Local hero
A tasteful guide to Singapore with The Rake’s Wei Koh
By Christian Barker
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To aficionados of the horological arts or sartorial style, Wei Koh needs no introduction. Renowned as the publisher of pioneering watch magazine, Revolution, and bible of classic men’s style, The Rake, Koh is also a familiar face on Instagram, where his irreverent, profanity-laden explorations of the world of luxury – and the world’s most luxurious locales – have won him a large and loyal following.

It’s been a tough year for traditional media. A tough decade, in fact. But Koh has always been something of an iconoclast in his approach to running a publishing company. Long before the COVID-19 crisis caused virtually every business on earth to frantically pivot and seek out new revenue streams, he’d actively pursued numerous opportunities beyond magazines’ traditional advertising-driven model.

“Today, when I talk about Revolution or The Rake, I don’t talk about either of them as being magazines anymore,” Koh says, sunk into a chesterfield chair in the lounge-bar adjoining his firm’s Singapore head office. “I talk about them as being omnichannel universes that encompass online, print, video content, social media, events, e-commerce, limited edition products, and now, brick-and-mortar retail – soon we’ll be opening our first shop, in the Maldives.”

Though he embraces all things digital, Koh also possesses an abiding affection for the traditional, the material. He loves tangible, tactile, handcrafted objects. This should come as no surprise, considering the many years he’s spent championing time-honoured sartorial craftsmanship and old-school mechanical watchmaking. Consequently, he’s far from willing to sound print’s death knell.

Like a handmade suit or a fine timepiece, a printed book or magazine has an appeal which is purely nostalgic, in many ways emotional. From a fundamental perspective, no one really needs print. You can access all the same content through a smartphone, tablet or laptop. Still, making a digital device your only source of mental stimulation can be positively soul sucking.
— Wei Koh

“I actually go through an existential malaise when I do everything through my screen,” Koh says. “I’ll start in the morning, write and do Zoom meetings all day. And then, you’re telling me I’m supposed to sit in that same space, and have that same screen be where I’m finding entertainment? You feel physically ill by the end of it.” Instead, Koh says, he’ll regularly stop and read something in soothing print.

According to Koh, a printed publication needs to be approached the same way you would a lavish meal – as a luxury to be savoured at length, at leisure. “It’s like, I’m going to enjoy this, I’m not going to ‘consume’ it, I’m going to chill and f*cking enjoy this thing and relax and have it on my own terms,” he explains.

Though born and raised in the United States, Koh is Singaporean, and it is in this compact equatorial nation (described by Anthony Bourdain as a “culinary wonderland”) that he has spent the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. “In stressful situations like this you often go back to those things that you find the most comforting,” Koh says. “For me, a lot of that revolves around eating,” he notes – a predilection reflected in the tasteful Singapore tips that follow.

Koh’s culinary guide to Singapore (with a touch of style thrown in)

The restaurant that I keep going back to, over and over again, is Jade Palace. In the basement of a mall on Orchard Road, the Forum, it’s a fantastic Cantonese restaurant with absolutely the best burgundy wine list in Singapore.

Les Amis is one of Singapore’s most celebrated restaurants but I hadn’t been for several years – certainly not since they won their third Michelin star. And then one week, after we were released from lockdown, I ended up going three times. Sebastian Lepinoy, the chef, is just extraordinary.

I’ve been hugely impressed by restaurant Odette, as well. Despite being fine dining, there’s something nurturing and comforting about the food here. The flavours are exactly like what you’d hope someone’s French grandmother would make, except with much more beautiful presentation of course.

Cloudstreet, which is a modern Sri Lankan restaurant, has to be one of the most stunning spaces I’ve seen in Singapore. And then, I love the idea that you can sit in a really refined restaurant listening to the music someone of my generation wants to listen to, like frickin’ David Bowie – and loud!

My favourite sushi restaurant is Sushi Kimura. I absolutely love that place. It’s the perfect combination of all the refinement of your dream Tokyo sushi restaurant, but it’s got the friendliness that Singaporeans like, too. They’re not overly stern, demanding hushed reverence of you, you know?

Singapore has entered a really exciting phase where there are all these young restaurants that are killing it in unexpected parts of town. Mustard Seed in quiet, suburban Serangoon Gardens is a good example of that, with amazing food served at a communal bar.

The leading Singaporean tailor Kevin Seah’s elegant atelier is conveniently located on the floor below The Rake and Revolution’s office in Singapore. We’ve collaborated with Kevin on a series of very Singapore-style shirts we’re selling through The Rake’s e-commerce platform.

After a year of inactivity, comfort eating and drinking, I was truggling to fit into all my tailoring, so I’ve been doing a lot of spin class at CruCycle on Duxton Road, which is amazing. There’s an instructor there, Jolyn – she’s truly world class, global top grade.

My friend Oliviero Bottinelli, who used to run Audemars Piguet in Asia, has opened a Swiss restaurant called Coucou. You gotta start with the Malakoff, a ball of deep-fried cheese, followed by truffle champagne fondue, which is phenomenal, then have the meringue and triple whipped cream. After that meal, you’re essentially comatose for a day or two.

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