What is it about the Singaporean market that interested the TAO Group to expand into Southeast Asia?
TAO Group has a long standing working relationship with Las Vegas Sands Corp, with the opening of TAO in The Venetian, LAVO at The Palazzo, both located in Las Vegas. Our entry in Singapore was through LAVO Italian Restaurant & Rooftop Bar atop the iconic Sands SkyPark at Marina Bay Sands in January last year. Following the successful launch of LAVO Singapore, we further strengthened our relationship to introduce our famed brands Marquee and Avenue, and now KOMA.
I like Singapore for its multicultural atmosphere, you can walk down the street and experience a variety of different cultures, and it reminds me of my home, New York City. What’s unique about Singapore, is a desire among the people to experience things that are new, interesting, fun and delicious. If we are able to hit the mark on those four, then we’ve done something special. Singapore is expanding rapidly: the growth of the international clientele coming through Singapore is unmatched.
The partnership we have with Marina Bay Sands is one of the best you could ask for. We sit in The Shoppes, part of the integrated resort with one of the highest and most premier hotels in the world, and we couldn’t have asked for a better partner. We’re not just targeting hotel guests, but local traffic as well.
KOMA is the first Japanese dining establishment under the TAO Group in Singapore. What is the key selling point of KOMA in such a saturate market?
The challenge with Singapore is that there are so many restaurants. To set yourself apart, you have to be unique and special. And I think we have achieved that here at KOMA. One of the things that we’ve tried to do – our tagline is “The Many Faces of Japanese Cuisine” – is to allow ourselves the freedom to incorporate techniques and ingredients from other cultures not only in Asia but worldwide and make it our own. For example, we have the Lobster Salad, that uses Japanese ingredients like the lobster and scallop sashimi and uni, but it also incorporates coconut milk and lemongrass, which is a very Thai element. It allows us to create unique dishes you won’t see anywhere else.
In this age of an increasingly social media-savvy generation, a visually pleasing experience is almost just as important as a gastronomy experience. How has the TAO Group tapped into this trend?
With KOMA, we have created a visually stunning space where you would be able to see everything around you, no matter where you are in the restaurant. We worked with the Rockwell Group to design a space that boasts a one-of-a-kind design element that is breath-taking in every way – from the 20 metre-long passageway that is inspired by the Torii gates of the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, to a 2.5-metre high Japanese bell with 20 different faces that overlooks a traditional Japanese foot bridge and reflecting pool.
Japanese restaurants in Singapore are everywhere, including very good ones. And they are all fairly traditional as well. What we do is different, we offer an environment that is really exciting and fun to celebrate an occasion, or to come on a first date, or really just to come out to the bar, sit and have a drink, have some sushi and enjoy yourself.
Are there any plans for the TAO Group to expand beyond Singapore into other parts of Southeast Asia? If so, which countries are on the radar at the moment?
We’re expanding quite rapidly, not just in America, but also in Asia. We do have our hands full right now with four venues built over the last two years here in Singapore at Marina Bay Sands, so it’s going to keep us busy for a little while. But we’re open to all opportunities. Nothing is signed, nothing is concrete just yet, but if an opportunity arises that makes sense for the market there, we would be absolutely open to it.
The TAO Group has seen great success with all its establishments around the globe. What were some of the considerations and changes that had to be made with the Singaporean branches to adapt to the local market?
Singaporeans are well travelled, and exposed to many different types of international cuisine, especially Japanese. There is also a very vibrant bar scene in Singapore with some of the best cocktail bars in the world. We wanted to set ourselves apart by providing something unique, not just for Singaporeans, but internationally as well. The menu our chef has created boasts dishes not seen elsewhere in Singapore, and we also developed a cocktail programme that is on par with what you would see in a bespoke cocktail bar in Singapore.
One of the things that we do as TAO group is to also explore opportunities to build hubs, to have not just one venue but multiple venues. What that does is that if you build a restaurant next to a nightclub, they work symbiotically, and help each other. In any market we explore, including for Singapore, it would be accepting of not just one restaurant, but potentially multiple restaurants, and also incorporate a nightlife aspect as well. The opening of KOMA completes the package in Singapore. People can come out and have a giant meatball 57 storeys above at LAVO, and head to Avenue for a drink afterwards. Or they could go to KOMA for a sushi and sashimi platter, or robotayaki, and then head to Marquee to club. We feel we’re really able to offer a variety of experiences for people to come back again and again, because you could do different combinations among the four venues.
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, 2 Bayfront Avenue, #B1-67, Singapore. Tel: +65 6688 8690.