Walking into Hemlig, at 57 Neil Road in Singapore, is just like taking a step into Scandinavia. The minimalistic design, the clean lines and the scent of wood that feels the room, will remind any Scandinavian of their origin.
Hemlig is a Nordic word for secretly, but the place is not deliberately hidden. It is simply the result of having to come up with a Scandinavian name that foreigners can pronounce.
“It also symbolizes how we strive to disclose all the secrets to Scandinavian cooking,” says Knut Randhem, the Swedish owner of the restaurant.
Scandinavian dinning underrepresented
Knut may be Swedish, but he is fluent in Danish after spending 10 years in Copenhagen before moving to Southeast Asia. Though Knut is a trained chef, he has spent most of his time behind the bar, which is how he prefers it.
He first moved to Bangkok in 2013, but later moved to Singapore, where he started his own hotdog-concept. Hemlig was a dream of his that came true in the spring of 2022, after working on the concept for nearly three years.
“When I decided to open a restaurant, I looked at what else was available in Singapore. The Scandinavian cuisine is not very well represented here,” Knut tells from behind the long wooden bar.
Not just for Scandinavians
There is approximately 6000 Scandinavians living in Singapore, but they are not the only ones to indulge in the Scandinavian dishes.
“I would say that our clientele is around 50% Expats and 50% locals,” Knut adds.
“Singaporeans are very curious when it comes to food, and many of them know about Scandinavia. Some have even studied there, so they like to explore the Scandinavian kitchen.”
In the beginning, Knut himself developed the menu and was in charge of the kitchen, but for the last four months, the Swedish chef Daniel, has been taken over the kitchen, and has put his personal touch to the courses.
Grandmother’s food served by the Grandson
“The DNA of the menu is still the same. Daniel has adjusted the dishes a bit to his taste, so I would say, that it is mainly Daniel who is behind the current menu,” Knut says.
This is consistent with the restaurant’s slogan “Grandmother’s food served by the grandson.”
“I wanted to create a more modern take on the traditional Scandinavian dishes,” Knut explains. “You know, make it less brown and more colorful,” he adds.
A quest he seems to have succeed as I’m being served a starter consisting of a shrimp salat and freshly made sourdough bread. A dish that taste as fresh and delicious as it looks.
“We actually get all the seafood flown in from Norway every day,” Knut adds. A fact that only makes the experience feel even more authentic.
Not just a restaurant but a community
As the evening progress and people start to appear, it doesn’t take long before a couple of Swedes enters and greets Knut. They seem very familiar with the place and quickly get settled by a table close to the open kitchen in the back.
Even though, the main idea was to open a Scandinavian restaurant, the concept has quickly developed and become more than just a restaurant.
“We strive to gather people for the main Scandinavian holidays,” Knut says.
At Christmas eve the place was filed with Scandinavians who enjoyed a traditional Scandinavian Christmas dinner. Soon comes Easter, where it will be possible to be served a special Easter lunch. Knut even has plans to throw something special for the first of May.
“I know it is mostly about sitting in the park, drinking beer, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be an event in the restaurant. Maybe we will be throwing some get-together in a park,” he adds, making it clear. Hemlig is not just a restaurant. It’s a community.