Inside Provisions Social Lounge with Justin Foo and K.C Rahmat
It’s one of those sultry afternoons when you can hear the rattle of a cicada’s mating call and mosquitoes humming in your ears. Once a military camp, the jungle-like Dempsey Hill area has since been transformed into a tranquil hideout. In the last 10 years, amidst the lush greenery, the area has undergone massive redevelopment and rebranding with a surge of food and beverage options.
Upon my arrival at Provisions Social Lounge , I immediately witnessed an air of camaraderie among the owners and their friends sitting outside. Although my appointment seems to be forgotten, I am still met with a hospitable welcome. The brains behind Provisions is none other than Chef Justin Foo, who has worked at Restaurant Par Andre and Senso Ristorante & Bar previously, and head bartender K.C Rahmat who comes with more than 14 years of experience in the F&B industry. While Justin has an outgoing personality and good looks to boot, K.C is laidback and easygoing—and together, they are trying to breathe new life into traditional concepts from the past. With a menu of Oyster Omelette Claypot Rice and alcohol-laden drinks such as Bandai Bandung and Hot Teh-Si, this new kid on the block is one to watch.
HNW: Tell me more about Provisions and why Dempsey was chosen as the location.
K.C Rahmat: For anyone who grew up in Singapore during the 80s and 90s would know that provision shops were the one-stop shop for everything that you need: whether it is snacks, newspapers, detergent or whatever. It might not be the brand that you are looking for, but it works. If you are lazy to travel far, you go to the provision shop, and it is always there for your daily needs. Similarly, that’s what we are trying to do for everyone with Provisions—we want to give people good food and good drinks.
Justin Foo: We had some people recommend the place to us, so we came down to take a look and found that the target market was right. It also had an old-school vibe of yesteryears. In addition, we did not want to compete with the other F&B outlets that were mostly doing Western or Chinese cuisine.
How was the space conceptualised?
Justin: When we took over from the existing restaurant, we decided to keep a lot of the structural stuff. The only difference is the decor. It’s a very makeshift approach like how provisions shops work. They make do with what they have and create an identity out of it. So, we repainted the walls and bought some new furniture. My family likes to collect antiques, so the pay phone over there is actually from my house. The capsule machines and the snacks hanging in the air (which you can purchase to eat) are meant to add to the old school feel too.
The environment is very chill and relaxed—and that’s what Singaporeans need after a hard day at work. Coming to Dempsey might be a bit of a commute, but it is not stuffy and the environment is friendly. You don’t have to pay an arm and a leg and it’s very simple and heart-warming food.
How did you guys meet? And why the focus on local cuisine?
Justin: We used to work together at a pretty similar concept to Provisions, but we did not really have a lot of say in it. We were basically the operators and had no influence over the main direction of the company. So we decided to start working on a project which eventually turned out to be Provisions. I’m glad that we have managed to stay true to ourselves and finally be our own bosses.
K.C: I am proud to be born and raised in Singapore. And a lot of items that we have on our menu, I try to relate it back to growing up, for example, Bandung (rose syrup drink) is something a lot of people enjoy and Teh-C is served in many hawker centres and coffee shops. What’s a better way than to poison it with a little bit of alcohol?
Justin: We are trying to revitalise the local cuisine, but it’s nothing avant-garde. We are not doing anything over the top, but with a strong focus on flavours to keep the essence of Singapore’s food culture. You may find some of our cocktails very familiar, which can be nostalgic. Not many people are doing what we’re doing, and with most chefs, especially Asian chefs will infuse their own culture into each dish. I choose to work the other way round and use past experiences to add a level of innovation. I think it’s important for us to propel our cuisine onto the world stage. We want to create a place that invites conversations, and what it means to be Singaporean.
If you could invite anyone to dine, alive or dead, who will it be and why?
K.C: For now, we get a fair amount of celebrities coming in, but we treat everyone the same. Come as you are.
Justin: For me, it’s my dad. He passed away when I was quite young and that’s the reason why I became a chef. My dad was in marketing and travelled all the time, so I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with him. So I asked myself: Do I want to do what he does? I get to fly around, which is quite nice but I won’t get to see my family frequently. Hence, I figured that I would do something that he likes, which is eating. He likes to eat, and I like to cook.
Any future plans for Provisions?
Justin: Currently, Provisions is under a parent company called Union Bridge Lifestyle (UBL). We hope to expand into the region and open up another F&B outlet or franchise. We started UBL because we were frustrated by how the way things were in the industry. Ultimately, we want to create a space where we can grow effectively and contribute ideas that can grow into businesses.