Naleendra will convert the Cheek By Jowl’s shophouse space at Boon Tat Street into a casual bistro that is slated to open in March. He will also open a modern Australian fine-dining restaurant at another location in the Central Business District by the middle of this year. Both dining establishments will be run by local hospitality group, Unlisted Collection, which currently runs Cheek By Jowl.
The Sri Lanka-born chef is known for his casual and lively style of cooking, but this move marks his foray into the fine-dining arena. His upcoming restaurant will be one of the few players in the local modern Australian fine-dining scene, after Whitegrass shut down in December last year.
In an exclusive interview with the MICHELIN Guide Digital, Naleendra shares that the closure of Cheek By Jowl is due to real estate musical chairs. Last August, it was reported that the conservation shophouse at Boon Tat Street had been put up for sale, which led him to scout for a new location in November.
However, in an interesting twist of fate, the Boon Tat Street shophouse was sold for the second time to his new landlord, who offered him the opportunity to continue using the space. Instead of retaining the current Cheek By Jowl concept, he decided to turn it into a casual bistro.
While the bistro’s name is still unconfirmed, he says: “It will have a chill-out and relaxed vibe; there will be no tasting menus, just sharing plates and a la carte dishes.” He adds that it will serve produce-driven Modern Australian cuisine that is in the same vein as Cheek By Jowl.
Despite gaining a following with Cheek By Jowl, he did not want to retain its name. He explains: “The name was centred around the staff and the space, which grew organically over the past three years.” The name is also a reference to him working closely with his wife Manuela Toniolo, who is the restaurant’s manager. She will manage the new bistro.
Losing the name also means that he has to give up the coveted Michelin star rating that Cheek By Jowl first received in 2017. He reflects: “The last three years have been the best and life-changing. Letting go is emotional but it is part of life and I have no regrets. I am looking forward to making more progress in the next stage of my career.”
He says that his other upcoming project will be his “dream restaurant”. He has roped in a Melbourne-based food and beverage partner for his new modern Australian fine-dining restaurant. He shares: “It is the first restaurant that I am building from scratch and it will take things up a notch in terms of food, service and ambience.”