SELA, modern European dining re-defined


SELA is a modern European restaurant that represents the essence of European cooking with an exclusive charcoal grilled Tapas menu. Like any good European restaurant, SELA has a wide range of wines to go with the fine food that will definitely entice one’s palette. In addition, SELA also stocks hard-to-find Japanese craft beers to be savoured slowly, just like fine wine. Started by finance industry veteran Leonard Chan, with chef Jimmy Chok as consultant and helmed by chef Mohammad Shahrom, SELA re-defines modern european fine dining into an gastronomical experience with subtle undertones, tantalising the senses. Leonard’s philosophy of creating vibrancy is to offer new food items to augment Restaurant SELA’s usual fare.

Eliterate.Asia spoke with Leonard Chan, on his thoughts on this first venture, and with chef Mohammad Shahrom, at a fabulous tasting session on SELA’s menu.

1) Why pick the name SELA for your restaurant ?

SELA means “rock”, which also symbolizes solidity and strength. Similarly, I’m hoping that SELA will be a solid foundation for all things refreshingly modern European.

2) What makes SELA different from other places serving Modern European cuisine ?

We are constantly evolving our menu. In fact we keep it evolving at a rapid rate. Our ala-carte menu changes on a monthly basis and the Tapas menu on a fortnightly basis. This is our dedication to our following of diners whom we have established in the short span of 3 months.

3) Can you tell me about the philosophy about the food, the mood, and the feel behind SELA ?

We believe in keeping things fresh. So that’s why we are always on the look out for a different twist to the creation of our food. Be it using European ingredients and adding a burst of Asian flavour or using an Asian dish and giving it a European twist. It is all about being innovative and refreshing. The look and feel of SELA is minimalist, we don’t want anything to distract the diners from the full enjoyment of the food. The tables, chairs, color theme of the restaurant are all chosen and selected very carefully so that when a diner enters the restaurant, and they are served their food, their full attention will be on the food. The rest of the decor in the restaurant speaks volume of what we set out to achieve.

4) What were you doing before you started the restaurant ?

I was a senior executive in the finance industry for over 16 years.

5) Is the restaurant part of business, part passion, or both ?

Definitely both. One would need passion to go into a business they have always dreamed of and passion is further required to persevere in a vibrant and colorful F&B industry.

6) The wall paintings makes one look deeper into the details, instead of glancing over, as it does not look washed out, but somewhat made the space more inviting. Tell us more about the artwork on the walls.

Absolutely. We commissioned a local artist to work on the wall paintings. Art is synonymous with the creation of food, imagination is key.

7) What do you enjoy most about underground dinners ?

Firstly, we want to create a platform where our chefs and guest chefs can continuously showcase their creativity and talent. Secondly, to give our following of diners the element of anticipation and surprise where they aren’t aware of what’s on the menu.

It’s all about pushing the limits.

8) Any plans for a 2nd restaurant or bistro perhaps ?

Haha. All I can say is one has to plan ahead. But for now, let’s not take away our focus on first making SELA a restaurant-of-choice in the forseeable future.

Chef Mohammad Shahrom, chooses his words carefully, just as he hones his craft with attention to detail and philosophy in pairing with local ingredients.

1) How do you come up with the menu, together with local ingredients ?

The menu was a collaboration between Leonard and myself. We want to be creative in our offerings to the savvy diners. The concept would primarily be modern European but at the same be adventurous with Asian ingredients whenever possible. I want the food we create to speak for themselves.

2) Do you have any favourite ingredients that you like to play with ?

To me, every ingredient is fun to play with. But if I really have to choose, I would choose tomatoes. Be it a cherry, roma, heirlooms or san marzanos or just the plain local variety, they can be eaten raw or cooked. The options are truly varied.

3) What do you consider to be incisive moments in your culinary career ?

In the early part of my life, I was exposed to cooking and it seems fun. But in all honesty, it wasn’t. But I was fortunate in the early stages of experimenting with my culinary career, I had a good mentor. A good mentor will help you carve your career. For me, my journey made me fall in love with culinary arts and the rest is history.

4) What qualities do you look for in the people you work with ?

Efficiency. Having initiative. Clean and most importantly the drive to pursue excellence !!

The hunger to learn be a great cook. Because when they have the drive, it motivates me to teach them even more. It’s more interesting to talk about creating new dishes rather than just simply cooking it.

5) Which is more important : creativity or efficiency ?

Efficiency. Creativity can be taught. Trust me. Something may just ignite you & you can have flair overnight. But without efficiency, you would probably stare at the ingredients and think of a thousand ways to cook it until its time to clock out. Efficiency means discipline coupled with the attitude or mindset to be great.

6) Can you describe how you approach bringing the ingredients alive ?

I would usually make use of an ingredient as the “base”, and create many textures out of it or use different techniques with it. But of course the other ingredients used along with this “base” will help it shine. For example, grapes as a base can become: grape puree, grape relish, grape jus, grape marinate etc … but the base is, grapes. For me that’s one way of giving “life” to an ingredient.

7) Do you keep yourself updated with the current culinary trends ?

I think all chefs do. Even if you are just a trainee, you would have trainee friends from different places. I do meet up with my chef friends regularly to talk about food. Sometimes we dine at each other’s restaurants just to see what else is new with them & how they have matured in their technique.

8) What is your comfort food ?

White plain rice with ayam masak merah (spicy chilli chicken) and begedel (potato balls). Hahaha yes I believe in simplicity.

Some dishes sampled :

  • Duck Rillette, Seared Duck Liver, Apple Compote, Rocket
  • Carpaccio of Scallops, Thai Fish Sauce Chilli Dressing
  • Grilled Asparagus, Poached Egg, Parma Ham
  • Baked Miso Chilean Seabass, Edamame And Sweet Peas
  • Slow Braised Kurabuta Pork Cheek, Potatoes And Carrots

Among the numerous new dishes for the Christmas season,  the food sampling also featured “Spatchcock with Lingon-berry and Juniper berry sauce and “Brussels Sprouts Lasagna” as well as Kurabuta Pork Cheek from the dinner and Salmon with Grape Relish served on a Himalayan salt table from the tapas menu. To spice up the festive spirit, Restaurant SELA will be bringing in a few seasonal beers like the Namahage Shinwa Dunkel and Japanese Ale Sansho in addition to its range of fine wines like the Zaccagini Montepulciano D’abruzzo 2012 and Elena Walch Piot Gringo to award-winning Japanese hand crafted beers.

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