To say that British restaurateur and legendary chef Marco Pierre White likes Singapore would be a gross understatement.
The 56-year-old is a self-professed loving fan of the island-city, having visited “so many times, I don’t even count”.
“I think Singapore is one of the great cities of the world,” White told CNA Lifestyle.
And it’s not just the cornucopia of local food that he loves, White revealed, it’s also the people and the trees. “I love how green Singapore is,” he said. “I love gardens!”
Which might explain why the man, dubbed as the “first celebrity chef” and a game-changer for British cuisine, decided that his first restaurant in Asia would open right here in Singapore.
The English House is White’s first Asian outpost and officially opens on Wednesday (Sep 12). It is housed in two adjoining 19th-century conservation colonial shophouses along Mohamed Sultan Road, one of which used to be popular '90s nightspot Madam Wong’s, which shut its doors more than a decade ago.
Painstakingly restored over nearly three years, The English House is billed as “Singapore’s first restaurant with rooms”. The hotel part, which boasts 18 rooms on the second floor, is set to open in the first quarter of 2019.
The restaurant promises Modern British cuisine, focusing on authentic and generous renditions of English classics like Stuffed Cabbage in a fresh tomato sauce and shareable platters of Rib of Black Angus Beef with braised spiced tendons and jus viande.
White is known for many things: Being the youngest chef at the time to be awarded three Michelin stars, for his eponymous restaurant in London when he was just 33; returning those very stars in 1999 when he retired from cooking; for his intimidating presence and frank comments on both the original Hell’s Kitchen and MasterChef competition series; and for being the former boss and mentor of Gordon Ramsay and Mario Batali.
But when it comes to opening The English House in Singapore, he also sees himself as a “caretaker”.
“I have a responsibility to the history of these shophouses,” he said. "So if I’m put in charge of developing these shophouses, then I have to be sensitive and I have to respect the past. I’m a great believer in ‘respect the house’.”
He added: "I have let the Singaporean culture and history inform the look and feel of The English House, but also added an understated piece of England into the space.”
For White, who has filled The English house with kopitiam-style chairs, the world's largest collection of Terry O’Neill photographs and English carnival-themed sculptures, the only thing that never dates an establishment is "romance".
“If you look at what we’ve created here, it’s ‘yin and yang’. It’s a bit of the old world and a bit of the modern world," he said. "It’s about the feel. The eye must always be amused."
Indeed, that’s another reason why there is no big sign that shouts “The English House” when you drive up Mohamed Sultan Road.
“If you want to come, you’ll find us. And that’s not arrogance, that’s (being) understated,” he said.
For White, it’s all about “respect”.
“Respect that we’re in Singapore, respect the Singaporean culture, just be understated,” he said. “Don’t make too much noise. Just do your job.”
White also revealed to CNA Lifestyle that Michelin Guide wrote to him asking if he would like to be included in their guide now that he’s opened The English House in Singapore.
His response? “No.”
“Because I don’t need Michelin and they don’t need me,” he said with a smile. “They sell tyres and I sell food.”
According to White, it’s all very simple to what’s most important.
“I think what you got to do is to create an environment which people wish to sit in. You have to create a menu which is interesting to people. You have to create food which is delicious and affordable. I think that’s what’s important. And you have to hope that people choose to spend their hard earned income at your business. There’s no guarantees.
“Because remember, restaurateurs are only shopkeepers, that’s all we are. It’s no different from the supermarket down the road.”