Out of anywhere in the world to open a second restaurant, why has Clayton Wells, the visionary behind Automata, chosen Singapore? “I think it’s because of its proximity to Australia, my connection with Singapore through friends and business partners and [the fact] it’s a thriving food city. I’ve been there multiple times,” he says.
Wells is getting ready to open Blackwattle this spring with his business partner and life-long friend, Loh Lik Peng. Joeri Timmermans, Automata’s sous chef since day one, will lead the kitchen as head chef. Sarah Knights will leave her post as senior sous chef at Quay to fill Clayton’s shoes back home as head chef of Automata.
While the food will carry the same fine dining accents, Wells wants the room to be fun and energetic. “It will start with the DNA of Automata,” he says. In terms of produce, Blackwattle will have different local options for seafood, vegetables and seasonings. “That’s the exciting part, “ he says. “We’re also broadening what we do.”
Blackwattle will feature an a la carte menu alongside his signature five-course degustation menu. The booming lunch trade inherited with the neighbourhood has informed the decision.
Surprisingly in a city awash in tourism money, casual and affordable is the preference in Singapore. “It’s like in Sydney (and in other parts of Australia) there’s been a rise of the mid-range restaurant. It’s definitely in line with what we’re doing at Automata – to offer value for money and good quality,” says Wells.
In making the move, Wells has had to embrace a new language, a foreign culture, fresh competition and unfamiliar ingredients. “So far, so good,” he says.
Clayton and his team are currently doing tours around the city and talking with suppliers to help refine the concept. Will any of Automata’s signature dishes make the journey? “It’s possible,” says Wells. “It will all be dictated by what produce we find. There might not be an exact dish but [there will be] similarities.”
Wells will divide his time evenly between the two restaurants.
Local Singaporean designer Akira Kita will recreate the same industrial, raw feel found at Automata. The two-level, 50-seat venue will be housed in an old shop house (a building with a shop on the first floor and residences above) on Amoy Street. “It’s a beautiful building,” says Wells. Expect brass and silver finishes and a clearly defined bar area upstairs.
The restaurant is named after a species of trees native to Australia. “It’s a little nod to back home,” he says.
Blackwattle is slated to open this spring at 97 Amoy Street.