Singapore might've planted the flag in Sydney, thanks to Singaporean hotelier Loh Lik Peng's Old Clare Hotel and developer Stanley Quek's Kensington Street restaurants, but the opening of a branch of Automata proves it's still a two-way street.
Chef Clayton Wells has quickly established Automata, his two-star in inner-city Chippendale, as one of the most talked-about contemporary restaurants in the country. Now he's set to open Blackwattle in Singapore in September with Loh Lik Peng, his partner at Automata. In an old shop-house on Amoy Street, a buzzy stretch of Chinatown larded with cocktail bars and international eateries, the restaurant will seat around 50 across two levels of dining and will include a small bar area.
Wells isn't sure what he'll serve yet - "I'm still getting my head around the produce and supply chains; everything here comes from somewhere else" - but says that fans of Automata's food won't be disappointed. "I love the food we're doing in Sydney right now and I think it'll work quite well in Singapore." As in Australia, the main event will be a set five-course menu, but the Singapore restaurant will open five days for lunch and complement the prix fixe with an à la carte offer.
Wells' kingfish with crème fraîche, yuzukosho, shiso and finger lime. (Photo: Chris Court)
Australian seafood will definitely be on the menu, and though the quality and diversity of wine available in Singapore is a far cry from other Asian dining capitals such as Tokyo and Hong Kong, Wells is keen to keep highlighting small and interesting producers, especially from Australia.
He's also adamant that he wants to keep prices approachable. "That great divide between the price of hawker food and anything with a star in Singapore is getting smaller, and there have been some great openings in that place in between in the last few years. That's where we sit in Sydney and it's where we want to sit with Blackwattle."
The dining room at Automata, Sydney. (Photo: Nikki To)
Australian chefs have done much to raise the status of Singapore dining on the world stage in recent times. David Thompson opened the first of his acclaimed Long Chim street-Thai eateries at Marina Bay Sands, the same casino where Tetsuya Wakuda's Waku Ghin holds a Michelin star. Dave Pynt, a West Australian chef and an old friend of Wells's, edged towards the World's 50 Best Restaurants this year, with Burnt Ends, the Teck Lim Road eatery he operates in partnership with Loh Lik Peng, moving up the long list to 53 from 70th place.
With Wells's star on the rise and the backing of a seasoned operator with dozens of restaurants in his portfolio, Blackwattle seems poised to make an impressive showing of its own. Having a name that's much easier to pronounce than Automata can't hurt either. But, jokes Wells, "I'm sure we could mess it up with some accents or something."
Blackwattle, 97 Amoy St, Singapore, automata.com