It is about procuring the best quality seafood, cooked simply, and most importantly, priced reasonably... you pay for what it’s worth.
Naked Finn turned 7!
Sunday, 8th of December 2019 marks our seventh year in business and we couldn’t have done it without you… our customers and partners.
These seven years have been a crazy, yet fun and fulfilling journey –– it was not without its ups and downs –– but we are grateful and happy to be here. We have been blessed with time and opportunity to taste 241 species of seafood to date, and also watch our customers and our team grow over the years… From first dates to marriage and even to starting a family. We are thankful that you have stuck with us and allowed us to be part of your lives.
So we’re throwing a party as a gesture of appreciation and also to celebrate this happy occasion.
First off, we are absolutely delighted to have Julien Royer of Odette and Keirin Buck of Le Bon Funk do a take-over of Naked Finn’s kitchen. They’ll be cooking up a 5-course lunch menu specially created for this party, using only Japanese seafood sourced by us. Please note that this lunch menu is by reservations only.
Over at BurgerLabo, Hideaki Sato of Ta Vie is specially flying in for a day just to flip burgers for our party. Not just any burger, but his personal take on our Basic Burger! It’s a great honour that he’s willing to head straight to the airport after his dinner service, catch a red-eye to cook for us, and return to Hong Kong on the next morning to jump right back in to work. We are deeply grateful for his support and generosity. His burger grill station will be set up outside BurgerLabo where you can kick back, relax and watch…
Joie Tan will be performing live from 2 pm - 5 pm! The homegrown singer-songwriter began her music career on YouTube back in 2008 and released her self-titled debut album in 2018. She has since performed live at venues and festivals both locally and abroad. We love her music (she’s on our BurgerLabo playlist) and are thrilled to have her join us for the party!
That’s not all. We’ll also have a little alfresco market with stalls along Malan Road offering freshly-baked croissants, prawn keropok, fruit popsicles, bubbly champagne and ice cold beers on tap to cool you off.
So put on your Sunday best, pack along a picnic mat, foldable chair or a brolly and come chill out in our yard. Feel free to bring the whole family (furkids are welcome too... there’s plenty of room outside on the grassy patch for them). We look forward to spending a fun-filled, happy sunny Sunday with you!
Less, but better
This November, The Naked Finn will be celebrating its 6th anniversary. To be honest, I am pleasantly surprised that a small little seafood "shack" not just survived but thrived in this challenging industry, where closure seems to be the norm these days. We do owe a big thank-you to our customers, especially our regulars that believed in and supported us throughout the years. I have always said that without them, no matter how good our products are, the business would never have made sense.
Next is my team... what more can I say... they have stuck with me all these years, helping to achieve an amazingly high employee retention rate! Not sure if it is unprecedented in our industry but who is counting. They made it so much easier for me to focus on the geeky stuff; sourcing and testing seafood (217 species to date) from around the world. Not to mention, affording me the luxury of pursuing my personal interests, scuba diving and spending more time with my family.
Back to basics
Over the years, our menu has evolved a great deal but not necessarily in the right direction. From a "less is only more" approach as our starting point, we have made compromises along the way, just so we can widen our appeal. These changes have also affected our efficiency and storage, resulting in an overworked kitchen team and investment in more storage space.
The process of setting up and running 田 Magic Square, gave me clarity again. The basis of an incubator, which is to train our next-generation chefs, reminded me that I need to stay focused, stay true to my original intent; to cook simply.
With that renewed focus, I have decided to reduce the varieties on our menu, even dropping some of our top sellers that don't fit into our "less is only more" approach. Basically I want to strip away the frills (sauces and such) so that my team stays focused on what matters most — cooking it simply, cooking it right. At the same time, some popular dishes will increase in serving size, notably, our top sellers, a la plancha baby squid, octopus, flambéed littleneck clam and salt-grilled giant tiger prawn. The locally-farmed mesclun salad on the side for all dishes will be removed as we noticed a high percentage of wastage.
From the start, I have always been obsessed with demersal fish, in particular, flatfish. After having cooked and tasted 20 species of flatfish (so far) from around the world, I found a personal favourite... hailing from the North Pacific, roughscale flounder (Clidoderma asperrimum) or more commonly known as samegarei in Hokkaido. With a high fat content and a rough skin that crisps beautifully when fried or grilled, this amazing flatfish works equally well steamed.
Starting in August 2018, we will be offering this beautiful fish whole, in limited quantity, with a choice of either steamed Cantonese-style or a la plancha for that crispy skin and charred flavour. Do look out for it on our specials, updated daily on the giant whiteboard. There will also be other great fish on the specials, but if the samegarei is available, go for it, you will not regret it.
End of sets
The priority of our sets has always been to make it easier for our first-time customers, by having a sort of must-try list, and offering some value for money in the process. Having sets also makes it easier for our staff... with regards to prep work and daily operations. Very much a win-win situation for both our customers and our lean team.
We have made countless adjustments to our sets, always with a clear intent to create value for our customers, based on their feedback. In the past 2 years, we noticed a gradual but strong shift from sets to à la carte menu, especially to specials of the day on our white board. With that, we have decided to overhaul our sets as well, by replacing it with a much simpler per person 6-course menu.
The two new 6-course menus, which are priced at $68 and $88 (per person), are based on our most popular dishes that are available whole year round. Expect grilled baby squid, pan-fried barramundi and our iconic piquant bee hoon in both options. Variations are on the greens/salad, molluscs and crustaceans.
Dieter Rams sums it best... "weniger, aber besser (less, but better)", our new motto moving forward. I look forward to welcoming you back to a better Naked Finn.
It is time of the year for some clammy good time... the cold winter months in the north usher in beautiful plump molluscs from Europe and Hokkaido.
With that, we have added farmed common edible cockles from Holland and wild-caught Ezo mussels from Hokkaido to our usual line-up of wild-caught New Zealand littleneck clams, wild-caught sword razor shells and farmed yesso scallops. Occasionally, they will be joined by farmed Pacific cupped oysters, wild-caught hokkigai and shirogai from Hokkaido on our specials.
We are also excited to announce that our much loved gloomy octopus leg from Australia is finally back into the menu after a long hiatus. Think lightly sous-vide with kombu and finished on cast iron griddle. Although octopus is not technically a clam, it is still very much under the mollusca phylum.
With this lineup, it is only apt that we revamp our set menu by adding the a la plancha octopus leg to all the sets and replace the scallop carpaccio in set 2B and 4B with the garlic butter cockles. That brings our sets for 2 from 7 to 8 courses and the sets for 4 will be at 9 instead of 8 courses.
Prices have been adjusted accordingly but as usual, the sets still offer the best value with up to $30 savings (set 4B) over a la carte order of the same items. On that note, I would like to wish everyone an amazing 2018.
European lobster roll When we made the switch from the cheaper American lobster to the better quality European lobster back in June 2016, the difference in the cost to us was 25% (more). Despite this, we only increased $3 on the lobster roll, barely enough to cover for the higher cost. In fact, we made $0.50 less for every European lobster roll we sold.
Unfortunately, over the past 4 months, the prices of European lobster continue to increase with every shipment… our most recent shipment arrived at 20% more than what we paid for when we first started. Throughout this period, we did not increase prices to cover for the much higher cost.
With that, I have 2 options… either increase our prices to cover for the higher cost or switch back to the cheaper and less tasty American lobster. As the prices for American lobster roll range from $45-$58 in good restaurants, I have decided to continue with the European lobster and price it at $42 to cover the higher cost. This will not be permanent; since the prices for European lobster will continue to rise and eventually, we will need to switch back to the American lobster. So let’s enjoy it while it lasts.
Basic burger Our basic burger (BB.1) was launched in December 2015. Since then, we have made numerous improvements (potato bun, double cheese, gherkins, etc.) and most importantly, increased the patty size (from 130g to 170g) and quality (grass-fed Angus neck, Aomori ribeye and Toriyama Wagyu tenderloin).
Again, we kept our price at $15 (burger only) for BB.7 (current version) despite the much higher cost. Starting in November, we will adjust the price for our standalone burger to $18, just enough to lower the cost to us, to 38%, which is still higher than most restaurants’.
Between the 2 lobsters from the genus Homarus, my personal preference has always been Homarus gammarus, the European lobster (commonly known as Brittany lobster or blue lobster). It is sweeter and more tender than the American lobster (Homarus americanus) and I love the gorgeous deep blue shell too.
We did attempt to use European lobster for our lobster roll back in July 2014 but I feel that the delicate sweetness is drowned out by the mayo. So crème fraîche was introduced; it worked, but we decided to drop it as the price difference between American and European lobster was simply too significant (more than 50%).
As widely publicised, the more affordable American lobster is not that cheap anymore either. With prices expected to rise and closing the gap on the typically higher priced European lobster, we have decided to switch the lobster meat in our lobster roll from American to European this Saturday, 18 June 2016 (This is seasonal and we will revert back to American lobster when the European lobster’s season ends).
Yes, the cost for the European lobster is still higher, in fact, it costs 25% more than the American lobster. After much deliberation, I have decided to price our European lobster roll at $38++ (for 90g worth of cooked lobster meat), just $3 more from the American lobster roll. Although our dollar value margin is lesser (than the American lobster roll), we hope that you will help us out by maybe adding a dessert or coffee to your lunch.
My advice? Go for the crème fraîche version as the subtle sweetness of the European lobster will shine through.
Sustainability is not a marketing slogan and it should never be used that way. Promoting sustainably-caught, but vulnerable and endangered species just so we can eat without guilt is neither truly sustainable nor right.
It simply doesn’t make any sense in promoting sustainably-caught fish when those species are already endangered. As long as consumers demand it, rogue fisheries will continue to prevail and the fish population will continue to decline rapidly.
We should focus on introducing non-threatened species to our customers so that those endangered will have a chance of recovery. And this I believe, is the duty of restaurateurs and chefs as we are in a privileged position to influence our diners.
For me, pledging to serve foraged fish by top chefs around the world is a much better approach in protecting our oceans than a simplistic festival listing restaurants that serve sustainable fish. (http://perfectprotein.oceana.org)
And for the consumers, you can play your part too by avoiding species that you know are vulnerable and threatened, regardless of the sustainable labels used by the restaurants. Remember, sustainably-caught doesn’t mean that the species is not at risk. (http://www.iucnredlist.org/) Ken Loon October, 2015
Personally, I have never been a fish soup kind of guy. In our warm and humid climate, slurping a hot bowl of fish soup just isn’t my thing. But amongst my close friends, food critics and most importantly, our regular customers, many have requested for an equivalent of our popular prawn soup.
That was back in 2014. After almost a year, we launched our version of fish soup on Monday, 17 August 2015. Just like our prawn soup that has gone through 5 major changes and numerous minor tweaks, it will definitely evolve further.
Over the years, we have boiled many fish bones… from angler (Lophius piscatorius) to New Zealand blue cod (Parapercis colias) and still we prefer the stock made from barramundi bones as it is neutral and less fishy, which is perfect as our base stock.
We started experimenting with 3 commonly used fish… narrow-barred Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorus commerson), commonly known as batang, Chinese silver pomfret (Pampus chinensis) and silver pomfret (Pampus argenteus). We gave up on batang eventually as it is listed as “Near Threatened” on the IUCN Red List. Along the way, we did try lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus) and marble goby (Oxyeleotris marmorata) but the texture and flavour did not work as well as the Chinese silver pomfret.
Back in early July, I was ready to proceed with the Chinese silver pomfret and pricing would have been lower. But on 24th of July, we received our first shipment of an 11Kg Indian threadfin. As per ‘protocol’, we boiled the bones and was blown away by the intense sweetness of the stock. With that, we decided against launching the fish soup and went back to experiment further. This time, with the Indian threadfin instead of the Chinese silver pomfret.
Our fish soup is a combination of both barramundi and Indian threadfin stock. The whiteness (creamy appearance of the soup) is achieved by just pan-frying fish meat rather than adding milk or cream, hence perfect for lactose intolerance folks like me.
With 100g of sliced Indian threadfin, deep-fried yam and a warm bowl of Japanese rice, it makes a perfect lunch for any fish soup aficionado.
The American lobster has been the most affordable lobster these past few years. But prices have increased by $12/Kg since Chinese New Year and we had been forewarned that they will continue to rise in the next 3 months. The main driving factor is the increasing demand from China, which has driven up prices of other lobsters over the past 8 years.
With our lobster roll priced at only $29 for 90g of meat, we are already running at the lowest margin in the industry. Without any buffer, we are not turning in a profit for every lobster roll we have sold since March.
Moving forward, we either drop the lobster roll from our lunch menu or increase the price to $35, which is still a good $10 lower than other top restaurants. For me, increasing the price is the better option since customers will then at least have the option of deciding if they want to pay for it. We will then drop it if the demand is low after the price increase.
Back in 2012, there were 3 empty spaces zoned for F&B in Gillman Barracks. The largest of the 3 was designated for fine dining and the smallest block eventually became The Naked Finn. We were interested in the bigger space then but the risk, or should I say, the lack of confidence in operating a higher-end restaurant pushed us to our quaint little shack. The rationale was simple: smaller space, lower risk.
As much as we believed strongly in our products, we were worried that consumers might not appreciate our take on seafood. So taking on a small space made a lot of sense. With a limited budget, we needed to prioritise and most of it went into the kitchen and buying top equipment that will help us to perfect our products. For the rest of the space, we did the minimal - vinyl sheets for walls and IKEA for our furniture, plates and cutlery.
Over the past 28 months, we have sourced and experimented with more than 100 species (seafood) and established direct business relations with fisheries in Alaska, Sri Lanka, Europe and Australia. The greatest benefit of going direct is lowered cost, which we have always passed on to you. Most importantly, we have increased our monthly seafood volume to more than 1.5 tons.
The move On Wednesday, 1st April 2015, we will move The Naked Finn from Block 41 to Block 39 Malan Road, Gillman Barracks, just a short 50 metres away. This will provide us with the much needed space for our new depuration tank system from Italy, which can hold 140Kg of live lobsters at constant 5°C. With this system, our live seafood will thrive in a pristine condition, keeping them stress-free, which translates to a more succulent bite.
Separating the kitchen from the fully indoor dining hall is a 9-metre long vertical garden. It is a fully automated system that will keep our chillies, mints, pandans, basils and other foliage healthy. Credit goes to Coen, our architect, who fought hard (I wanted more storage) to keep this in the design. The end result is gorgeous and we hope that you will love it too.
Our lunch and dinner menus remain unchanged for selections and prices. Thanks to our new kitchen toys - Convotherm combi steamers and a dedicated deep fryer - we will be bringing back some of the old favourites like deep-fried marble goby, oven-baked turbot and Teochew-style steamed barramundi.
For meat lovers, you will be glad to know that we are adding Hida Wagyu (Hida Japanese Beef) to our menu. We have decided on the A4 striploin and the leaner top sirloin cap in a 150g serving size. With the grilled Secreto Ibérico pork, we will have 3 meat items at The Naked Finn. It took us many months since late 2013 to get this right. We trust that you will enjoy it as much as we do.
As with any expansion, revenue growth is definitely the key motivation. But for us, we did not set that out as the priority. In fact, we are driven by 3 other factors: product development, comfort for our diners and career development of our team. With this new venue, I believe we have achieved all of that.
Looking forward to welcoming you next week in our new home.
The simple and delicious pan-fried barramundi fillet has been on our menu since day one. Despite our fervent experiments of more than 90 species, it continues to be one of the top three most popular products at The Naked Finn.
But it nearly did not make it onto the menu… at the beginning, when chef Fong and I were experimenting in the kitchen, I was fixated with crustaceans. So when he proposed the idea of serving pan-fried barramundi, I was sceptical… In my mind, pan-fried barramundi will not work and it is just not sexy enough, no real story to tell and most importantly, it is not a crustacean! But I said to him, let me try it first… and the rest as they say, is history.
It is absolutely yummy but why is it so popular? Is it really the fish or the cooking technique or the great value that made it so popular? For me, it is a combination of all three; the barramundi, the cooking technique and the great price point.
Technique The other obsession I had apart from crustaceans then was our two cast iron griddle from France. I wanted to grill everything… So pan-frying wasn’t exactly my thing. Unfortunately, grilling will sacrifice the skin, which is the best part in my opinion. There are obviously other methods, but pan-frying is the perfect approach that brings out the best in the skin as well as the meat.
Value Most top top restaurants that we benchmark against, typically price a barramundi fillet (of a 700-800g fish) at around $25. Our lunch offering of a similar sized fillet with our signature piquant vermicelli and chilled kang kong goes for only $20.
Barramundi (Lates calcarifer) As skin on dead barramundi will deteriorate rapidly and make for difficult pan-frying, we started with farmed live barramundi from Malaysia. Almost a year later, in November 2013, we met up with Joep, the Managing Director of Kühlbarra. He introduced his barramundi to us and two key points piqued my interest; firmer flesh and no “muddy” flavour.
Starting with the best Australian brood stock, the barramundi from Kühlbarra is farmed along the Straits of Singapore (near to Raffles Lighthouse). The strong currents not only bring oxygen-rich sea water, they also ensure stronger fish resulting in firmer meat texture. And being farmed entirely in the sea, unlike most barramundi farmed in brackish and fresh waters, the unpleasant “muddy” flavour is eradicated.
I had the opportunity to not only visit the farm recently, but also dive into the sea with the fish! It was amazing… to be up close in the water with the barramundi, experiencing the fast current underwater and to witness the fantastic setup of the entire farm.
Although it took us months (working with Kühlbarra) to perfect the logistics, the pain was well worth… not to mention, it is farmed locally, in our own backyard. Think about the carbon footprint that we reduced.
We just celebrated our second year in business. The past two years have been pretty good for us… what started as a cafe bar, evolved into a full-fledged seafood restaurant. From sourcing locally to importing our own top quality seafood, we have definitely grown quite a fair bit.
I did not have a game (business) plan in the beginning; Chef Fong can attest to that as he was terribly frustrated at the outset when we were just experimenting endlessly without a clear direction in terms of cuisine. To be honest, I really did not have a clue then. I just wanted to try as many different methods of cooking as the seafood species I can possibly get my hands on, somehow hoping that we will arrive at something.
All I knew then is that I want to discover the unique nuances of every species… in their textures and flavours. And we repeatedly tested, just to drill down on the optimum cooking time, the method needed. And the accompaniments to be added, just right, to enhance the natural flavour.
There is no actual cuisine style, we are neither truly Asian nor European… we are very much a mishmash of us being Chinese, influences from international cuisines, and our chefs’ experience of working in 5-star hotels. For me, trying to fit into a category or style is not critical. What truly matters is how we respect our ingredients, from sourcing to cooking to presentation. Most importantly, I wanted us to be priced reasonably so as to make top quality seafood accessible.
To celebrate the start of our third year, we secured preferential pricing from our top suppliers, both locally and overseas, and as promised, we are passing the savings back to you, our valued customers. We have also refreshed our sets, with the set for two at $138 instead of $168 and the set for four now includes a nice bottle of 2013 Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine.
The sets are there simply to help make decision-making easier. With the reduced pricing for some of the popular products, you can definitely still go à la carte and choose your personal favourites.
We will be closed on Christmas but will remain open every day except for Sundays, to serve you the best quality seafood we can get. On this note, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy Happy 2015!
No-show has plagued our industry (globally) for a long time. Over the past 21 months, it has been the biggest problem I have had to deal with. Having empty seats can have detrimental impact… loss of revenue and most importantly, the negative perception of an empty restaurant.
Unlike restaurants in high traffic environments, The Naked Finn is located in an area with almost zero footfall. And so it is almost impossible to fill up the empty seats if we have no-shows. With our low margin pricing strategy, we simply do not have buffer to operate profitably if the restaurant is less than 60% full.
Based on our reservations statistics, we identified that the majority of no-shows are from groups bigger than 5 pax. With that data, I made a decision to not accept reservations from groups that are more than 4 pax. But at that time, I wanted to offer an option, which is to secure the reservations for big groups with a cash or credit card deposit. The credit card option was ruled out later as we were advised against it due to a high percentage of disputes.
Moving forward, I have decided to drop the cash deposit option and just restrict reservations to 4 pax. I don’t think there is a perfect solution out there to address no-shows, but I just need to make a decision to protect our livelihood and my staff from unnecessary verbal abuse.
After experimenting with more than 86 species in 19 months, our focus has now shifted to another area that is close to my heart, improving the quality and flavour of dishes I personally love to eat, my kind of comfort food.
First up, our hae mee tng Since the launch on 13 June 2013, it has been one of our star products. We have since replaced the Ibérico pork with Berkshire (Kurobuta) pork, introduced Japanese sōmen as an alternative to vermicelli and most importantly, substituted the Northern prawn with spot prawn in our base stock. With the switch to spot prawn, the soup simply took on a more complex flavour, being richer and more intense, making it the best version we have ever made to date.
Fish and chips This must be the most requested product ever since the beginning of The Naked Finn. I love it and I know that to many of my friends and customers, this is their comfort food too. But for the longest time I have resisted to launching it, as the only groundfish I would like to use - the lingcod from Alaska - costs more than most fish used for fish and chips. Coupled with the recipe that calls for replacing water with vodka in the batter mix, the lingcod fish and chips would have to be priced above $30.
We could have easily gone for the next best fish and use water instead of vodka, but this will completely destroy our ideal and integrity. So we took a calculated (literally) risk, we air freight in 500kg of lingcod, just to achieve the price point we need. And after 11 weeks of testing the batter mix, we are finally ready to put fish and chips in our new lunch and brunch menu.
Lobster roll Homarus americanus is the scientific name of arguably the most popular lobster in the world, the American lobster, which is the main ingredient in the lobster roll. It is also commonly known as Maine lobster, Boston lobster and Canadian lobster.
Lobsters grow by molting. It takes several months for them to grow into their new shells and for the new shell to harden. A soft-shell lobster is a lobster that has just recently molted and so expect the soft-shell lobster to have less meat than a hard-shell of a similar size. Based on our experience, meat-to-shell ratio of smaller lobsters (450g to 500g) average between 20% to 25%. This means that a 450g lobster will contain only 90g to 113g of meat. Prices are also lower than those lobsters around 600g size. Although frozen lobster tail can be up to 57% cheaper than live lobster, we chose to use live hard-shell lobsters that are around 600g in size, and with an average meat yield of 25% to 28% in our lobster roll.
As for the taste of our lobster roll, we decided to go with the Connecticut-style, which is using warm lobster meat. Our homemade mayo is applied directly onto the bun instead of mixing it with the lobster meat. We keep it simple… no special formula or recipe, just high quality lobster meat served in a nice hot, buttery bun.
It all began with us running out of Northern prawns (Pandalus borealis). As spot prawns (Pandalus platyceros) are from the same genus, Pandalus, we decided to experiment with our existing stock of spot prawns for the base of our hae mee tng.
The delicious aroma permeated the air… and wham! What an amazingly rich flavour. Even before I tasted it, I knew that this was going to be the best we have created to date. As you can see from the photos, we used the entire prawn and not just the head and shell, as the meat actually adds complexities to the final taste of the soup.
So why didn’t we try using spot prawns from the start? Simple, the cost is more than 3x that of the Northern prawns. But why then do we use it now? Well, we discovered that the flavour is so intense that we only needed to use half of the required quantity. Although half still (costs) more, I decided to proceed and maintain the selling price as is. Even with my cost at 38%, I feel that we can recoup by selling more bowls.
We will continue to offer 2 options… the middle shrimp soup at $18 and maintaining at $25, our new spot prawn soup. It will be available from Monday, 14 July 2014.
When we decide on which lobster to feature in our menu, it is not just based on taste. There are some really top lobsters out there but the cost is simply too high to make sense. One of my personal favourites is the Southern rock lobster (Jasus edwardsii) from New Zealand. Delicious either cooked or eaten as sashimi. But the price is about 4 to 5 times that of the American lobster (Homarus americanus)!
Mozambique lobster (Metanephrops mozambicus) is the only one featured on our menu consistently following a taste test of 18 species of lobster in as many months. It is amazingly sweet, more reasonably priced than Norway lobster (Nephrops novigicus), commonly known as langoustine, and it is frozen on-board, which in my book, is better quality than a stressed up live lobster that gives a pronounced aftertaste.
Most spiny and rock lobsters are priced out of the market due to the high demand in China and on average, they now cost between 50% to even 100% or more higher than the American lobster, making the American lobster the cheapest in the market today.
We used to have both the American and European lobsters whenever we can get fresh shipments. For our regulars, you would have noticed that both are no longer on our menu. The case of the missing European lobster is due to seasonality and also our reluctance in supporting errant fisheries that continue to harvest berried females. As for the American lobster, we simply can’t get good quality live stock from our list of local suppliers, until now.
A few days ago, I met the young owner of Pince & Pints, a new restaurant (opening later this month) along Duxton Road specialising in only American lobster. We spent a couple of hours talking about lobster and how he has managed to maintain the quality of the livestock. The following day, I had the privilege of trying his lobster in his restaurant and the quality is simply amazing.
From sourcing to logistics, he's got it spot on. Most importantly, like us, he invested in proper storage facility to ensure stress-free lobsters. This approach, I believe, will help to push our industry (seafood) in Singapore towards the right direction.
Crustaceans have always been our main focus, the lead role in our restaurant, and I am delighted to announce that starting from Monday, 23rd of June, we will be serving this top quality lobster at The Naked Finn.
The Naked Finn was originally designed as a bar serving our signature -12°C cocktails accompanied by the best quality seafood. Along the way, we have somehow evolved into more of a restaurant than a bar.
As a restaurant, we needed to figure out how to operate during lunch in our “greenhouse” structure. We added the blinds and another 24,000-BTU air-conditioner just to make sure that the space is suitably cooled during the hot afternoon sun.
The business side of things were also tweaked further to support a full restaurant operations. We added more chillers and freezers to cope with our 1.5 ton of seafood and yet we are already maxed out.
We have also learned a few important lessons… most Singaporeans prefer indoors, counter seats are not popular unless we are a Japanese sushi place and the entrance shouldn’t be smacked right in the middle, as it obstructs us from hosting groups bigger than 8 pax.
So when a new space was made available in Gillman Barracks, we decided to tender for it. Our plan is to expand within Gillman Barracks by separating the bar from the restaurant. Having two outlets along the same street will allow us to share resources, translating to lower expenses compared to operating it in 2 different locations.
How will this benefit you, our customers? Simple, with a bigger venue, more seats and a full day operations, we will be able to reduce our prices further due to economies of scale. With the expected higher volume of seafood, our cost of sale will also be lower and you know we have always passed on the savings to you.
Over the past 2 weeks, I have been working hard on the tender proposal hence the lack of updates on our Facebook page and website. I just dropped off the proposal today and if we are selected, I will announce the good news here.
As a restaurant focusing on seafood done simply, it has been a challenge creating a small but really well-curated wine list to complement our style of cooking. We have always believed in high quality offerings at affordable prices. And whenever we can, we pass on our savings to you, our customers.
With this new wine list, we choose to offer Muscadet predominantly, as it has proven to pair beautifully with our seafood. And in line with “Our Promise” (you can view it under “Notes” on our Facebook page), we are passing on our savings for wines to you too.
Ken Loon June, 2014
Muscadet (Melon de Bourgogne, France): 2011 Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine (Granite) 2011 Domaine Michel Brégeon Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine (Gabbro) 2010 Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine "Les Gras Moutons" (Gneiss) 2009 Domaine de l'Ecu Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine Expression d'Orthogneiss (Orthogneiss) 2007 Domaine Luneau-Papin Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine "Semper Excelsior' (Mica-schist)
Other wines: NV Torresella Prosecco Extra Dry (Glera - Italy) N.V. Laherte Frères Blanc de Blancs Champagne Brut (Chardonnay - France) 2012 Clos de l'Èlu “Terre!” (Sauvignon Blanc - France) 2010 François Cazin Cheverny Rosé (Gamay/Pinot Noir - France) 2011 Misha's Vineyard "Impromptu” Pinot Noir (New Zealand)
"The inherent subtlety of Muscadet makes it perfect for the expression of terroir (a sense of origin) and as a complement for food. The full spectrum of the region's soils is evident in this selection, from the crunch of granite to the smokiness of gabbro, from the broad aromatics of gneiss and orthogneiss to the power of mica-schist.
Similarly, each grower's style is evident but not overwhelming - freshness from Domaine de la Pépière, a savoury edge from Michel Brégeon, the intensity of Guy Bossard (Domaine de l'Ecu) and the regal calm of Domaine Luneau-Papin."
The Naked Finn has been around for more than 18 months. Throughout this period, I have never been asked about sustainable seafood… until today.
I don’t see the need to “market” our seafood as sustainable. But that doesn’t mean that our seafood is unsustainable. Like charity work, you shouldn’t do it just to talk about it. It should be something that you truly believe in.
This is even more critical within a restaurant environment, where demand for certain species and economics of that take precedent. And this is where I feel strongly that we can truly make a difference.
As much as I am reluctant to do so, I feel compelled to pen down my thoughts now, as sustainability is a responsibility we should undertake. So here is my view on sustainable seafood.
From the beginning, our pursuit in quality also coupled well with sourcing responsibly. Questions we have asked about country of origin, fishing methods and seasonality are applicable to both quality and sustainability.
At The Naked Finn, we simply don’t serve any species that is vulnerable or already threatened. You will not find Patagonian toothfish (commonly known as Chilean seabass), both Pacific & Atlantic cod, Atlantic halibut, humphead wrasse and all tuna under the genus Thunnus.
Most importantly, I don’t see the point in rating certain fisheries of the species listed here sustainable just so we can eat without guilt. There are many good alternatives out there and the right thing to do, is to introduce them to our customers.
Interestingly, WWF’s Singapore Seafood Guide recommended Pacific salmon and listed Atlantic salmon under “think twice”. I will be interested to find out which importers and distributors are bringing in salmon from the Pacific, and which restaurants are serving them. I will leave you with that for now…
Back in November 2013, we did a price adjustment for 4 products but most importantly, we committed to pass on the savings in the future.
We have been working really hard in the sourcing department, over the past 5 months. We have now invested in our own prawn farm in Sri Lanka, which will help us maintain our pricing in this volatile market.
Just a quick update on the prawn industry… prices have jumped to a 14-year high in recent months, due to a disease (bacterial disease known as early mortality syndrome) that’s killing the prawn’s population in Southeast Asia. Thailand, the world’s largest prawn exporter, has dropped its volume from 200,000 tonnes to just 90,000 tonnes.
Our trips to Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Maldives and the recent visit to the largest seafood expo in Brussels, provided us with direct contacts to fisheries and suppliers from all over the world.
At the same time, we have a group of really top-notch suppliers that are attuned to our approach in quality and they continue to play an important part in meeting our pricing commitment to you, our customers.
The future is now… starting with our sets, we are adding one more course into the sets. The extremely popular sword razor clam in Vietnamese-style will be included in both the “set for 2” and “set for 4”. That will bring the total courses to 7 in “set for 2” and a whopping 10 for “set for 4” (excluding our addictive piquant vermicelli).
The new price? Well… still the same! We did not increase, not even a dollar! In fact, the savings are now at $33 for the “set for 2” and $61 for “set for 4”!
I was told that it is crazy to go top quality for brunch menu in Singapore as nobody is willing to pay. Go for a big buffet spread, at ridiculously “too good to be true” prices and throw in some cheap champagne to make it premium, just like most hotels, is the standard answer I get from many well-intentioned “experts”.
I don’t agree… I believe in offering the best possible ingredients that I can afford. Similar to inviting guests over to your place for a meal, you simply can’t buy the cheapest; you just can’t treat your guests shabbily.
This is not about being different or trying to be the best… this is really about doing it right, for you, for my friends that come over to my place to unwind after a tough week and also to recharge for your hurdles ahead.
I spent 7 years working in offices across Alexandra Road from the current Gillman Barracks, which was known as Gillman Village then. Fond memories of the charming Villa Bali still linger and the occasional lunches at Turquoise Room.
In those days, lunch was simply a much needed break from the monotony of office life. The dining options within 1km radius were appalling. You get the basic food courts and corner coffee shops… anything more, you will need to drive out. As a terribly fussy eater, I was never contented with the convenience of walking to my food. Cravings must be fulfilled and 99% of the time, driving is a necessity.
The Naked Finn has been serving dinner for slightly more than a year now. Lunch has always been part of our plan but I wanted to make sure that we get our operations absolutely right before we embark on it. Over the past 8 months, we were able to experiment, launch and improve our prawn stock… although we launched it in June for our supper menu, it was always meant to be for lunch menu when we are ready.
Well, we are ready now. Lunch will be served officially on Monday, 6 January 2014 at noon. With the introduction of lunch, we will officially stop our supper and cocktail hours. The decision to do so is based on my reluctance in having a split shift operations. The costs and logistics involved in having a split shift will have a direct impact to our selling price, which is very much against our fundamental belief in reasonable pricing.
Sitting in The Naked Finn now, looking across the school field, reminiscing about my time spent in Comtech and Alexandra Technopark. If only I had The Naked Finn then, lunch would have been perfect.
Ken Loon January, 2014
We have just completed our bookkeeping for quarter 3, and 4 products (Arctic surf clam, American lobster, great Atlantic scallop and giant tiger prawn) stood out for the wrong reasons. Our product cost has always been much higher (35% - 40%) compared to the industry standard (25% - 30%); unfortunately for us, the frequent changes made to suppliers/supplies due to our pursuit for quality pushed our actual product cost for these products beyond 40%. Coupled with their seasonality pricing, we were hit with very low margins and this has impacted us financially.
With that, I have to increase the prices for these 4 products just to put their costs back down to 40%. Do trust that we will continue to monitor, negotiate and source for quality produce at a better deal. Whenever we get them, my commitment is to pass on the savings to you.
The simplicity of our approach has led to some customers labelling us as pricey. They assumed that our minimalistic approach and self-service policy should equate 'cheap'. But what is their benchmark? Who are they comparing us with? Is it based on the exact same products; species, quality and size?
I would like to take you through how every step taken in bringing that plate of seafood to you plays a part in the pricing… let's start from the beginning.
Sourcing - selection of species Our main focus has been crustaceans and molluscs…, we decided to complement that with groundfish (demersal); fish that live on or near the bottom, sharing the same habitat as crustaceans.
Within these three categories are some of the most expensive species in the market today… in fact, the majority of the groundfish species are valued higher than most of their pelagic counterpart.
To date, we have experimented with 18 species of lobsters, 17 species of prawns/shrimps and 21 species of groundfish. From this list, we have identified 5 species of lobsters, 9 species of prawns and 7 species of groundfish for our menu.
Sourcing - quality The definition of quality is broad… it encompasses the country of origin, seasonality, sustainability, condition, harvesting method, size, treatment (if any) and logistics.
For The Naked Finn, quality crustaceans are defined as live or frozen onboard and wild-caught. Fresh (dead on ice), land frozen and farmed are typically much cheaper. Fresh is not really ideal as most would have been dead for a few days… crustaceans begin to putrefy on the fourth day. We avoid land frozen crustaceans; pre-treatment to freezing with chemicals is usually carried out with sulfites as the main agent, and the crustaceans would have been dead for quite a while.
We only focus on common sole (dover sole), turbot, angler (monkfish), lingcod and blue cod for our groundfish selection. Except for turbot, which is a label rouge product from France, everything else is wild-caught and most importantly, line-caught. Line-caught fish is often regarded as the highest quality, typically unbruised and so they cost more than trawled fish.
Next is country of origin. Importing from Europe and Australasia will definitely cost much more than getting shipments in from regional countries. On top of the higher air freight costs, certain countries impose high fees for certification and export documents.
Although the above criteria is clear, logistics, including packaging, remains the most crucial factor for us. We can stipulate the quality from the source, with a preference for day-boat fishing (boat that goes fishing and returns the same day), but if it takes longer from the country of origin to reach Singapore, quality will be compromised. We are working with 9 suppliers in Singapore, tracking the caught dates to arrival dates, right down to the inspection of their delivery trucks to ensure proper temperature and storage. This approach allows us to map out the exact species we can buy from each supplier to ensure consistent high quality of our shipments.
Storage Apart from the standard chillers and freezers, we have invested in a modern live tank setup that can maintain the temperature at 6-8°C via a titanium coil. It is powered by a 12,000 BTU compressor running 24/7, and we only use purified seawater delivered to us regularly for every water change. The average monthly running cost for this live tank is $1,300… and that is only for one tank. Once we put in our second compressor, our monthly running cost should hit above $2,600.
Conclusions We are obsessed about which species are the best-in-class, what are the optimum sizes, where are they from, when is the season to buy them, who to buy from, how long it takes to reach us, the equipment necessary to preserve them and how long will they last in this environment. We are obsessively protective about the ways we source our produce as this is the critical first step to achieving simplicity in our products.
That is not to say that we are making a much higher margin just to buy and preserve quality. On the contrary, our cost (against selling price) for most of our products are between 35% - 40%, when the industry is hovering between 25% - 30%.
I trust that this will help our customers understand what they are paying for. It is not an easy process but we believe in it wholeheartedly and will not do it any easier just to make more money.
On 1st of April 2008, Klee opened its door officially with three bartenders, two of whom are now at The Naked Finn… Wijaya and I.
Klee is fondly remembered as the first bespoke cocktail bar without a menu… offering 21 comfortably-spaced and individually-unique seats along the dining-height bar counter, where you can interact directly with the bartender and watch, while he crafts your favourite cocktail.
Looking back now, I can see that the philosophy behind Klee and The Naked Finn remains the same… less is more… and this desired 'less' can only be achieved with quality products.
Klee's approach to drinks mirrors The Naked Finn's with seafood - which begins with sourcing; at Klee, more than 24 different types of spirits/liqueurs were imported from UK, Brazil, USA and Japan as the range offered here in Singapore was rather basic then.
After eight months of focussing on our seafood, it is time for us to do something more for our bar, our cocktails… to bring back the essence of Klee in The Naked Finn and along the way, some old Klee classics and finesse.
Starting this Friday, 2nd of August 2013, Wijaya and I will be your bartenders from 10pm till late. It will be 1st of April 2008 all over again.
As a seafood restaurant that specialises in crustaceans, it is only natural that the prawn vermicelli soup is chosen as our late night comfort food.
Over the past seven weeks, we created numerous versions of prawn stock, sampled different breeds and cuts of pork, grilled, boiled and steamed eight species of prawns… and produced countless variations of chilli paste and Ibérico pork lard just to make this the best bowl of prawn vermicelli soup.
Prawn stock We start with frying Northern prawns (also known as amaebi) and dried sakura ebi in olive oil as the base of our prawn stock. It is then left to simmer with the pork stock for seven hours. The umami taste is perfected without the addition of sugar, salt and MSG.
Secreto Ibérico The unique ability to store fats that is high in oleic acid (same chemical found in olives) in its muscle tissue, makes the Ibérico pig the healthier choice. Ibérico pork contains over 70% monounsaturated fat — providing high levels of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), which can lead to lower risk of heart disease. The secreto is the fattiest and most flavourful cut.
Your choice These five prawns are varied in flavours and will enhance the broth in their own unique way. To be honest, we couldn't agree on the best prawn internally, hence the choices offered. They are not listed in any particular order… wild-caught banana prawn and giant tiger prawn from Southeast Asia, scarlet shrimp (gamba carabinero), blue and red shrimp (gamba de Palamós) and giant red shrimp (gamba española) from the Mediterranean.
And to complete your perfect bowl of prawn vermicelli soup, we have painstakingly prepared condiments on the side… Ibérico pork lard with olive oil and our special chilli paste.
I wanted to write down our thoughts on BYO policy so that our customers and critics will better understand why we do not allow BYO in The Naked Finn.
Our intention from the beginning has always been clear… It is about procuring the best quality seafood, cooked simply, and most importantly, priced reasonably. The cost to procure best quality seafood is very high and for us to charge at a lower price, we will need the revenue from our beverage.
The options available to us are clear, either we charge a high corkage or we source for quality wines that can pair with our seafood. We opted for the latter, simply because we know our style of seafood best and we don't feel that it is right to charge a higher corkage, just to make money. Of course we could charge a very high corkage as a deterrent but that will lead to another issue… expensive corkage.
The Naked Finn is a business and so we do need to ensure profitability. But we would rather charge reasonably than to increase our prices for seafood just to offer BYO.
Ken Loon May, 2013
No frills grill Seafood today Being an island and also the centre of trade for the Asia Pacific region, Singapore boasts an abundance of quality seafood; from locally caught stocks to sashimi-grade supplies frozen on board, to live shipments from Europe and North America. Our tiny island is peppered with BBQ seafood stalls in hawker centres and established seafood restaurants like Long Beach, No Signboard, Seafood Paradise, Jumbo, Ah Yat; new branches are popping up ever so often. Despite the proliferation, we really are not offered much of a choice when it comes to the cooking style... loads of chili, spices and garlic masking the natural flavours of the seafood.
Unadulterated Our intention is to offer high quality seafood, predominantly crustaceans, sourced from the best waters around the world, cooked simply with salt and extra virgin olive oil, totally unadulterated and reasonably priced. Think of us as the IKEA of seafood... you pay for what it's worth. A no-frills grill, in short. The simple and singular pursuit stems from our belief in “less is only more, where more is no good”, a guiding principle you might say, which translates into both our cocktails and seafood.