[dropcap size=small]I[/dropcap]t’s quite an unconventional choice to call a new venue… well, ‘Venue.’ According to chef-owner Sebastian Ng, it was a suggestion by one of his partners because he didn’t know what would be the most appropriate name. The second part – ‘by Sebastian’ – was an input from the restaurant’s interior designer to make it more complete.
It is meaningful, once Ng explains his new concept further. He wanted to do something different from his 12 years as chef-owner at the now-defunct Restaurant Ember. This new restaurant is a blank canvas for him to try out a few things. Gone are the formal vibes: there are no table cloths and set course menus give way to an a la carte menu. The kitchen is an open-concept, and Ng comes out as and when he can to check on his diners. He also has the 30-year-old Jonathan Lee, formerly of Artichoke, alongside him as Venue’s chef de cuisine.
At our time of visit, renovations for Downtown Gallery were still on-going. The restaurant shares a narrow walkway with a boarded-up make up shop. Venue stands out immediately: the interiors are filled with pristine whites and cool blues, lit up by spotlights overhead. There’s the open kitchen with a view of the surrounding banquettes and tables. The entrance is flanked by two long bar counters with seats. A dry-aging cabinet with a few cuts of meat also graces the entrance of the restaurant. We were told that Ng is experimenting with these meats, and may serve them in the future.
The casual sharing plates menu changes every day and comes in an order-chit format which diners pick and tick their choices. Don’t expect starters to come before mains: whichever dish is ready first will be served to the table. It is an idea that works well in the CBD area where quick lunches are the norm. It may however prove a challenge for diners looking for a more slow-paced meal. If service is fast, dishes may be served together, easily crowding up a table for two. It helps that the affable Sabrina Goh, Ng’s wife, runs the front of house. Sharp yet warm, she keeps the young service team running efficiently.
Contrast is Key
The cuisine at Venue is modern European, with an Asian touch. The menu also contains several signatures from Ng’s Restaurant Ember times, for nostalgia’s sake. The crispy homemade tofu is one of them. It is served warm, along with bonito flakes, a comforting sauce of foie gras and mirin and a subtle touch of saltiness from the ice lettuce. Another Ember signature on the menu is the salad of shiso cress with generous servings of raw Hokkaido scallops, tossed with a refreshing yuzu vinaigrette.
Pasta, which is only available for dinner, is not to be missed. Diners will have to wait for their pasta as the kitchen makes them from scratch. The cold pasta is a winner: the angel hair which still retains bite is mixed together with konbu and truffle oil. The hot pasta with spicy sakura ebi is a must try.
For more substantial items, go for the grilled octopus and white bean puree, with a welcoming contrast from the tart capers. The wood-grilled chermoula chicken and the Chilean seabass with mushroom and bacon ragout are delicious as well.
#01-02 Downtown Gallery. Tel: 6904 9688.