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Appetite for a new dining experience
IMAGINE a space where people of different nationalities sit down, chill and discover they have more in common than they think - at least in food, culture, music and art. They may also share similar foibles such as talking too loudly, encroaching on another's personal space and a vague suspicion of tinned anchovies, but that's another matter.
Appetite, as its name suggests, wants to feed you - in more ways than one. It serves food for thought, but refrains from shoving it down your throat from an arty high ground. Take the serious gallery-level art on its walls with its powerful message about perceptions of the female form. You can engage, or see them as pretty pictures and move on. There's a record library - cutting across more genres than your limited vocabulary of 80's pop stars can handle - with a music 'sommelier' on hand to educate you. But you can also just sip your glass of newly-discovered Portuguese Niepoort red wine and space out to the ambient sounds.
Nouri's little sister sits upstairs from the main restaurant, where chef-owner Ivan Brehm tackles issues of cultural identity deliciously through his signature crossroads cuisine.
"At Nouri, we ask questions about how cultures are similar and connected using food as our medium," says Kaushik Swaminathan, Appetite's general manager and head of research - who currently also doubles as tour guide of the multi-concept restaurant-lounge-gallery. He's chef Brehm's right hand man in joining the dots between the cultures and cuisines of the world past and present, with research that subsequently finds its way to Nouri's dinner menu. But with Appetite, "we're pushing these research interests with more intensity and expanding them to include the domains of music and the visual arts".
There are steep flights of stairs to climb in the two-level space that's dressed up like a plush shophouse living room by Nouri's designer - Singapore-based Colombian-Japanese Akira Kita who pretty much embodies the cultural crossroads DNA. The first level holds the dining room and art gallery - the latter an evolving series of exhibitions, the first being a partnership with STPI and Yavuz Gallery. "It's about bringing the experience of an art gallery into a more informal and relational space," says Mr Swaminathan. See it as wandering around the home of an art collecting friend, where a salmon skin dress by Bangkok fashion designer Shone Puipia hangs next to the wall-lined wine chillers; and the wall is covered by the deceptively whimsical works of Thai contemporary artist Pinaree Sanpitak.
Upstairs is the record library, filled with 3,000 records and deep plush sofas you can burrow into. Make yourself at home but don't forget the two house rules - no stepping on the Afghanistan carpet with your glass of wine, and no touching the records so you don't risk leaving germs on them.
The heart of this home is clearly the kitchen, which continues in the vein of crossroads cooking, but in snack form, with some larger plates. It's an informal open concept, with a semi-circular dining counter surrounding the prep area helmed by lead R&D chef Ashlee Malligan - a familiar face from Nouri's kitchen who's been given a bigger role upstairs.
As it's barely been open a week, it's much too early to review the food, but the limited menu already holds good prospects for what's to come.
The cross-cultural hints come through in snacks such as Bunuelo de Viento with Hokkaido scallop - or the Mexican cousin of our kueh rose, the crunchy honeycomb cracker made with kueh pie tee batter and sandwiched with a scallop mixture decorated with blue pea flowers. A keropok-like tortillas de camarones are crackling good fried fritters made with Sakura ebi and topped with poached amaebi dressed in Marie Rose sauce.
Spanish-style tinned food gets good play here with high-end Don Bocarte bluefin tuna garnished with sweet citrusy gremolata. Beautiful meaty and sleek anchovies are served in its own flavoured oil - expensive stuff but still a taste we haven't acquired.
But we do have an appetite for its easy-going, uncomplicated fare with top grade ingredients whether it's just aged prosciutto or giant olives with spiced nuts; sourdough bread topped with foie gras and chicken liver parfait or tingly mala-spiced stracciatella. A memorable big-headed Carabinero prawn is expertly poached and minimally dressed in flavoured oil and aromatics. Match the food with non-alcoholic naturally fermented fruit juices and a curated list of intriguing wines.
A bigger menu is worth holding out for, and the weekly R&D tasting menu that chef Brehm will preside over with chef Malligan. And for the thinking crowd, workshops, book launches and art events are all on the cards.
With so many elements, Appetite may be a multi-purpose concept but as an experience, it's one of a kind.
Appetite is at 72 Amoy Street, Singapore 069891. Open Tues to Sat from 6pm. Tel: 9751-5300.