What do you know about British food?
Sure, things like fish and chips, shepherd’s pie and the like come to mind, but establishments selling purely British fare aren’t as patronised by Singaporeans as they should be.
Perhaps it’s the price point that keeps people from entering these places; or perhaps it’s the lack of familiarity of the cuisine that intimidates the regular Singaporean.
I mean, names like ‘blood sausage’, ‘spotted dick’, and ‘toad in the hole’ aren’t the most straightforwardly appetising of names, especially if you’re unaware of what they entail.
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However, a 27-year-old Singaporean thinks that there’s a huge opportunity for us to fall in love with British fare, just like how he did when he was in London for his studies, and started up to do just that.
Lad & Dad, Est. 2015
An idea born in his humble dorm room in London, Keith Koh is the ‘Lad’ of the ‘Lad & Dad’ duo. (The ‘Dad’ is, not surprisingly, Keith’s dad, who helps out at the stall now and then.)
Then an undergraduate studying for his business degree, Keith worked part-time at a hotel’s restaurant and bar and it was there that he was first exposed to British nosh and how it was made.
A home cook who was already whipping up meals in his kitchen back home, Keith was inspired, and quickly took an interest in replicating the dishes that he was enjoying in London.
Inspired by my daily exposure to British food from my dorm mates, local pubs and food stands, [and at] my workplace at the restaurant and bar, [I even] exchanged ideas with housewives and grandmas!
Through his job, he also learned some tips from the chefs he worked alongside, and signed up for short culinary courses on British cuisine to ensure that he was on the right track.
But more than just being able to cook up a feast for gatherings, Keith wanted to do more – he wanted to create his very own brand of British-inspired food for the regular Singaporean to enjoy.
“I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur, and decided to start with F&B due to my interest, passion, and familiarity (of the industry).”
Thus, in August 2015, with around $20k of capital, Keith started Lad & Dad at Serangoon Garden Food Centre.
‘Proper Comfort Food’ At A Hawker Centre
With a tagline “proper comfort food”, Lad & Dad’s menu isn’t extensive, but still satisfies customers with its offerings.
Its prices aren’t exorbitant either – ranging from $4 for a Bacon and Chip Butty to $12 for a full English Breakfast.
Perhaps the relatively lower price range is also due to where the outlet is located.
Nestled among stalls selling predominantly local fare, Keith reveals to me that choosing to start up at a humble hawker centre wasn’t just because of the lower rental rates.
Hawker centres were one of the things that I really missed when I was in London, [as back home, I had] most of my meals there.
“I wanted to introduce British food to Singaporeans and make it affordable and accessible to people from all walks of life.”
Calling Lad & Dad “essentially a family business”, Keith shared that his mum also played a part in tweaking the recipes to add a “local touch”.
He admits that business was pretty slow at the start of their run because British food was still quite a new concept, and they needed “a lot of support from friends and family to keep [them] going”.
Things eventually took off, as foodies living around the food centre started patronising them and positive food reviews started to appear online.
From Serangoon Gardens To Tanjong Pagar
Earlier this year, they made the move from Serangoon Gardens to Tanjong Pagar – settling at another foodie haven – Maxwell Food Centre.
With famous neighbours like Tian Tian Chicken Rice, I asked Keith why he decided to move from a place where they already had established loyal customers.
“We decided to move to the CBD after Lad & Dad was more established. Maxwell has a good mix of locals, expats, and tourists, [and] Serangoon Gardens was more like a test kitchen where I could gain experience.”
“Business at Maxwell is better than Serangoon Gardens, and the location is more ideal, as we have a steady office lunch crowd of young adults and expats on the weekdays, and families on the weekends.”
Gaining Recognition From Media, British Expats, And PM Lee
While Lad & Dad is thriving at their humble location, Keith admits that some of the greatest challenges he’s faced so far are the long, tedious hours that he’s putting in at a hot and small enclosed space.
“It’s hard to have a proper work life balance, [and it was] mentally and physically draining.”
But I overcame it with sheer perseverance and motivation, with help from family, girlfriend, and friends. I also attended talks and seminars by successful entrepreneurs of various industries to motivate myself!
And his hard work and talent has paid off, clinching features in local media and also in foreign publications like Hong Kong Apple Daily and Japanese magazine JPLUS.
One of the highlights so far, he added, was being invited by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to cater for his Chinese New Year garden party and meeting him and other ministers in person.
For the chef, getting the approval of British expats, “who tell us that our food is up there with the best in the UK”, is also a great testament to their recipes and hard work.
“[But most of all, it’s] being able to overcome our initial struggles and come this far as a family.”
“Enjoy The Craziest Ride Of Your Life!”
Just over 2-years-old, Keith already has plans to expand the brand and set up more outlets.
He also plans to explore new concepts while preserving certain local food, and contribute to the hawker industry by boosting awareness and exploring solutions to improve efficiency.
And for his advice to those who want to venture into the unforgiving, yet fulfilling world of F&B, Keith just has this to say: “Enjoy the craziest ride of your life!”
Lad & Dad
Maxwell Food Centre Stall 79
1 Kadayanallur Street