THIS could well be the poshest foodcourt in Singapore.
Food Republic opened its third branch in the lobby of the Suntec Convention Hall last Wednesday, boasting an unprecedented design concept.
Instead of the retro-Asian theme of the first two outlets in Wisma Atria and VivoCity, this 15,000 sq ft self-serve eatery is styled after a gentleman's library in 19th-century Europe, complete with real antique books, carved wooden furniture and gothic chandeliers.
"We wanted to go the extra mile to create this whole new dining experience," said Food Republic's brand development manager Patsy Loo.
"Singapore used to be colonised by the British so we wanted to teach customers a little bit about Singapore and to move away from the Asian concept in our last two food atriums."
Since its opening, visitors have wandered in, flipped through some of its 400 books on the shelves, only to realise they're standing in the middle of a foodcourt selling Singaporean favourites like Hokkien mee and roti prata.
When LifeStyle dropped by after lunch-hour on Wednesday, many well-heeled businessmen were sitting in various nooks of the foodcourt, sipping coffee and looking not the least out of place.
As it had been for the first two Food Republics, much effort was put into the setting up of this $3 million branch.
When the concept was conceived a year ago, the BreadTalk Group - which owns Food Republic - dispatched a team to Europe to take pictures of libraries for inspiration. The outlet's tables and chairs are also specially designed and imported from Shanghai and Germany.
Porcelain plates and cups are used at all 13 foodstalls while the workers' crisp, formal tuxedo-inspired uniforms were designed by local fashion designer Keith Peng, who recently made the news when actress Fann Wong appeared in one of his creations.
Stall kitchens are encased by glass walls, allowing customers to view the cooks at work. But customers need not worry about smelling of char kway teow when they leave the foodcourt.
A $2 million odour-diffusing system, also used in the other two outlets, has been set up to ensure that customers leave smelling fresh.
Apart from returning stalls such as Yong Heng Fried Hokkien Mee, which is also located in the VivoCity branch, five new stalls are added to this outlet.
They include Jiale Cantonese Roast, which has a famous stall in Marina Foodloft in Marina Square, and Subway Niche, which is well known for its tea-time snacks.
Though food prices are 5 to 10 per cent more than those in the other outlets, Ms Loo stresses that it's all about "the entire experience".
For example, a century egg-and-lean meat congee costs $6.80 at Fortunate Restaurant, while a roast beef sandwich with horseradish from La Vela Cafe costs $9.50.
Customers have given their thumbs-up.
"I like it," says 24-year-old advertising and promotions executive Zann Lee.
"It's magnificent. I thought it was a new bookshop."
Don't expect Food Republic to rest on its laurels though. Plans to further spruce up the place are in the works.
Says Ms Loo: "We're still thinking of adding telescopes and globes, and even animal heads. But not real ones, of course, we're animal-friendly."
Suntec Convention Hall
3 Temasek Boulevard