Habitat by Honestbee is the retail space that keeps on giving. Calling itself a new-gen retail concept, the 60,000 square feet space is a cross between a gourmet supermarket and dining spots powered by your phone (with the Honestbee mobile app, of course).
Since its opening, it boasts 15 different casual eateries ranging from takeaway stations for grain bowls and salads, fluffy pancakes and a local-style cafe with nasi lemak dishes. Habitat has become the office lunch crowd’s favourite haunt on weekdays and the Instagrammer’s hotspot for cool pictures and hip food over the weekends.
Now, in what is Habitat’s second phase, the tech destination is bringing a more premium edge to its offerings. Over the week, Honestbee has quietly launched two new dining concepts in Habitat and it is taking a pretty serious approach with these.
We were invited down for a first look at both concepts: oyster and seafood bar Hama Hama and cocktail bar B Bar — which is perhaps the first-ever speakeasy housed in a supermarket. Here’s what we found out about these unique diners.
Hama Hama, the Asian-inspired oyster bar
At the back of Habitat’s seafood enclave is Hama Hama, a little nook that sees an outdoor counter for oysters. Diners strolling around Habitat can grab themselves a dozen oysters, freshly shucked, and enjoy them anywhere on the premises. There are nine varieties to choose from, currently featuring oysters from Ireland and France.
A quick note to oyster enthusiasts: the bar is not associated to its namesake, a Washington-based oyster farm and doesn’t have in stock their famously crisp and briny oysters. Oyster selections here do rotate every few months, however, and diners may get some Hama Hama pacific oysters in the coming months.
Don’t get too distracted by all this just yet. Hama Hama is first and foremost a seafood restaurant. Its unpretentious interiors take design cues from fish and chip bars in London: decked in blue and white tiles with only counter and bar seats packed together in the small open-kitchen space. The restaurant seats only 18 diners but considering the delicate plates the kitchen team puts out, it might just be for the best.
The full works
The culinary minds behind are considerably noteworthy. The chef de cuisine, sous chef, and pastry chef all have pretty stellar resumes, some having worked with local celebrity chef Justin Quek and clinching prizes at national culinary competitions. So, the restaurant does have some touches one would expect of a refined bistro: an amuse bouche to start with and petit fours at the end of the meal. The menu also goes for small plates and sharing dishes each imbued with fine touches.
Oysters, five ways
Freshly shucked oysters are best enjoyed as it is, with a squirt of lemon if one desires. But for more adventurous diners and the occasional squeamish first-timers to the bivalve, Hama Hama also offers five other ways to enjoy them. Raw oysters can be had with a refreshing cucumber granita or with strings of lemon and hot sauce jelly — a modern twist on the trusty lemon and Tabasco sauce combination. There are also cooked options: simply grilled, breaded with panko or done Thermidor-style with comte cheese and bacon.
A fresh start
Starters at Hama Hama scream finesse. There’s crab and green apple salad, topped with a delicate assembly of compressed watermelon, smoked tomato salsa, chopped chives and coriander sorbet. A dash of laksa oil adds a complementary touch of Asian to the sweet crab flesh, cutting short of being too overpowering. It’s a very pretty starter, followed by a study of beetroot. Salmon slices are cured in beetroot, imparting its earthy sweetness. It’s also pickled in slices and made into a treacly reduction dressed over the dish. If one’s feeling more indulgent, there’s also caviar available as a topping. So far, it’s a tasteful showcase on the quality and freshness of produce here.
Asian-style mains, Western approaches
Bigger plates here are simply placed under two categories, fish or shellfish. Hama Hama goes for a more straightforward approach, unabashedly Asian in inspiration. Steamed snapper recalls a Teochew-style preparation, though it’s a more fragrant dish thanks to a sweet miso sauce poured over. There’s also a take on the classic French mussel stew done with Chinese wine, garlic and coriander. This is served with deep-fried hor fun chips with a dashing of hae bee hiam powder, a fun way of reinterpreting the Chinese noodle in a Western context.
This speakeasy is Habitat’s best-kept secret.
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There are plenty of Instagrammable spots around Habitat, one of the more popular ones being the walk-in cellar/lounge where customers can browse through a list of spirits and wines. Warm spotlights, symmetrical shelf displays and a mirrored alleyway are worth a picture or two.
But you’ll want to keep exploring further. Behind this mirrored spot is Habitat’s secret project: B Bar, a progressive cocktail bar.
The mirror slides open to reveal a heavy down curtain which unveils a classy bar decked in dark green hues, marble counters, brass accents and dim lights. It’s a massive contrast to the bright world of Habitat. Besides the speakeasy aspect, B Bar isn’t just some casual bar affair. Led by bar manager Anton Gornev, the menu is one that’s driven by fresh ingredients and innovative techniques.
If you’re not already too full from a feast at Hama Hama, B Bar is a must visit.
Creative cocktails with depth
The drinks menu sees a graduation of alcoholic cocktails, from low ABV to high ABV drinks. Gornev, who’s come up as one of the top three finalists on the 2018/2019 Bacardi Legacy competition, employs gastronomic approaches with all his creations and each drink has its own set of theatrics as well.
Rice Up, a low-alcoholic take on the Gimlet, is a surprisingly umami drink to start with. Served in a sake bottle is a savoury concoction of sake, brown rice syrup, genmaicha tea and white miso paste, cut with a touch of yuzu juice. It’s served together with dry ice that isn’t just for show but also adds an aroma of freshly-cooked rice to the cocktail.
Then, Gornev goes for a more experimental approach with the Milky Whey. It comes in a ceramic milk carton, with a clear liquid that belies that effort that goes into it. Comprised of a housemade cola cordial and bourbon, the drink is filtered through curds to clarify the cocktail further — a call back to the retro milk punch from the dawn of cocktail making.
Classic cocktails continue to inform the headier drinks, such as the Rhubino which serves as a twist to the Negroni. It’s a much more alcohol forward drink, spiced up with sandalwood infused gin, vermouth and hints of sweet rhubarb. As a nod to Honestbee, Gornev goes for an actual bee smoker instead of a smoking gun to add an intense whiff of sandalwood without adding too much intensity in the already perfumed infusion.
No mocktails, only non-alcoholic cocktails
In the realm of cocktails, there’s no longer any discrimination against mocktails. Gornev puts in the same discretion with his non-alcoholic cocktails (which he insists on calling his sobering creations to differentiate over ‘less serious’ mocktails) as their spiked-up counterparts. It’s something diners who are still looking to do a spot more shopping around Habitat can look forward too. The Cold Brew Colada is a wholesome expression of Habitat in a glass: with fresh Hainanese kaya from the bakery and the cafe’s cold brew muddled together with an in-house pineapple cordial.
Bites from the kitchen
What’s a cocktail bar without bar bites? At B Bar, these are more than just the usual finger food of fried chicken wings and fries. The bar has its own kitchen doling out some gourmet snacks too. It’s a succinct menu that’s packed with indulgence. There are smoked beef slider with patties made up of four flavourful cuts of Angus beef and doused in molten raclette cheese, and there’s foie gras sandwiched with smoked duck on small pieces of toast that’ll take well with high ABV drinks. Even the usual truffle fries is made a little fancier than just chips drowned in truffle oil: the kitchen makes a truffle ‘snow’ sprinkle which makes for a more harmonious combo with shavings of Pecorino over fries.
An ever-changing experience
There’s always something different every few months , Gornev is determined to change up the menu and interiors every few months. Even the bandwidth of space is dynamic. Need more space? No problem. The back of the cocktail bar opens up to reveal a comfortable lounge space that sits a group of 10 party-goers comfortably.
A hint to a much bigger, and experimental phase in Habitat’s future
An oyster bar, and a hidden bar. What else is brewing in Habitat’s space? The truth is, only half of this industrial space that houses Habitat is used so far. There’s still a lot more to experiment and expand for Honestbee and we’re looking at more profound experiences such as private dining spaces and cooking masterclasses in the near future. Keep your eyes peeled.