Text by Tris Marlis, Images courtesy of respective restaurants
When we asked our friends what they think of Western food, they have similar assumptions. American food is “fast food, very big.” European food is “fine dining, small portion and expensive.” None are really in the style of the common communal Asian heritage cuisine culture which friends and family bond over with.
But in the past two years alone, there is a growing number of western restaurants opened in Singapore with “communal dining” concept that can be translated into family style or can be considered in some ways “Western Cze Cha”, that street style cook and fry home cuisine. That means you can have dishes commonly found in finer establishments, but sans the dining etiquette at French restaurants – no more exchanging plates halfway through your meal and no more jealousy because your date’s entrée looks so much better than yours.
Cocotte and The Disgruntled Chef are two restaurants with this “communal dining” concept. Both of them believed that there was no restaurant with such concept when they opened about two years ago and they had similar goals in mind. One is to clear some of the misconceptions Singaporeans have on fine dining being all about formality, multi-course meals and small portion sizes. Another is to celebrate togetherness on a dining table over dishes traditionally eaten in individual or “me” servings.
In communal restaurants food is served in sharing portion, like a whole roasted chicken for two at Cocotte. In The Disgruntled Chef, instead of having appetiser or main course, all dishes are divided into small or big plates. So, there are no multi courses and diners at The Disgruntled Chef follow the simple rules, “Order. Eat. Drink. Repeat.”
Not only are the dishes big enough to share, so are their tables. Communal table at Cocotte is a big and round table that sits 10 diners. “There is something important about the ritual of coming together for a meal in any culture,” explains Chef Yeoh of Cocotte. The importance of dining is not only about satisfying our hunger, but it’s also about togetherness and reunion between family and friends.
On how diners react to their concept, “people don’t get it at first. But when they do, they like it!” commented Bethany Chua, Marketing Communications Executive of The Disgruntled Chef.
Today, restaurants, bistro, gastrobar with “communal dining” concept continue to open in Singapore with inspiration coming from all over the world. A very recent one is Lolla, opened just three months ago, with its concept inspired by the trend in New York.
“Communal dining” is not new in Italian or French dining culture and gladly now they are being served in a way that Asians are more familiar and comfortable with. It’s a new trend that we can get used to.