Contemporary Singaporean izakaya The Kongsee combines local craft beers with cocktails and sharing plates inspired by Singapore’s gastronomic diversity.
If the name Willin Low sounds familiar, that’s because he’s the godfather of modern Singaporean cuisine. The founder of the Wild Rocket group of eateries – which include mod-Sin cafe Relish and Japanese pop-up concept Roketto Izakaya – has just lent his name and expertise to one of the newest gastrobars to open up in Singapore’s Central Business District. Low has partnered up with the folks behind what was contemporary bar Freehouse on Gemmill Lane, and converting that space into modern Singapore izakaya The Kongsee.
In local speak, “kongsee” can mean many different things. It’s Hokkien for registered company, for example, but is also Malay for sharing. Which, of course, is extremely appropriate for a venue that focuses on sharing plates, essentially a modern Singaporean take on tapas-style dining.
There’s also the fact that The Kongsee is backed by a number of partners – six, we hear – but that’s another story.
Those who follow Willin Low on Instagram will be keenly aware of how adventurous the lawyer-turned-chef-turned-entrepreneur is with food. He eats widely, and draws inspiration from the myriad of cuisines he regularly exposes himself to.
The food at The Kongsee reflects that diversity. It is essentially Willin’s ideal curation of beer- and cocktail-friendly bar bites, but served up for sharing amongst friends. Among the dishes is Krapow Prata Pizza, a Thai-Indian-Italian hybrid transplanted from Roketto Izakaya that sees roti parotha topped with krapow – that spicy Thai basil and minced meat combination normally served on rice – and then baked with cheese.
There’s Stuffed Chicken Wing, its take on a street snack commonly found across Southeast Asia. Here they are stuffed with minced prawns and served up with a piquant Thai-style chilli sauce. Or how about the Ngoh Hiang Dumpling, the Hokkien/Teochew favourite served up dumpling form, and definitely an unusual find in a modern gastrobar.
Sticks. There’s nothing like street food served up on sticks, and at The Kongsee you have a variety with differing meats and culinary influences to choose from. There’s Tandoori Chicken if you prefer a bit of Indian, cumin-rubbed Xinjiang Lamb Skewers for some fiery northeastern Chinese spice action or, closer to home, Iberico Satay which uses highly-prized iberico secreto pork.
Oddly you’ll also find Mini Roxy Crab Laksa, a comforting bowl of laksa done the Katong-style – i.e meant to be eaten with a spoon – but elevated with a topping of minced wild crab meat.
The Kongsee’s drinks programme revolves around a rotating lineup of local craft beers served from the tap, as well as cocktails that are inspired by local culture. You’ll find many familiar names if you’re a fan of made-in-Singapore craft beer like we are; Brewlander, Niang, Civilization Brewing, and Off Day Beer, among others.
As for cocktails, eponymous The Kongsee is essentially a Gimlet that’s sweet and floral from the use of homemade rose cordial. There’s Kopi O Su Dai Negroni, which draws upon the favourite local kopi coffee – specifically “coffee, black, and less sugar” – for inspiration.
But my favourite cocktail here is Goondu Martini. I’m not sure why they named this classic dry Martini the way they did – ‘goondu’ is colloquial for idiot or stupid – but I love how flavours evolve as you alternate between sips while biting into the accompanying homemade pickles that comes instead of the traditional olive garnish.
“It is our hope that The Kongsee will be a welcoming space that connects people with the delicious melting pot of different cultures and communities in modern Singapore through our food, drinks and convivial hospitality,” Willin shares.
If there’s one major criticism about The Kongsee, it’s the grungy interior’s extremely dim and baleful red neon lighting. It’s the kind of bare illumination one would expect to find in sleazy ’70s nightclubs or whorehouses that use to line this part of Chinatown (or so I’m told). There’s, ahem, no see in The Kongsee. Surely there’s something wrong if you need to rely on night vision when navigating food to mouth?
I left The Kongsee with shirt dirtied, each impressive stain a different visual reminder of Singapore’s melting pot of diverse food cultures.
Address 10 Gemmill Lane, Singapore 069251 (Google Maps link)
Opening Hours 5pm to 12am Mondays to Saturdays; closed on Sundays
Tel (65) 9781 2487