[Invited Tasting] Restaurant Ember

It's been a while since I dined at Ember; my last visit was just before its founding chef, Sebastian, left, and passed the baton over to a new chef. I'd held off visiting Ember in order to give the incoming chef some time to adjust being at the helm of a beloved restaurant. So when invited to a tasting at Ember by the good people of HungryGoWhere, a year on after the handover, I jumped at the opportunity for a revisit.

It was entirely regrettable that the tasting wasn't up to par. The food was uneven, there was an evident lack of symmetry, with a single component obliterating the rest of its counterparts in just about every other dish, resulting in more misses than hits. I think, Ember would have been better served if they completely overhauled the restaurant, name-change included. By keeping the name and identity of Ember, the restaurant suffers from an inevitable comparison between the past and present chefs. The contrast is particularly stark because the cooking style, inspiration of and direction taken by the current chef is very different from before. Everything I loved about Ember has gone. The waitresses, a comforting fixture at the Ember of old, either weren't working that night, or have left. The mainstays of the 12-hour pork belly, chilean seabass and miso cod, have all been scrapped from the menu. Save for the name and premises, it's not the Ember I remember.

I feel awful for saying this, because I met the young chef, whose passion and integrity light up his earnest eyes and humble demeanor. It's like how people say that they can't eat a meat if they've petted the animal whose meat comes from; I can't quite bring myself to criticize a chef whom I've had the pleasure of meeting either.To be fair, the chef's signature dish of braised short ribs weren't available that night, so I'm inclined to give Ember another shot, to sample this legendary 90-hour slow-braised short ribs.

The Flan ($18) was really a chawanmushi with shredded spanner crab, asparagus slivers, tobiko and aonori. This was decent but forgettable. 

The inky Consomme ($16), redolent of earthy mushrooms, and speckled with shimeiji, was balanced out by a couple of velvety chicken and foie gras tortellini which were fantastic.

The Bouillabaise ($32) was choc-a-bloc with a langoustine, clams, scallops, and seabass, all sparkling fresh and sweet. Unfortunately, the accolades end there. This was way too saccharine; it got cloying even after a few sips. Not even the aioli, and liberal onion shavings and chives could save this soup.

But for the clam broth that was too milky, the Pan-Roasted Barramundi ($28) was pretty decent - paper crisp skin and luscious flaky meat. This was accompanied by a huge dollop of caviar, clams, diced vine tomatoes and fine beans.

The only standout was ironically the only off-menu dish, the Pan-Seared Cod, beautifully caramelized, set on a bed of fluffy whipped potato, blistered peppers and a brown jus. 

The Duo of Duck ($32), with a pan-seared duck breast and a filo-ed duck confit, was a half-and-half. The duck confit was excellent, but the duck breast reeked of game. This had the best sides though - braised red cabbage, carrot puree and a lovely five-spiced jus. If carrot puree tasted this good when I was growing up, I wouldn't have been so averse to it!

The Pan-Seared Welsh Lamb Rack ($45), with ratatouille, cous cous and thyme jus, was perfectly moist, but needed a bolder seasoning to hold up against the lamb.

The Valrhona Chocolate Brownie ($18) with banana puree, cookie sprinkles, walnuts and a peanut butter parfait was my favourite dessert of the lot.

The Deconstructed Fig Cheesecake ($12) with a fig compote, crumble, flower petals and tahiti vanilla ice-cream, passed muster too, but was unremarkable.

The delicate Pistachio Sponge ($15), with pistachio ice-cream and crumble was overwhelmed by the robust ginger milk foam.

The flavours in the Vanilla Panna Cotta ($16) with fresh mango, coconut sorbet and nuts, were bang-on, but let down by the watery texture of the panna cotta.

The Champagne Jelly ($16) was light and clear, but the macerated strawberries and yoghurt sorbet were too sour a compatriot.

The complimentary Focaccia was a little more crusty than I remembered, but still aromatic and delicious.

Restaurant Ember
50 Keong Siak Road
Hotel 1929
Tel: 6347 1928
Open Mondays to Fridays from 11.30am to 2pm for lunch
Mondays to Saturdays from 6.30pm to 10pm for dinner
Closed on Sundays

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