A Signature Media Publication

Singaporean food at Kim’s


Spicequey’s Kim’s Singapore Seafood recently opened its doors in Meraas’s Al Seef. Munawar Shariff spoke with Sameer Purain, Founder and Owner of the restaurant about how his restaurant is the place for authentic Singaporean fare in the heart of Dubai

What is the status of the restaurant business industry in the UAE and region?

Hospitality is going through a phase of ‘correction’ at present. As customers become more aware about food, be it through social media or travel, restaurant owners have more strain to deliver their best in terms of cuisine, service and ambiance. The F&B industry has evolved tremendously in the last five years as the lines between cuisines continue to be blurred through fusion and the knowledge gap of different cuisines continues to be bridged.

The Middle East, and UAE specifically is known to be an F&B paradise, owing greatly to the cosmopolitan nature of the country. Home to over 200 nationalities, there will always be a demand for a variety of dining concepts, and with the region’s attractive business and lifestyle proposition, especially with Expo 2020 drawing close, the future of the F&B industry is bright.

Tell us in detail the entire process – creative, financial – of starting a concept restaurant such as Kim’s Singapore Seafood as well as other restaurants you manage.

The first step is always to identify a cuisine that you can personally relate to, have sufficient knowledge of, and are confident enough to access the authenticity of taste and presentation.

The creative process is a personal journey, everyone has their own take as to what constitutes a good design or is an eyesore – as they say – one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. The key lies in selecting a creative design that is true to the founders’ tastes, but which will also appeal to a large section of people. We are, after all, in the service business.

Unless you’ve embarked on at least a few F&B projects, you will almost certainly be financially over budget in your first couple of F&B projects. A qualified accounts and costing team is required, and even then, it is wise to keep a buffer over your estimated costs to keep expectations in check in order to avoid too many unpleasant surprises.

What are you biggest challenges in the creative process? How do you overcome those challenges?

With the mammoth of F&B options in Dubai, a novel and niche idea is bound to grab some attention so the challenge lies in finding something new and different. Fusion food has made this more difficult, how does one differentiate themself especially if the cuisine is similar? With Kim’s, we overcame this challenge quite easily as most restaurants in Dubai that offer some form of Singaporean cuisine tend to also offer Thai, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese cuisine. An all rounded Asian concept if you will.

From the handful of outlets that attempt to offer only Singaporean cuisine, none of them bring the casual, chic and trendy ambience that Kim’s offers, or the authentic flavours and spices sourced straight from Singapore. The restaurant reinvents what is perceived to be casual dining and hawker fare in Singapore by elevating and adapting it to appeal to Dubai, for both the food lovers and night crawlers.

How is a cuisine selected? What criteria is studied when researching to come up with the kind of cuisine, chef, menu, decor?

Cuisine is selected on the following: the owner’s love and familiarity of the cuisine, the options or lack thereof of that cuisine in the relevant market for which it is intended, and the ease of sourcing ingredients for the cuisine locally.

The chef should have at least some basic prior experience in the cuisine. A combination of experienced and less experienced chefs is ideal in the kitchen as it provides an atmosphere of education and respect as opposed to a conflict and rivalry in the kitchen.

As for the menu, it should tell a story of the cuisine, of the owner’s philosophy, and the restaurant’s vision. This ought to connect back to the décor to create a sense of familiarity and theme for diners.

What about suppliers? What is the status of the country’s supplier market?

For the more common or commercialised cuisines, such as American, Italian and Indian, supplies are aplenty. As for the more niche or ‘rare’ cuisines, it can be a hunt to source the right ingredients. We faced this when perfecting the flavour profile of our dishes with traditional Singaporean spices. Fortunately, we have overcome this, however a few supplies are still being imported from Singapore. As the cuisine grows in the region, I am confident the number of suppliers to service us will also grow.

How do you create a unique USP for each of your many entertainment and nightlife outlets?

The obvious answer is to find a gap in the market and fill it. However, in reality I believe service plays an integral role in making the guest feel welcomed and contribute greatly to the overall experience, regardless of how unique your concept may be. If guests feel valued and catered to, they will almost certainly have an enjoyable time and that in itself is your USP. There will always be the one off occasion when service standards may not be up to mark, but as long as those are kept to an absolute minimum, guests will return.

How easy is it getting the right permissions and licenses?

The process of dealing with government authorities world over will always require a lot of approvals when setting up an F&B establishment. While these are absolutely necessary to operate legally, and for the comfort and safety of guests and staff alike, perhaps there would be a revised, and more modernized system in place to speed this up. Automating much of their task would benefit their internal functionality, as well as F&B establishments. Many approval processes still hinge on individuals in the government authorities, and this can sometimes create unnecessary delays, which hinders the business efficiency of the market.

What makes Dubai and the UAE attractive in terms of investing in the restaurant industry? How are the country’s tourism initiatives adding to revenues? And what about regional countries?

Dubai has always been a ‘hot commodity’ in terms of lifestyle, be it food, fashion, nightlife, real estate, architecture or hospitality. Pleasing the palettes to over 200 nationalities means an abundance of F&B options. In addition, tourism plays a huge part in driving footfall to malls, hotels and attractions. Despite the soaring temperatures in the summer, the tourism sector is phenomenal in actively seeking initiatives that drive more tourists to the region in the summer months, and this will go a long way in helping to maintain a healthy year round business environment.

Regional countries are very promising. Kuwait is a great F&B market with plenty of avid foodies, as is Saudi Arabia. With the direction neighboring countries are taking in expanding their economy, opportunities will certainly arise.

What is the history behind Kim’s, how did you select Kim’s to be the restaurant you wanted to create here in Dubai?

Kim’s Place began as one of Singapore’s most famous Hokkien mee stalls for which it received glowing reviews. The owner and chef even became a mascot in his own right, dawning a white long sleeved shirt, dark trousers and a gold Rolex watch – unusual for the chef of a hawker stall.

With success, Kim’s branched out to seafood and received rave reviews and numerous awards-making it a local staple for traditional dishes deeply rooted in Singaporean cultural history.

As a family, we have been patronising them for over two decades, so we are aware of their consistent quality and authenticity. We liked the legacy behind Kim’s Place, the story it told diners through simple foods with unique flavours, and we wanted to bring this portrayal of Singapore to Dubai, where we seem to seldom or hardly ever find ‘real’ Singaporean food. Also, there is more care and a personal touch in family owned businesses.