From Sunday, all eyes will be on Singapore as the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix, the sport’s original night race, kicks off. With world-renowned restaurant Rockpool returning to the super-luxe Formula 1 Paddock Club for a second year, Stewart Bell chats to Australian super chef Neil Perry about his love of the Lion City’s culinary scene
An instant classic right from its debut in 2008, the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix continues to inspire as one of the world’s great sporting events – one that goes far beyond the motorsport, with incredible acts performing on stage, interactive entertainment, and more trackside parties than you could ever hope to attend.
The most highly-anticipated VIP party, though, is the Formula 1 Paddock Club, which features the finest hospitality within the sport’s inner sanctum. It’s where pop stars and F1 drivers rub shoulders with heads of state and business leaders, and where the F1 teams bring their guests for the ultimate F1 experience.
2019 is expected to up the wow factor even further, with The Hind’s Head by Heston Blumenthal making its debut, alongside Rockpool by Neil Perry, NOBU at The Boardwalk, COMO Cuisine in Partnership with Culina, Stockton Bar by Maximal Concepts, and Tarte by Cheryl Koh.
That’s even before you consider daily pit lane walks and the entertainment lineup at the event that has everyone on social media talking. Think: Red Hot Chili Peppers leading the charge alongside Gwen Stefani, Swedish House Mafia, Muse, Fatboy Slim, Hans Zimmer and Toots and the Maytals.
Ahead of the culinary institution that is Rockpool’s return to the Singapore Grand Prix, Luxury Travel caught up with Australian super chef Neil Perry to talk about the city-state’s fusion cuisine, his favourite go-to spots and what he’s most looking forward to at the highly anticipated motorsport event.
Q: Tell us about your thoughts on Singapore generally? When was your first trip, and how have you seen it change since then?
Neil Perry (NP): I’ve been coming to Singapore since probably the very late 1980s, even before that. 1986 I think was the first trip I came up here. And I’ve seen it change a lot over the years. But one of the great things is it hasn’t lost its heart and its soul in the food world. So the street food is still really strong, the local food. It’s fantastic. And I love it, the relationship between Chinese, Malay and Indian. The incredible street food like chicken rice, laksa, pepper crab, and the beautiful sambals – that’s still as strong as it ever was. And now, as Singapore’s grown and as the market has matured, there’s an amazing array of other dining options from some of the great chefs from right around the world being here obviously, to some fantastic local talent. So it’s got everything from the very high end right through to SG$5 and SG$8 dollar bowls of food that are incredibly satisfying.
Q: What do you like to do when you first get to Singapore? What do you want to eat when you first get off the plane?
NP: So when I first get to Singapore the thing that I really try to do is hit the local food. This last time up actually I hit Burnt Ends (20 Teck Lim Rd) first because I love what chef Dave Pynt is doing there. We went straight from the airport to the hotel and then straight over to Burnt Ends and sat and had the most fantastic meal, which was really brilliant. He’s doing some of the best stuff in Singapore.
And then we had a beautiful brunch at Jaan (2 Stamford Road Swissôtel, Level 70 The Stamford), which is a really fantastic restaurant run by chef Kirk Westaway – who is cooking well-thought out, beautiful, really light, delicious food that you can go through a long tasting menu and you still walk out not completely buried because of the lightness and freshness of the food.
We’ve headed to Manhattan (1 Cuscaden Rd, Level 2 Regent Singapore) at the Regent, and it came third in the world’s top-50 bars and second in Asia’s top-50 bars. There’s a really strong bar scene there as well. 28 Hongkong Street (28 Hongkong Street) is another great bar. And there are a few good drinks to be had at the top of Marina Bay Sands (10 Bayfront Ave), of course. A negroni is not the worst thing that can happen to you!
Q: What’s on your to-do list, restaurant-wise?
NP: I’m also going to try out Long Beach Seafood (20 Dempsey Road) at Dempsey, which back in the day was an old colony of England. The English had a big barracks up on the hill, and so there’s all these fantastic old barracks buildings and they’ve got really high ceilings and essentially what the government has done has taken them and they’re leasing them out. So they are really fantastic up there.
There’s Culina (COMO Dempsey, 15 Dempsey Road), which is an importing business so you can go and buy fruit and vegetables and meat in almost kind of like a Simon Johnston like store and there’s two or three other eateries up there so it’s kind of a bit of a hub. But just to go up and have a look at the buildings is really worth it. Some of the stalls there I think are really worthwhile. I mean, you’ve kind of got to stand in a queue and it’s hot and sweaty and there’s no air-conditioning but it’s really worth it for places like Tai Wah pork noodles (531A Upper Cross Road) – with the noodles and the pork and the black vinegar and the chilli. You can have it with soup, or soup on the side – dry-style. And that’s really worth seeking out. Or Kok Sen (30 Keong Saik Road) for classic fried chicken and claypot fish with spring onions, black pepper beef, frogs legs, that sort of stuff. It’s really local food. And that’s really worth dropping in [for].
Q: The Formula 1 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix 2019 is this weekend, and Rockpool by Neil Perry will again be part of the Formula 1 Paddock Club. What were your first impressions of the event last year?
NP: September last year was our first experience of [the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix], and it was absolutely fantastic. It’s absolutely world class. You walk into the Formula 1 Paddock Club, and there are obviously some [permanent] structures there – but there are other [temporary] structures that are built for the annual event. And they look like fully functioning real restaurants. So the detail in building these things for a temporary experience is extraordinary. I think from that perspective, the level of energy and planning and effort that goes into it is world class. During the event, I doubt there would be a better, maybe there’s something as good, but there wouldn’t be a better Grand Prix in the world as far as food and beverage and the entertainment factor goes. And then obviously the thrill and excitement of the night race I think it’s amazing.
Q: The Formula 1 Paddock Club experience this year looks amazing with The Hind’s Head by Heston Blumenthal making its event debut. What are you looking forward to most about the event?
NP: I can’t wait to get back this year, particularly given we’ve actually been spending a lot of time over the last five years weaving native ingredients into Rockpool Bar and Grill – so that we really reflect our 60,000 years of food and culture. So we’re bringing that, with brilliant produce like an amazing Rangers Valley dry aged rib on the charcoal grill. We’ve got great produce and we’re pairing lots of stuff with some beautiful Australian ingredients – you’ve got Davidson plum, lemon myrtle, macadamias, finger limes, Warrigal greens, we’re doing some quandongs, which will be fun. They’re the sorts of things that we want to introduce to the Singapore menu, so they get our unique Australian flavours and all our brilliant beef, lamb and seafood.
Q: What numbers are involved, in terms of diners and produce?
NP: It’s about 1500-1800 people a night. They generally graze over about four dishes in each of the restaurants, because they’ll kind of go and have some sashimi at Nobu, and they’ll come in and have a couple of things with us – usually the beef and a couple of entrees at our place, and then they might go to The Hind’s Head this year, which is Heston Blumenthal’s pub restaurant in Brae. As far as volumes go, we are generally talking 100-150 kilos of beef we’ll go through over the three days. A similar amount of tuna, 70-80 kilos of tuna. Probably 10 20-kilo sacks of potatoes. We’d be bringing up 30 kilos of finger limes. Probably 20 kilos of quandongs. We’ll probably use 10-15 kilos of caviar. Everything is in volume because you’re just doing such large numbers and you being up there last year you’ve seen how popular it is. And everyone gets into the spirit of eating and drinking and really that incredible sense of hospitality that the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix puts on. It’s amazingly embraced by everyone who comes to the Formula 1 Paddock Club.
Q: Did you get to see the race last year?
NP: I scooted up and saw the start, it was really great. I mean that’s one of the positives I guess, is that just around about 20 minutes before race time, when everyone’s positioning – everyone heads to the track and the viewing. I was lucky enough to scoot up and see Ong Beng Seng [chairman of race promoter Singapore GP] and [wife] Christina Ong and be right at the starting line and have a look at the start, which was fantastic.
Q: Fellow Australian Daniel Ricciardo will be racing for new team Renault. Will you be you be getting behind the ‘Honey Badger’?
NP: Yes. Like Mark Webber, driving at world-class level winning Grands Prix makes Australia proud. So, absolutely, I’m always barracking for him. And I hope he gets a good car under him by the time Singapore comes around and he can get competitive.