When former Ember chef Sebastian Ng decided to return to the kitchen after a three-year break, he wanted to do away with the stress he used to face when running a restaurant.
Which is why you do not see a regular Western menu of starters, main courses and desserts at Venue by Sebastian Ng, which opened at the new Downtown Gallery about two weeks ago.
Instead, he took a leaf from dim sum eateries, which group dishes according to how they are cooked - steamed, say, or deep-fried.
On his menu, the groupings are called Fritti & Greens and Pan, Coal & Roast. And instead of having waiters take orders, diners tick what they want on a printed form, just as they would for dim sum.
All dishes are meant to be shared, with the serving sizes slightly larger than typical tapas that would be enough for two to three people. The chef sends out whatever is cooked first - unlike in conventional service, where everyone at the table is served each course at the same time.
This works in Singapore, where many of us do not really care for the Western dining style of being served course by course. After all, most of us eat at hawker centres, where we have no problem taking a bite of fried carrot cake followed by a spoonful of chicken rice.
In fact, Venue's concept makes so much sense that I would not be surprised if Ng starts a new trend among Western restaurants here. Waiters no longer have to, er, wait for diners to decide what they want. And the kitchen staff do not have to time every dish to be ready at the same moment.
VENUE BY SEBASTIAN NG
01-02 Tower 1, Downtown Gallery, 6A Shenton Way, tel: 6904-9688; open: 11.30am to 2pm and 5.30 to 9.30pm (Mondays to Saturdays), closed on Sundays
Price: Budget about $60 a person
Venue itself is a casual diner with an open concept - everything is in plain sight to anyone walking past. The colour scheme is bright and light, and the vibe is breezy.
Joining Ng in the kitchen is Jonathan Lee, formerly from Artichoke Restaurant. Together, they have come up with a menu of dishes that are straightforward and easy to like. There are no gimmicks here, just simple food that you want to go back for.
Among these is the Cold Pasta, Konbu, Truffle Oil ($22). The angel hair pasta is cooked to a perfect al dente texture, a feat that requires such precise timing that the restaurant serves it only at dinner, when the pace in the kitchen is less hectic. Lunch in Shenton Way is notoriously frenetic.
Served cold, the pasta looks so plain that one is taken by surprise by the amazing umami from the konbu that hits the palate. And any fears of overpowering truffle oil are unfounded. There is just a whiff of the aromatic fungus to tease the senses, no more.
Another must-try is the Cauliflower Fritti, Spicy Mint Aioli ($10). The florets are battered and deep- fried, resulting in perfectly crisped golden nuggets that are lightly spiced. The aioli goes well with the fritters, making them less dry and adding complexity to the flavours.
The Chilean Seabass, Mushroom-bacon Ragout, Truffle Yuzu Butter Sauce ($32) also hits the spot. The fish, which is like a less fatty cod, is nicely pan-fried, but it is the creamy sauce that makes the dish shine. It is not too heavy, but is rich with flavour from the combination of butter and yuzu.
For your meat dish, order the Wood-grilled Chermoula Chicken, Lemon ($15 a leg). The chicken is moist and well-seasoned, with a spice-and-herb mix dusted on the skin. A few drops of lemon juice perk up the flavours.
Each order comes with two pieces - a drumstick and a thigh. Order enough to let everyone at the table have a piece.
The Grilled US Ribeye, Salsa Verde ($48) is good, too, especially if you want something heavier. You can choose the doneness of the meat and my piece of medium-rare steak turns out perfect - juicy and full of flavour.
The salsa verde tastes too green for me, though, and the herbs are rather overpowering. But it is served on the side, so add sparingly. I like to taste my beef, so I am happy to skip it.
The desserts I try are decent, but not outstanding. I prefer the Pear Tart, Crumble, Baileys Ice Cream ($14) to the Apple Pie, Rum And Raisin Ice Cream ($14) - just because I like pears more than apples. But the Baileys ice cream can do with a stronger dose of the liqueur. The rum and raisin ice cream tastes more alcoholic.
Swop the ice cream flavours and I'll be happy.
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•The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here