After a hiatus of 3 years, the former Ember Restaurant chef Sebastian Ng returns with Venue by Sebastian at Downtown Gallery. The modern French menu is designed together with Jonathan Lee, who was at Artichoke Restaurant previously.
Spanish gem lettuce, anchovy dressing, parmigiano reggiano ($9)
I like many things about the restaurant. I like the openness and simplicity of decor, accented by white and Mediterranean blue; a breath of fresh air from the construction going around the new building.
Chilled romanesco, lemon vinaigrette, almonds, parmigiano reggiano ($12)
I like it that the lunch and dinner menus are very different, an amazing feat for any restaurant. I like it that the menu has different offerings from Ember; I like it that the crispy pork belly, which Ng is famous for at Ember, is not on this menu. Most of all, I like how the food has a distinctive sprightly quality, leaving you sated but not dull.
The food comes in small plates, and each person should order about 3-4 plates to be full. We ordered 3 plates from the Greens section, and my favorite is the salmon ($18), smoked in-house, and comes with green beans, mustard vinaigrette, and sorrel emulsion. While the salmon is a tad too fragile and it collapses with the prick of a fork, the softness of the salmon contrasts beautifully with the crunchiness of the green beans.
The other two greens are very good too. I’ve always been partial to the beauty of chilled romanesco ($12), although it tastes like cauliflower. Here, it’s drizzled with lemon vinaigrette, giving it a nice zesty flavor. The other salad, Spanish gem lettuce ($9), is nice too, but I wouldn’t order it again; it isn’t as interesting as, say, the crispy house-made tofu, foie gras-mirin, ice lettuce ($14).
From the meat section (“Pan, Coal, & Roast”), the grilled octopus ($27) is very good, nicely charred and quite tender. The bean puree, which tastes like hummus, gives it a nice earthliness, offsetting the delicateness of the octopus. The tangy lime undercuts the bitterness of the char. Altogether, a balanced dish.
The wood-grilled chicken is marinated in a North African spice blend called chermoula, which consists cumin, paprika, turmeric, cayenne, etc. It sounds spicy but it’s light and balanced like the rest of the dishes.
The potato gratin ($5), as a side, is a must-order for me. It’s nothing extremely unique, but it is done extremely well. It’s creamy and soft; addictive.
Their weakest link is their desserts because there isn’t anything interesting. It is, however, good. Reminiscent of a tarte tatin, the pear tart ($14), topped with crumble, is homely and crispy. The pairing with baileys ice cream is smart; it doesn’t take away from the sweetness of the pear, so you taste two different kinds of sweetness.
I thought for lunch and for a casual restaurant, it is quite expensive; we paid $118 for two persons without wine. But it was a pleasant meal. There is beauty in the clean balance of the dishes.
VENUE By Sebastian
6A Shenton Way, Downtown Gallery #01-02, Singapore 068815
Tel: +65 6904 9688
11.30am-2.30pm, 6.30pm-9.30pm, closed Sun
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.