Whenever you choose to do something in life, you have to think about size. Doing something on a small scale is not me – I like the large. I also like townhouses. So rather than [being inside] a conventional hotel, [The English House] is [set inside] a traditional shophouse.
Singapore is one of the gastronomic capitals of the world. It has great food. And if you think about the dining culture, it’s very good. People here like to dine out.
Whenever you open a restaurant, it’s always about refinement. It’s always difficult. It doesn’t matter how many restaurants you open in your life, they’re always going to have their teething problems. They take time to grow. If you come back in a year’s time, it’ll be a very different restaurant. We’ve got a lot more things coming.
It’s important to create a restaurant that is not a special occasion venue because we don’t want to dress up every night we go out. It can’t always be formal. You have to break it down. So you can come [to The English House] for a romantic dinner or you can come to entertain your clients; it’s sufficiently casual to come with a friend for dinner.
I can’t imagine doing anything worse [than opening a fine dining restaurant]. Just look at the last 12 months. Did Robuchon close down? Did Restaurant André close down? Is every fine dining restaurant full every night of the week? No.
I believe that everyone wants value. Whether you go to a Michelin-starred restaurant or one without. The reality is, when you go out, you go out to enjoy yourself and have fun with your friends and loved ones.
[Food in Singapore] is delicious. I like to eat at Eat First on East Coast Road and also at Asia Grand. They produce better food than the Michelin-starred restaurants I’ve been to. And that’s not being controversial. It might not have the sophistication of the service or the environment, but it’s about what’s on the plate.
[I used to want recognition] when I was young. But then one day I realised I was being judged by people who have less knowledge than me, and my opinion changed. I started to understand that what was important were the customers. But I respect Michelin. They’ve done more for the world of gastronomy than anybody else. They’ve inspired millions of chefs globally.
I was once one of those young chefs, who was ruled by my insecurities, and had dreams of winning one star, two stars, three stars. And I was very fortunate to realise this dream.
I’m a great believer in everyone wants value. Whether you go to a Michelin starred restaurant or one without.
Repeat customers [are the reason] we create what we create. That’s the greatest accolade – when someone comes back. In Michelin-starred restaurants you don’t really have many regulars, because it tends to be very expensive. And why would I want to go out and have 12 courses this Monday and go back out next Monday to the same restaurant and have 12 courses again? I think I’d prefer to have my teeth pulled!
In Singapore, I can go to Purvis Street [near City Hall] for chicken rice with barley water for S$8 and it’s fantastic. I like the simplicity and the honesty of it. And I’m there for one hour, max. After a hard day’s work, I can’t imagine going to a restaurant for three to four hours.
I tend to look at things as observations and opinions rather than criticism. I think you should always approach everything with a positive, not a negative. When people are critical, I don’t really find it to be negative. It’s an opinion isn’t it? We’re in the job of looking out for people; we’re in the job of selling an ideal.
There’s nothing wrong with mistakes. I’ve made more mistakes than anybody I know. You have to accept your mistakes. When you rely on others, and others rely on you, mistakes happen. It’s about taking the knowledge and accepting it, accepting your failure. I think that’s really important.