Chef Samuel Quan may only be 29 years old, but he considers himself an old soul. So, when he set about finding a place to start his own restaurant, neighbourhoods such as Tiong Bahru and Serangoon Gardens – which usually appeal to the hip and young crowd – didn’t attract him. Neither did he want a space in a shiny new building.
Instead, he found his space on 70 Eu Tong Sen Street, in the Yue Hwa Building. Quan’s modern European-Asian restaurant, Eclipse, is on the top floor of the six-storey building that was built in 1927.
Originally named Nam Tin, which means southern sky in Cantonese, the building was designed and built by architectural firm Swan & Maclaren, in a style inspired by the Modern Movement of the time.
While the facade was kept simple due to budget limitations, the upper floors had wrought-iron arches and lampposts, which were trendy embellishments in the ’30s.
The building used to house the Great Southern Hotel, a restaurant, a cabaret and a tea house.
“I love spaces that tell a story,” says Quan, who visited the store only once during his younger days and remembered it to have “old-school vibes but was disorganised”.
While shoppers would be more familiar with the lower floors which house department store Yue Hwa Chinese Products with its bright lights and array of items, Eclipse, with its dark and club-like vibe, offers diners an unexpected experience, which was what Quan wanted.
While most of the building’s current visitors tend to be the more mature crowd, Quan says, with Eclipse, “I wanted to bring back that new, young energy”.
The top floor was previously an office, and converting it into a restaurant, particularly in a conservation building, came with its set of challenges for both Quan and architectural firm, Mono.X.
For example, awnings cannot be added to the roof garden so as not to have unsightly structures, while some kitchen walls were not solid enough to take the weight of shelves.
Then there were the usual waterproofing and levelling of the floor that needed to be done.
These are issues that don’t concern diners, who are more likely to be wowed by the restaurant’s ceiling, which gives it a cave-like appearance.
“I wanted a free-form structure for the ceiling, something that is creative and imaginative,” says Quan, of the wire mesh ceiling that comes interspersed with lights. Perhaps this is what dining on the moon is like.
The most photogenic spot is at the bar, with a half-moon mirror at the back, while the best seats in the house are in a glass-enclosed room, with views of the neighbourhood.
Visitors who stumble upon Eclipse are surprised when told that the restaurant doesn’t serve Chinese food. “But that has not stopped them from still choosing to dine with us,” says Quan. “Diners enjoy the experience of dining in an unexpected space.”
#06-01 Yue Hwa Building