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IndoChine Waterfront now only serves memories

After more than 13 years, IndoChine serves its last plate at its Waterfront restaurant.

SINGAPORE: As the sun sets over the Singapore River, the financial buzz gives way to a quiet hum as the waterfront area comes to life with diners.

As iconic as the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) that stands majestic over the river, was the IndoChine Waterfront restaurant.

But after more than 13 years of serving everyone from local diners to tourists, and even the world's who's who, the restaurant served its last plate on June 29 to make way for a new entrance to the ACM as part of the museum's makeover plans.

This, despite a last-ditch effort to save the restaurant through an online petition set up by IndoChine, that drew many of the restaurant’s patrons who voiced support on the “Save IndoChine Waterfront, ACM” Facebook page.

Voted as one of Tatler's Best Restaurants in Singapore in 2011 and 2012, the restaurant -- one of the first in the chain started by Michael Ma -- has a colourful history, playing host to bona fide royalty such as Prince Albert ll of Monaco and royal glitterati from David and Victoria Beckham, to Beyonce and Mariah Carey.

“Mariah Carey - she wanted to put tomato sauce in everything ... She’s a very nice person, but why would you put tomato sauce in everything you eat?” recalled Mr Ma.

As for svelte Chinese actress Gong Li, she loves the restaurant’s Vietnamese beef pho and would polish off two bowls of the soupy dish during each visit.

Needless to say, the restaurant’s food is one of its greatest boons, and despite an extensive menu there are some who will pout at the table.

“We have a lot of customers that get upset. They come here once a week and [if] their favourite dish is not there, they… get annoyed,” Mr Ma confessed with a laugh.

The menu was created with an Asian focus to fit the theme of the ACM. But Mr Ma did not stop there.

He researched and picked out every piece of furniture that he thought would go with the museum’s architecture, from the Sukothai Bhuddha statues right down to the Ming Dynasty chairs, which were custom-made.

“You want [an] old venue to remain old ... the nostalgia of IndoChine in the 1920s and 1910s,” said Mr Ma. “This is the old immigration centre, and this is the furniture that suits it. We completed the design to fit this building.”

But for its founder, the IndoChine Waterfront is more than just a restaurant that offers good food and ambience. 

“I had a lot of good parties here,” reminisced Mr Ma. “I come here nearly every day, you know, for the last 13 years. It’s a long time.”

The restaurant also holds a tender spot in the heart of some of its regulars, like Bernd Stepke, who moved to Singapore 11 years ago from Germany.

“To me, [IndoChine Waterfront] is a very special place,” said Mr Stepke. “It was the first place where we had a very nice dinner… So it’s a place where I always like to come back to.”

Although IndoChine will be able to bid for new retail space once plans for the Asian Civilisations Museum’s revamp have finalised, Mr Ma said he is looking for a new venue.

While some patrons welcome the thought of a new view, others like Mr Stepke, cannot imagine the restaurant being anywhere else other than the waterfront area.

“This is a unique location, with a view to the river, with a view of the Singapore skyline... I cannot imagine where we can reinvent this place somewhere else.”

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