It must be more than 10 years since we last visited Restaurant Ember, Hotel 1929 Singapore. At that time, the idea of a modern trendy restaurant in an old shophouse that had been converted into a boutique hotel along Keong Saik Road in the Singapore Chinatown was groundbreaking. We had good memories of the place and our impression was that it was a most trendy independent restaurant. But somehow, it looked so plain when we were there for dinner recently. A case of the old primary school syndrome?
What old primary school syndrome? It is our way of describing the effect of distinct memories from the past becoming not quite the same as time elapses. The best known situation when this phenomenon occurs is when we revisit our old primary school as an adult. Everything that had seemed large and complex (e.g. the classrooms and the sports field) now looks small and simple. Perceptions change over time.
Coming back to the present story, the Restaurant Ember Hotel 1929 in 2016 was not the trendy, groundbreaking restaurant that we remembered it to be. In fact it looked basic and spartan. The only interesting feature being the naked bulbs with complicated filaments. The Hotel 1929 itself looked attractive and roughly the same, both from the outside and in its lobby which still hosts eclectic, industrial look with retro furniture. This kind of look has been adopted in so many places nowadays. Hotelier and restaurateur Loh Lik Peng who did all this years ago was ahead of his time.
Here are pictures of the Restaurant Ember set dinner menu and part of the ala carte menu.
Apologies for the bad pictures – we blame it on the lighting. Basically for dinner, we could go ala carte or have a 3 or 4-course set dinner at $58 or $68 ++ per person. We decided on a three course and a couple of dishes from the ala carte menu. Add $8 for a lager beer, which was what we did.
An amuse bouche was served soon after the orders were taken. The keropok-like item was a good companion for the beer.
We will first show you the three dishes from the set dinner. There was a distinct style of serving the dishes at Restaurant Ember – small portions in big plates. This is a great place to have dinner for weight-watchers. No one will get fat from eating here.
For the set dinner, one gets to mix and match the dishes from different sections of the menu. A bit like taking an exam – answer 3 questions one from each of Sections A, B and C.
Our choice from section one was angelhair pasta with jicama, bonito and shimeji. According to our basic research, jicama is “a round, bulbous root vegetable with origins in the Mexican peninsula”. Sounds like turnip. This was a flavourful starter, with the jicama adding some crunch. Perhaps another advantage of a small portion is that it leaves you wanting more.
The seared scallops with cauliflower, preserved lemon and cilantro was our choice from part 2. This was quite good, we were glad to specify that the scallops be properly cooked as we learnt later that the default was to serve them partially cooked.
Our dish from Part Three was venison with pea shoots, shallots and wild rice. This was quite a regular meat dish. The venison was like very lean beef that had not much flavour of its own. The shallots and vegetable added some taste to it.
Here are the two items that we ordered from the ala carte list.
The foie gras ($24) was the best dish of the day. A small piece of liver which had enough of the heavy taste but not too overpowering. The five spice sauce, chopped nuts and slices of rose apple enhanced the liver taste.
The Sakura ebi pasta ($32) was a compact, tasty portion of pasta. The tiny sakura shrimps and crustacean sauce added a pleasing seafood taste to the pasta.
Overall, it was an enjoyable dinner at Restaurant Ember even though it turned out to be less glamorous than what we had remembered it to be. The area has certainly changed since Hotel 1929 first opened. It is now surrounded by new shining competitors, which may explain why Ember now feels dowdy.
Overall Rating: 3 TOPs
50 Keong Saik Road
Tel: +65 6579 2026
Nearby MRT Stations: Outram Park, Chinatown