A new establishment has sprung up along East Coast Road near increasingly vibrant Katong. I am hesitant to term it a restaurant or a bar, because it defies such simplistic definitions. It is not a bar; It serves fantastic food that you would not associate “bar food” with. It is not one restaurant; It is three, distinct cuisines, which happen to be in the same place. Oh, and throw in Art Gallery to that mix. And you will get what has been named MAD NEST.
Mad Nest’s Concept
A short visit to Mad Nest’s website would tell you its concept. The simple idea of Eat. Drink. And Art. And it takes these three things very seriously. But allow me to talk about the most interesting feature of this restaurant first – it’s focus on Art.
This is not the first time a restaurant has attempted to fuse Art with Dining, and it certainly would not be the last. A trend that was started in Europe and the States, it has finally arrived in a big way in our tiny red dot i the form of Mad Nest. Sure, there are other restaurants or cafes which have done this here (TCC comes to mind rather quickly), but nothing in this form factor.
Image credit: Mad Nest Facebook page
Upon reaching Mad Nest, the first thing that draws your eyes is a gigantic round sticker ala Samantha Lo of “My Grandfather’s Road” fame. It reads MAKE ART, and has stickers upon stickers heaped on it, forming a collage of drawings by Mad Nest’s first customers, I presume. This simple call to action engages the diner and subtly tells passers-by the core proposition of the restaurant.
You enter the restaurant itself. The bare concrete walls are striking, bringing out the designer chairs and the art pieces that grace a wall on the far right side and another nearer to the bar counter. The lighting is slightly yellow, giving off a cosy feel. You wonder if you just walked into a new concept gallery or a restaurant. The art pieces set the mood for the corner you sit in.
There is an especially curious piece that looks like a flowery body part as you take your seat. You are confronted with a picture frame with your dinner plate and cutlery on it. Food then, becomes your very own customised art piece for the evening.
Eat & Drink
You flip the menu. It is deceptively simple with no bells and whistles. Everything is laid out in plain text on cream paper. Yet the list goes on and on with different beers, ciders, cocktails, and cuisines.The menu consists of Japanese, North Indian and Contemporary cuisine, which is really another name for Singaporean fusion dishes.
The long list confuses you. You rely on the chef’s recommendations, but it is still too much. So you go for the more interesting dishes that you see.
I especially liked the Japanese cuisine. The sashimi was especially fresh, with the swordfish being firm to the bite. The Singaporean-Western fusion dishes have an interesting taste that was full yet not too strong to the taste. The laksa pasta is a definite must-try with a unique taste that does not become overbearing.
The swordfish sashimi as fresh and firm to the bite
Crayfish laksa pasta
Nyonya styled pasta
The identity of the restaurant is simple, with the sole visual interest being the bolded MAD. The usage of the identity is also intentionally unobtrusive from the looks of the website. The concept behind the identity is that of a “blank canvas”. The identity is intentionally simple to lend more focus to what the restaurant is about – both art and food. This is also shown through the simple text-based menu.
This simplicity also alludes to the price positioning of the restaurant. Higher priced food establishments tend to keep their menus simple, trusting their food to speak for itself without excessive selling. Perhaps this is what Mad Nest tried to do as well. The shortcoming of this approach is that there are no visual cues to tell the diner which items are their featured specialties. I took a long time trying to figure out what to eat because of the information overload from the myriad of cuisines and the sheer number of dishes.
Another bigger problem of having a simplistic brand identity is the difficulty in differentiating itself as compared to other brands in the market. A brand should be help promote what the restaurant offers or what its exact positioning is. If this is not possible, a unique identity would help the brand to stick out in the customer’s mind. These were not capitalised fully in this case.
A question remains in my mind is, “Why the name Mad Nest?” I could name a few guesses:
1) It is named after the wooden structure within the restaurant that looks like it was taken from the Beijing Olympic Stadium named The Nest.
2) It is named after the mad mix of cuisines and drinks in the menu.
3) It is named after being an incubator for the artists to show their works.
Whichever it is, the restaurant concept is interesting, providing diners a changing experience as the art pieces exhibited are changed. The restaurant seems to be still a work-in-progress, but it definitely has the makings of a great dining place.