Foodie Confidential

Emporium Shokuhin's CEO Lim Li-Wei: Hungry for opportunity

Emporium Shokuhin's chief executive Lim Li-Wei is always on the lookout for new food concepts

It was not enough for Mr Lim Li-Wei to run Japanese restaurants - he wanted to manage the supply chain as well.

Eight years after he founded and built up the Shin Group - which runs Japanese restaurants here such as Shin Kushiya and Kiraku - the 41-year-old was hungry for fresh opportunities.

So, in October last year, he started the 34,000 sq ft multi-concept Emporium Shokuhin at Marina Square, which features a live seafood market, beef dry-ageing facility, Japanese gourmet grocer and eight restaurants - all under one roof.

Mr Lim, Emporium Shokuhin's chief executive, says: "I could continue to open new restaurants, but I wanted to control the supply chain. Here, we can have lower rental and lower raw material cost because I can go direct to the source and import directly from the farmers."

Earlier this month, he launched the online site (estore.emporiumshokuhin.com.sg) where customers can buy their groceries. He is also looking to expand the brand into new markets such as China, Indonesia and Australia next year.

  • WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?

  • Mum’s home-cooked food such as salted vegetable with duck soup and a special threadfin dish. The fish head is lightly fried and cooked with kiam chye, ginger, black beans, dark soya sauce,sesame oil, garlic and chilli.

On keeping up with the food and beverage scene so far, Mr Lim says: "People like to see, touch, buy and take home. Then you have others who want the convenience of an e-grocer, together with home delivery. Consumers and entrepreneurs feed off one another - diners want something new and so we need to respond as well. "

He also notes that the Japanese food scene is much more than just sushi or produce from Hokkaido. Emporium Shokuhin features produce from Ehime prefecture, in north-western Shikoku, Japan.

An engineer by training and a former SAF scholar, Mr Lim has three children - aged three to seven - and his wife, 41, works in a nutrition consultancy.

Noting that there has been a spate of Michelin-starred brands setting up shop in Singapore, he observes that there are other gaps in the scene. He says jokingly: "We should have more nose-to-tail concepts, although technically we have kway chap."

Do you cook?

Yes, I've been helping in the kitchen since I was five because I was hyperactive. So my mother would sit me down and I would help to peel the garlic and onions - the first few were probably out of shape. At that age, I fried my first dish - stir-fried vegetables with garlic. Cooking has become a hobby and now, I cook on Sundays for my family. I cook dishes such as lobster noodles, and prawn aglio olio.

What is your secret for good prawn pasta?

I fry the prawn heads first to extract the flavour, then I deglaze the pan with white wine and add stock. Instead of cooking the pasta for five minutes, I cook it for just three minutes, then put in the stock to absorb the flavour.

Have you started your children on cooking too?

Yes, I've started them on peeling garlic. They like to eat bittergourd and lady's fingers. Kids shouldn't be spoilt.

Where are your hawker haunts?

Teochew porridge is my comfort food and I have it once a month at Tew Chew Street Tew Chew Porridge stall at Chinatown Complex Food Centre.

I must have a fish dish, whether freshly steamed or eaten cold; blanched pork belly with cincalok and onions; minced meat; and hae bee (dried shrimp) with a squeeze of lime juice. Sometimes the stall has shark meat with kiam chye (salted vegetables) and black beans.

I also like the kway chap at Serangoon Garden Market and Food Centre and the bak chor mee at the one-Michelin-starred Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle in Crawford Lane. It's a harmonised bowl of goodness, but there's a longer wait for it now.

What is on your foodie wish list?

To try fermented shark in Iceland, where the shark is hung in the shed for six months until it rots. I'm not sure if I'll enjoy it, but I've heard a lot about it.

What overseas restaurants would you recommend?

For the past 10 years, I have been going to two-Michelin-starred Hatsune Zushi in Tokyo, Japan. I like that there is no barrier there between the chef and the customer and they take the time to explain every piece of sushi.

In San Sebastian, Spain, I like Asador Etxebarri, which is ranked No. 10 on The World's 50 Best Restaurants list, for its wood-fired barbecue. At Restaurante Elkano in Getaria, Spain, I like that it catches fresh turbot outside the restaurant and grill it on the spot.

Two months ago, I went to Lo Scoglio, which is off Naples in Italy. The family-run restaurant serves locally caught seafood. Some dishes I had include razor clam pasta, tempura-style anchovies and risotto. It was nothing fancy, just all about the produce.

What is your go-to supper?

When it's 2am, I have to eat spicy kimchi ramyun from the Nongshim brand. I always add more kimchi to it for more flavour.

If you could invite someone dead or alive for a meal with you, who would you pick?

My two grandfathers. They both died when I was two years old, so I never had the chance to know them. It would be cool to chat with them over a meal and update them on how their families have grown.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 27, 2016, with the headline 'Hungry for opportunity'. Print Edition | Subscribe