It’s not quite a well-kept secret anymore that Ember’s set lunches are an absolute steal. At $39.40++, their excellent 3-course lunch doesn’t just aim to impress, but to entice and rope you into repeated visits of your own will.
If you take a look at their 3-course set lunch menu, you will eventually realise that its stunning variety of dishes to choose from is meant to please, to befuddle, and to frustrate in the best way possible. Having to choose among 3 to 4 types of foie gras for your appetiser becomes what is possibly the best sort of happy problem there can be – because you will get your dose of fatty goose liver anyway.
Ember has been around for years now since it’s opening in 2004, fusing robust European cuisine with the intricacies of the Asian cuisine. It’s a modest restaurant located in Hotel 1929, a boutique hotel establishment, seating perhaps no more than 40 people in its airy interior that is furnished simply in light tones of brown. Lit warmly from the midday sunlight streaming in through its floor-to-ceiling glass windows, suffice to say, it was a welcoming setting for our little SMU Gourmet Club event (or perhaps not so little since we took up half the restaurant). Service was attentive and efficient from the get-go. Your napkin will remain on your lap as much as possible if the wait staff can help it.
A restaurant’s bread sets the stage, as most will agree. The tomato foccacia that floated out of the kitchen, while most of us were still bustling around and trying to settle down, was warm and crackly as good bread should be. It was perfumed with rosemary, thyme, and specks of sun-dried tomatoes, the combination and taste standing strong on its own without additional butter. But warm, crust, tender bread without butter? Who are you kidding? You’re already on a roll (pun-intended), so just go with it and start shmearing your bread.
The most outstanding appetiser went to the Roasted and Poached Foie Gras with Mirin, Shoyu, and Shiitake, essentially just fatty goose liver on a bed of braised shiitake mushrooms. But that’s an understatement, because the thick, sweet and salty Japanese-influenced sauce was a smashing hit with the juicy shiitake. Whip that all up with a slab of creamy foie gras poached to tender perfection, and you have a mind-bogglingly crazy-sounding ingredient combination that works. No figs, no apples, no prunes, nothing classically sweet in the dish at all. Just pure savoury bliss.
Another variant of a foie gras appetiser was the Pan-seared Foie Gras with Caramelized Apples and Clove, Port and Raspberry Glaze. Now that’s quite a mouthful, but the dish is simple, really. It’s just fantastic foie gras again, crisp on the outside while luscious on the inside, with the definitive sweetness and acidity of apples to cut its richness. Plus points on the crisp skin for sure, but the Mirin, Shoyu, and Shiitake still takes the prize with its surprising fusion.
Therein lay the limit to the number of appetisers I could have tried, short of badgering my way into everyone else’s personal space to grab a bite and flit off to the next. Comments on many of the dishes were unanimous nevertheless.
The Deep-fried Soft Shell Crab with Sweet Wasabi Aioli played a little on the safe side of a Japanese dish, but the well-fried soft shell crab paired well with the sweet wasabi aioli.
There was also the Pan-roasted Scallop with Parma Ham, Citrus and Tarragon Vinaigrette – a simple plate of a trio of beautifully seared scallops and a mound of salad in the center.
The minute that the mains descended onto the tables was like a moment of reckoning, with surreptitious glances thrown this way and that, sizing up the different mains on the same table. In my humble opinion (disregarding the fact that this was my choice), the 12-hour Cooked Pork Belly with Savoy Cabbage, Apple Puree & Spiced Calvados Sauce topped everything else. Other than the fact that you get a towering slab of pork belly perched atop its throne of vibrant savoy cabbage to sink your teeth into, you get 3 sauces to accompany it with.
There is a classic mustard sauce, with just that bit of bite and tang to marry with the fatty pork, and then a flavourful and creamy sweet sauce, akin to those that come with roast duck in Chinese restaurants.The third (and the best) was the spiced Calvados Sauce contained in a tiny test tube. Just think of a highly concentrated, thick and velvety sauce just made with what could very well be the juices of the pork belly. Sweet, but mostly salty, and simply out-of-this-world.
The pork belly was perfect in every sense of the word. Crisp, crackly skin, and meat so moist and tender the layers just slide apart with a gentle push.
A close second would be the Marinated Cod with Black Miso, Sweet Peas and Herbed Potatoes with its deliciously creamy cod and unique sweet glaze.
The Pan-seared Chilean Seabass with Mushroom and Smoked Bacon Ragout, Truffle Yuzu Butter Sauce was, perhaps, a tad too rich, but incredibly flavourful. The seabass medallion was seared to a golden brown on the outside, the crust thick and crisp, and was perched on a bed of meaty mushrooms and bacon.
Although the skin of the Crispy Duck Leg Confit with New Potatoes, Caramelized Onion-thyme Jus was faultlessly crisp, it was a tad one-dimensional in its savouriness. It was nevertheless a well-executed duck confit in its technique.
The Apple Tarte Tatin with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream for dessert was available for sharing between 2 people, and was a fair rendition of a French classic. Juicy caramelized apples set within a circle of shortcrust pastry, this is a dessert best eaten the moment it is set in front of you for the best flaky crust and steaming apples. In all seriousness, if it wasn’t for the fact that I had to run about snapping pictures of every other thing, I’d probably sound more enthusiastic describing my cold tarte tatin. So yes, eat it while it’s hot.
Another dessert was the Frozen Nougat with Seasonal Berries – twin cubes of nougats, the texture of which was similar to ice cream studded with a healthy dose of nuts and such, and a refreshing scoop of homemade lychee sorbet.
It’s hard for an apple-based dessert to go wrong, but also just as easy to turn it into a star. The Crispy Cinnamon “apple pie” with Homemade Ice Cream was essentially a never-fail combination of sweet apples encased in a philo pastry crust dusted lightly with icing sugar.
The Crispy Caramelized Pear Tart with Homemade Baileys Ice Cream came close with its equally flaky, crunchy pastry and punchy Baileys ice cream, but those not in favour of the tartness of pears may not be convinced, although a dollop of that ice cream will easily remedy that.
Other desserts include the Assorted French Farm Cheese board, and the Warm Valrhona Chocolate Fondant with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.
All of the above dishes are certainly not an exhaustive list of available choices in Ember’s set lunch menu, although it’s now easy to see why Ember is a hot favourite. It’s a great set lunch find, and is pretty high up my list. I’ll let you know when a place takes over Aoki. Yea right.
As with every perfect set lunch, wash it all down with a cup of coffee or tea (inclusive in the set). But really, don’t be too surprised to find your mind wandering through your schedule for an opportunity to make your way back again.
Address: 50 Keong Saik Road, Hotel 1929, Singapore
Tel: +65 6347 1928
11.30am – 2.00pm
6.30pm – 10.00pm
6.30pm – 10.00pm
(Closed on Sundays)