Artichoke’s Bjorn Shen – go big, or go Smalls

Bjorn Shen of Artichoke and Smalls


Even as Artichoke celebrates its ninth anniversary, its maverick chef-owner Bjorn Shen has yet another outlandish idea – Smalls.

Barely a stone’s throw away from the Kampong Glam district – home to some of Singapore’s best restaurants focusing on cuisines from the Levant – is the Middle Eastern-themed Artichoke. By chef-owner Bjorn Shen’s own admission though, Artichoke probably “serves the least authentic Middle Eastern cuisine in town”.

But over the nine years of Artichoke’s existence, the kitchen firebrand never pretended it to be anything else but his own maverick approach to good food. The local celebrity chef – he’s starred in various television programmes, such as being a judge on MasterChef Singapore – loves combining influences from cuisines all over the world.

“I’ve no problems with pineapple on pizzas,” Shen had proudly declared. That kind of culinary irreverence carries over into Artichoke’s cuisine; over the years there have been rather bizarre – yet incredibly tasty – combinations coming out of the kitchen.

Artichoke dishes

Just take a look at the current menu, for example. Its mezze of Hummus Musubbaha incorporates miso, a Japanese ingredient that probably never sees the light of day in a Middle Eastern restaurant.

Then there’s the sea asparagus in its Sea Asparagus, Pickled Garlic, Labneh, Buckwheat; samphire is more commonly used in fine-dining modern European restaurants as a vegetable alternative or hipster bars as a cocktail garnish. How about the puffed corn in its Fried Cauliflower salad?

A previous menu offering even included Szechuan mala chilli oil. The list goes on.

And if you follow Bjorn Shen on Instagram, saying that he eats widely is an understatement. He partakes in both fine dining and fast food with aplomb, and cooks up some of the strangest meals at home or in Artichoke’s kitchen. He even penned a term for it – ‘dudestronomy’; essentially it’s food a guy doesn’t mind wolfing down while gaming in his basement wearing just his underpants (if that).

In fact you can pretty much liken him to Singapore’s equivalent of US celebrity chef David Chang.

Thankfully he’s a lot more restrained these days. Much of his exuberance have been tempered by stark reality; his other concepts – his sandwich offshoot Overdoughs and fried chicken outlet Bird Bird hadn’t taken off quite as much as he would have liked.

“I lost a lot, a lot of money when Bird Bird closed,” Shen solemnly mused.

Artichoke front

But that hasn’t stopped him. He’s close to launching his new concept, a tiny space incubated within Artichoke called Smalls. Reservations-only four-seater Smalls – which occupies the corner Overdoughs used to be at Artichoke – will technically operate as Shen’s own culinary playpen, where he’ll personally serve up an omakase meal from his wildest culinary dreams.

“Smalls basically lets me do what I want without impacting the menu at Artichoke,” he explained. “I want to do stupid shit at Smalls like having a Champagne and pizza night, which I can’t do at Artichoke.”

Looks like we may just be getting upscale pineapple pizza with some KRUG soon. We think Smalls can be a big hit.

Smalls will open in January 2020.