British celebrity chef Marco Pierre White's restaurant The English House in Mohamed Sultan Road is set to open in the first half of next month.
It will be housed in two adjoining colonial buildings which used to be home to the popular bar Madam Wong's, left vacant since the bar closed 10 years ago.
White, 56, was known for being the youngest chef at the time to be awarded three Michelin stars for his eponymous restaurant in London when he was 33 - as well as for returning his stars in 1999 when he retired from cooking.
He became a restaurateur and has been running a string of eateries in Britain, including a restaurant-cum-hotel in Bath called The Rudloe Arms.
The English House will also include a hotel on the second floor, with 18 rooms slated to open a few months after the restaurant.
The ground floor is divided into the dining room on one side with the bar behind and a lounge on the other side with the kitchen at the back.
Work on the building started about two years ago, during which workmen discovered original cornices that had been hidden behind false walls. These were restored and copied so that the beautiful designs now run around the walls of the
Similarly, two airwells that were hidden were also reinstated.
The result, achieved at a cost that the chef would not disclose, is a well-preserved Singapore house from the 19th century.
The dining room furniture, too, is recognisably Singaporean - with copies of the wooden chairs and marble-top tables from the coffee shops of the past. There are 30 tables of different sizes that seat two to four people.
White says: "I go to the Purvis Street coffee shop for chicken rice and see these tables and chairs and had them copied. But the original chairs were too small for me; when they made those chairs, Singaporeans must have been smaller. So I made them bigger."
The sofas for the lounge and all the lamps, however, were shipped in from England. And the dining table used for the private room was from the Rolls Royce boardroom.
The walls are filled with black-and-white photographs of British celebrities such as Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Helen Mirren, Boy George, David Bowie and Amy Winehouse. They were in an exhibition of English photographer Terry O'Neill's works in Hong Kong last year and White bought the entire collection and shipped it here.
All this emphasis on the setting is in compliance with what he considers most important in a restaurant.
"When you go to a restaurant, the most important aspect is the environment. You have to feel comfortable, relaxed," he says. "No. 2 is the service and No. 3 is the food. Food is way down.
"If I think of my favourite restaurants in the world, they don't serve the best food. They serve very good food, but I like the environment I'm sitting in, I like the service, I like the staff."
The food at The English House will be simple, he says, with mostly sharing dishes.
"You can expect things like a cote de boeuf for two to three people," he adds. "Sharing dishes tend to retain heat because you're serving more food. It's also more affordable. You can have a big 1.4kg roast chicken, chopped up in a big platter for four people. That will cost you $60, it's affordable."
Other mains will cost from $30 to $40, except for expensive items such as lobster. There will be no service charge.
Some dishes, such as braised beef cheek with tendons, will be served in Chinese claypots, which will help to keep the food warm.
White says: "I don't like cold food. People in the modern world put too much emphasis into making food pretty. All that touching up with tweezers, I don't get it."