Inside Scoop: GastroSmiths

Learn more about the inspiration behind local bistro GastroSmiths, and the secret to a Burpple community favourite — the grilled camembert toast.

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Chef-owner Dillon Ng of GastroSmiths talks food, service and everything in between, and even lets us in on the secret to a Burpple community favourite — the grilled camembert toast.

Hi Dillon! It’s not everyday we see a bistro as part of a furniture shop. What led you to setting up shop within HomesToLife?
We were approached by HomesToLife to incorporate the food concept into the furniture store. I thought it was a nice, comfortable space and it allows customers to look-see while waiting for the food. Our regular customers mainly reside in the area as well, so that’s also a plus.  

Tell us about your cooking journey. What sparked your interest, where did you hone your cooking skills and how did that lead you to becoming a F&B entrepreneur?
I was brought up by family and relatives who are passionate about food, and cooking was a hobby for some time. I didn’t excel academically. I tried studying psychology, marketing, engineering, business and design, but none of it made any sense to me to pursue as a career. Things got serious when I was 25, after a trip to Italy. I desired to open a trattoria, an Italian style cafe. After working in a few restaurants and attending culinary school later at 27, I started The Humble Loaf.


Is there a story behind the name, GastroSmiths?
No, there isn’t. It just means we can ‘smith’ out gastronomic experiences for you. There was a list of 20 names I wanted, but they were mostly taken and this was one of the few left!

The food you serve is described to be “not so fancy innovative casual grub”. Who and/or what are your cooking inspirations?
It is mainly inspired by the exceptional food memories I’ve had around the world, with an emphasis on local and Japanese cuisine. That said, I wanted to serve food in an easy and comfortable setting, with options for people on a budget without compromising on quality.

How do you want customers to feel when dining at GastroSmiths?
Easy. Relaxed. Affordable. I like to think that we are priced really affordably for the quality we are offering, especially without service charge or GST. Also, customer opinions matter (most of the time) — we work with feedback that makes sense to us, and that is why we refresh our menu every three months with new dishes and/or price adjustments.


Photo by Burppler Jason Wong

The Burpple community has great things to say about your Grilled Camembert Toast — what’s the secret to it tasting so fantastic?
MSG. Kidding! The Camembert Toast is an evolution from a dish of brie toast with sugar crackling that was from days of The Humble Loaf. I wanted to add another dimension to it so we paired it with our own rosemary honey (which takes about a month to infuse) and used a more delicious cheese (camembert) with a tinge of garlic, because camembert isn’t the same without garlic. But really, you guys should also try the Angus Hamburg & Truffle Egg Bowl, and the Fisherman’s Mee Sua.

We’re sure you’ve had lots of fun putting together the menu at GastroSmiths. Any funny kitchen/dish disaster stories to share?
Just two years back, it was safe to say I created a Beef Tartare dish that I was really proud of — months and months of trial and error went into it, only to have the very first customer (and many more) request for medium-well doneness. It was subsequently removed from the menu.


Photo by Burppler Amanda Jayne

Which dish do you think best captures the essence of GastroSmiths, and why?
Fisherman’s Mee Sua. It’s a completely original dish, literally “GASTRO-SMITHed” out of nothingness. It’s got a broth that is made from lobster shells and dashi, with mee sua that is flash fried and stewed. We add in flower crab, scallops and plump mussels with a little kimchi for acidity. Our Chilled Duck with Yuzu Kosho Scallion Pickles would come in second; it has a very unique Teochew-Japanese flavour profile that captures our originality.

If you could cook and host three guests, dead or alive, at your dinner table, who would they be and why?
It would definitely be any three of my regular customers. They are the backbone of my business and we are nothing without them. Their support is always greatly appreciated.

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned as a F&B entrepreneur?
You can judge a person by how they treat the service staff.


Photo by Burppler Vanessa Kou

What are some of your favourite local food haunts?
The Seng Kees. They are not affiliated in any way but carry the same name, and serve very, very delicious food. Seng Kee Bak Chor Mee in Serangoon Gardens makes a Fish Maw soup that makes the sun shine on a gloomy day and puts ramen stock to shame. As for Seng Kee Herbal Black Chicken in Kembangan, order anything but the black chicken herbal soup. Their stewed white bee hoon, fried prawn rolls and sauteed royal chives are spectacular. I also enjoy Arnold’s Fried Spring Chicken, a lot.

What’s next for you?
Gastrosmiths is a stepping stone to something greater. The direction I believe we will be heading next will either be in the high end, or towards the affordable mass market. Might be both but not anything in-between. Stay tuned.

Read what the community says about GastroSmiths