Ember's former chef opens new restaurant

Chef Sebastian Ng and his wife Sabrina will run the restaurant together.
Chef Sebastian Ng and his wife Sabrina will run the restaurant together.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Chef Sebastian Ng's Venue by Sebastian will serve contemporary European cuisine with Asian influences

Chef Sebastian Ng, 42, left the now-defunct Restaurant Ember in 2014 and took a three-year hiatus, but he is now back with a new venture.

Called Venue by Sebastian, the 1,900 sq ft, 80-seater casual restaurant opens later this week at new integrated development OUE Downtown in Shenton Way.

It is one of the first few restaurants to open in the swanky complex's Downtown Gallery mall.

Other food and beverage outlets include the likes of hipster Japanese coffee joint Omotesando Koffee and a 15,000 sq ft farmer's market by The Providore.

Venue by Sebastian serves contemporary European cuisine with Asian influences and the sharing of dishes is encouraged.

Ng's wife Sabrina, 40, who worked front of house at Restaurant Ember, returns as the restaurant manager.

Another familiar face at the restaurant is its chef de cuisine Jonathan Lee, 30, the former head chef of Middle Eastern restaurant Artichoke in Middle Road. He is Ng's cousin-in-law.

When Ng left Restaurant Ember after 12 years there, he had told The Straits Times that he was looking to explore a more casual concept, while raising his concerns about the manpower shortage in the industry.

He still brings up labour issues this time round, but stresses that the menu at his new restaurant and the workflow have been carefully thought out.

At Venue by Sebastian, the lunch menu is divided into categories of Toast; Fritti (fried food) & Greens; Pan, Coal & Roast; Sides; and Sweets.

Selected items come in half or full portions. There are no pasta dishes for lunch as the noodles have to be cooked in small portions.

For dinner, there are additional sections of Pasta, and Raw, Cured & Smoked.

"I've thought very hard about this menu. When I was in London, there was a restaurant which did it similarly. The menu was divided into sections and whatever was cooked first was served immediately.

"It worked well," says Ng, who spent part of his time away travelling to destinations such as London, Santorini, Japan and Vietnam.

He adds: "Back in Restaurant Ember, appetisers, mains and desserts had to be served in a strict order. It required a lot of coordination in the kitchen."

He recalls how, for example, if a diner ordered his pork belly dish, which took 45 minutes to cook, the whole table had to wait for that dish to be ready before everyone else's main courses could be served.

At Venue by Sebastian, like at a dim sum restaurant, diners will indicate their orders on an order slip at the table.

This is more efficient, because "it can take 10 to 15 minutes for a server to take an order as he stands around waiting for customers", says Ng.

Highlights from the menu include romanesco with lemon vinaigrette, almonds and parmigiano reggiano ($14 or $21); grilled octopus with burnt butter, capers and bean puree ($27); wood-grilled chermoula chicken with lemon ($15); and Iberico pork jowl with gremolata and lemon ($27 for lunch, $18 or $36 for dinner).

Prior to returning to the restaurant scene, the father of three daughters - aged five, seven and 10 - also spent a year in China for a consultancy project.

The family man says: "At Restaurant Ember, I saw my family only once a week, on my day off. When I was in China, I saw them only once every two months."

While he notes the stiff competition in the sector, he is certainly prepared for his comeback.

He says: "The food scene has changed a lot over the years, especially with the opening of the integrated resorts. There have been even more changes after I came back and it was much easier setting up a restaurant last time.

"But even after leaving Restaurant Ember, I had always been thinking of what to do next. I know I'm ready."

•Venue by Sebastian opens later this week at 01-02 Tower 1, Downtown Gallery, 6A Shenton Way. It will be open from 11.30am to 2pm and 5.30 to 9.30pm from Mondays to Saturdays. It is closed on Sundays. Call 6904-9688 (reservations for dinner only) or e-mail info@venuebysebastian.com for more information.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2017, with the headline 'Ember's former chef opens new restaurant'. Print Edition | Subscribe