Arts clubs seem to be popping up all over Singapore these days.
However, it is rare to find one that is centred around food. In the hustle and bustle of the Central Business District (CBD), sits the Telok Ayer Arts Club the art centre for foodies. The Club incorporates drinking, eating, the making of art and playing of music in one uber-cool shophouse space. These four elements are conceptually combined to inspire one another, making a visit a holistic experience for the senses.
For emerging artists in Singapore, the Arts Club provides a platform through which they can showcase their work to the white collar population of the CBD. As a casual dining and day drinking venue, it attracts city dwellers in for a great meal, while giving them an opportunity to discover and savour different kinds of art.
That being said, one wonders whether art and food concepts should be executed together — put another way, are people truly in the right headspace to think about art as they relax over a meal and catch up with friends? Arts Club Curator Anmari Van Nieuwenhove certainly thinks so, explaining:
“The real challenge is to move beyond the works being used ‘decoratively’ and presenting (diners) with a seamless experience, with multiple touchpoints and ways to experience art. You might look cursorily at the art on the walls, but what if the work wasn’t on the walls, but in sounds you hear around you or the food or drink you consume? We’re trying to think differently about ways to consume these things.”
Accordingly, with every new exhibition, the team at the Club carefully curates items in the food and drink menu that reflect and resonate with the surrounding exhibition or sounds. This way, you can literally breathe, smell, taste and hear the art around you.
When asked why the CBD crowd is of particular interest to the Arts Club, Van Nieuwenhove had this to say:
“..we’re about building neighbourly spirit, and we do love this little neighbourhood we’ re in. It’s got a lot of character, and yet seems pretty soulless due to the nature of the work (in the area) being mostly commerce and business- related. Maybe we just need to be more specific about what the ‘CBD crowd’ means – as it’s a very diverse group of people. We ’ll probably learn more about this as we evolve.”
In the Arts Club’s latest show tell me how they kiss you, tell me how you kiss, for example, 3 artists of different generations ( Megan Miao, Susie Wong and Zulkhairi Zulkiflee) explore the ideas of pleasure, desire and the consumption of romance. One aspect of the quirky programming involved a sex-toy making workshop, conducted within the restaurant last weekend. Whatever the Arts Club has been doing, it must be working as the first run of the workshop was oversubscribed and the Club has plans to run it again in January 2019.
In addition to specially-crafted menus and community events, the Arts Club has cleverly integrated its art into the restaurant space, setting the scene for interesting talking points:
If you are often in the CBD and would like to wander in one day for a treat, read on below as I take you through some of my favourite dishes from the restaurant’s permanent menu:
Tomatoes & Tofu (S$14++)
Here, an Asian twist is accorded to the classic Italian dish of caprese which typically comprises only tomatoes, basil and mozzarella cheese. Here, miso-marinated tofu bites are added to ensure that every mouthful bursts with flavour. The shiitake pesto and parmesan cheese seasoning serve to emphasise the umami flavours of this dish.
Octopus & Shrimp (S$19++)
The dish that really transported me to a Mediterranean summer was the BBQ Octopus and Shrimp. The smoky octopus is presented perfectly with crisp citrus notes. Juicy prawns and a traditional Chinese Shacha BBQ sauce are incorporated into the dish to add an Asian fusion – twist. Fresh cucumbers and grape tomatoes add crunchy bursts of freshness.
Seafood Fettuccine, (S$25++)
This plate combines the best of Italian, French and Asian flavours. Italian fettuccine is served in a silky seafood stew, inspired by the classic French bouillabaisse. Here, vegetables and prawns have been slow cooked and roasted to preserve their freshest flavours. Coriander and cinnamon are used to season the plate and allow for distinctly Asian fragrances to push through. The overlapping scents and textures of this dish will take you around the world in a single spoonful.
Cauliflower Steak (S$20++)
This was the most surprising dish by far and ironically, the dish I would most recommend to meat lovers. The cauliflower is charred to give it a robust body and seasoned to emphasize its savoury tones. The ‘steak’ is then topped with a bechamel sauce made from melted scamorza cheese, which adds a rich but smooth finish to each bite taken. Finally, charred spring onions, roasted garlic, pine nuts and parmesan cheese are scattered on top to add a salty finish to the dense cauliflower base.
Cocktail: Chief Lapu Lapu (S$20++)
I ended my meal with the delicious Baked Chocolate Pudding, paired with a cocktail. The cocktails at the Arts Club are crafted in line with recipes drawn from different regions in Asia. My personal favourite was the Chief Lapu Lapu, which is inspired by the city of the same name in the Philippines:
This tropical cocktail is made with Mount Gay From The Barrel, Nusa Cana Rum, fresh lemon juice, fresh orange juice, passion fruit puree and syrup. Sip on this cocktail and be momentarily transported to a deserted Filipino beach.
Find out more about the Telok Ayer Arts Club here.