up, but there is, conversely, something for everyone, which was the plan all along, says Ashish Manchharam, founder and managing director of 8M Real Estate and 8M Collective, the boutique real estate investment company that owns and manages the property.

He stresses that a large part of the work he and his team do involves sourcing “fresh and exciting” yet accessible concepts with distinctive culinary direction to attract a strong horde of returning customers.

“We don’t want to ‘just fit in’ to the neighbourhood’s already dynamic character,” Manchharam explains. “We want to enhance its existing charm and create a long-standing destination,” he adds before pointing out that the focus is on offering well-priced, quality dishes.

(Related: Hot New Restaurants To Check Out This Month: February 2019)

In line with this idea of appealing to a wider band of consumers, Olivia Restaurant & Lounge, he shares, is ideal for those seeking well-executed Mediterranean cuisine, while the Pasta Bar is designed to be a casual neighbourhood Italian restaurant that brings the culture of counter dining to life. The former is a partnership between elBulli alumni, chef Alain Devahive, and fellow Spaniard Miquel Sabrià, who is the restaurant’s chief operating officer and sommelier. “We wanted this to be an all-day destination,” says Sabrià, who feels that too many restaurants in the area are appealing to the dinner crowd. The menu, Devahive explains, celebrates the inspired, cosmopolitan culinary tapestry that the Catalan city of Barcelona is known for.

The Pasta Bar, in turn, helmed by Genovan native Alessandro Giustetti, pairs handmade pasta with recipes passed down through generations. It’s as unfussy as it sounds, but if done well, you don’t really need to sell a good Italian restaurant—its appeal is universal.

International appeal

According to Manchharam, over a year was spent curating the ideal mix of concepts for KeSa House, which occupies a stretch of 10 shophouses. “I’ve had a passion for shophouses for a long time. Their architecture and historical and cultural significance, combined with their central locations, create attractive opportunities for businesses to set themselves apart—and for us at 8M Real Estate to create unique spaces for consumers to enjoy,” he shares before stressing that “the inherent nature of conservation shophouses is attractive to F&B operators because they are able to create strong individual identities for their concepts”.

This is particularly advantageous for brands that thrive on having a unique environment; concepts that also aim to be destinations. The Guild, for example, is a project by one of Hong Kong’s largest independent craft brewery. A craft beer bar and restaurant headed by chef Vincent Lauria, it pairs comfort food with a comprehensive offering of independent craft beer labels, cocktails, and natural wines. True to its endorsed ethos, The Guild works with small-scale, artisanal producers, including farmers, distillers and winemakers, and in building a community of like-minded consumers.

(Related: Singapore’s Top 30 Bars)

Tatler Asia
Above One of the delicious cocktail at Olivia Restaurant & Lounge to chase away the weekday blues

Now, if you’re into the trendy concepts that have helped put Hong Kong’s drinks culture on the world map, you’d probably already know that the founders behind the city’s feted cocktail bar, The Old Man—ranked No 5 and No 10 on the Asia’s 50 Best Bars and The World’s 50 Best Bars lists, respectively—have opened its first overseas branch in Singapore, at KeSa House. The reason, they share, was simple: “Singapore is Asia’s cocktail capital, so there’s no better place to be.”

Led by partner and head bartender Andrew Yap, The Old Man Singapore carries over its Hong Kong counterpart’s unique concept, which pays homage to Ernest Hemingway’s Pulitzer Prize-winning fictional work, The Old Man and the Sea. In the spirit of the famed author’s sophisticated taste for a well-made drink, the bar also specialises in experimental cocktails inspired by his preferred libations and works. From the “Best of The Old Man” list of drinks, which take their name from Hemingway’s classics, there is one to try called The Sun Also Rises that features a tropical concoction of coconut oil fat-washed applejack, curry leaf-infused gin, sweet vermouth, sous-vide pandan leaves, and kaffir lime.

Local institutions

Of course, it wouldn’t be an inclusive line-up without at least a couple of homegrown names. Serving modern French bistro-styled fare, Mag’s Wine Kitchen, for one, is almost an institution, spending 23 years on Circular Road before moving its operations to this buzzy Keong Saik address. “The premise behind our cuisine will always be simplicity, using the freshest ingredients in the market,” says its owner, banker-turned-chef Magdalene Tang. Its dishes will no doubt go well with its extensive wine selection of mostly Old World winners, some New World alternatives and even sake.

The last to open, local brand The Affogato Lounge, explains Manchharam, is “a social coffee hub with stellar affogato desserts” that is designed to welcome the public and guests of KeSa House to its integrated lobby.

Ultimately, the selection of F&B concepts at KeSa House plays an important role in championing two key ambitions: the preservation of a local architectural legacy that is the Singapore shophouse, and the affirmation of the island’s reputation as a destination brimming with uniquely scrumptious wining and dining experiences.