SINGAPORE - When new restaurant Zen opens on Nov 21, expect an intimate dining experience that will take patrons on a journey through its three-storey Bukit Pasoh heritage shophouse.
The new fine-dining restaurant takes over the space previously occupied by now-shuttered two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Andre.
Zen is a partnership between lauded Swedish chef Bjorn Frantzen of Stockholm's only three-Michelin-starred restaurant Frantzen, and home-grown hospitality and restaurant group Unlisted Collection, whose restaurants include one-Michelin-starred Burnt Ends in Teck Lim Road and Pollen at Gardens by the Bay.
Diners enter the restaurant and enjoy snacks, canapes and pre-dinner drinks in the living room area in front of the kitchen, before moving up one floor to the main dining room for plated dishes. The last leg of the meal will be presented on the top floor of the restaurant.
The restaurant's opening is one of the most highly anticipated ones this year, adding to a new wave of upscale restaurants opened by brand name chefs. The English House by British celebrity chef and restaurateur Marco Pierre White opened in Mohamed Sultan Road 1½ months ago, while next month (Dec) table65 by chef Richard van Oostenbrugge of popular Amsterdam restaurant 212, will open at Resorts World Sentosa.
Next year, renowned Michelin-starred French chefs Anne-Sophie Pic and Alain Ducasse will open restaurants at the Raffles Hotel.
The entry of Zen and table65 into the Singapore dining scene also marks a shift towards more experiential and fun dining, away from formal and more hoity-toity fine dining.
Speaking to The Sunday Times in an exclusive interview over the telephone from Stockholm, chef Frantzen, 41, says of the new restaurant's vibe: "I don't like stiff dining. Our restaurant will not be traditional fine dining - it will be more relaxed.
"There will be Guns N' Roses and AC/DC playing from the speakers," says the chef, referring to the music of the popular rock bands.
"No jazz or piano music - more rock 'n' roll. We want to have fun and we want our guests to have fun even though we are very serious about our food."
The 24-seat restaurant will serve tasting menus only, priced at $450 for nine courses plus snacks. The food is chef Frantzen's interpretation of Nordic, French and Japanese cuisine - his take on kaiseki dining. Zen will be a sister restaurant to the chef's eponymous flagship eatery in Stockholm, which opened in 2008.
Frantzen and Zen will have different menus but will, however, share one signature dish - a French toast with truffles, which is his luxe take on the usual side of bread.
He also runs Nordiska Kantinen, Botanique and Corner Club in Stockholm, as well as two-year-old Frantzen's Kitchen and five-month-old The Flying Elk in Hong Kong. This is the chef-restaurateur's first foray into the Singapore food scene. His wife helps with the human resources side of the business and they have two daughters aged eight and 12.
The partnership - aside from chef Frantzen, Zen's shareholders also include hotelier Loh Lik Peng of the Unlisted Collection, hotelier Mavis Oei of Goodwood Park Hotel and restaurateur and writer Geoffrey Eu - came about a year ago when Restaurant Andre closed, says Mr Loh, 46.
He adds: "When Andre (Chiang) announced that he was closing the restaurant, we knew that we wanted another iconic chef and restaurant in the group to take over the Bukit Pasoh shophouse space and start a new chapter for it."
On opening in Singapore, chef Frantzen, who attended culinary college in Stockholm and started cooking professionally at the age of 20, says: "I was very excited about the opportunity. I had been to Singapore a few years ago as a speaker for a forum during the Asia's 50 Best Restaurant awards and liked the city. The dining scene in Singapore is buzzing."
On the prospect of opening more restaurants here, he says: "I don't have a master plan. It's impossible to say but right now, all my focus is on this restaurant. Let's get this one right and we'll start from there."