One-Michelin-starred modern Australian restaurant Whitegrass in CHIJMES will bow out of the Singapore dining scene after close to three years. Its last day of operation will be on December 22.
The decision was made in the last three months - around the time when the restaurant’s three-year lease was up for renewal.
Speaking to the MICHELIN Guide Digital, Australian chef-owner Sam Aisbett calls it a tough decision to make, given that the restaurant has amassed dining accolades over the years, including clinching one Michelin star in 2017 and retaining the one-star rating this year.
He says: “I want to keep evolving and do better along with the restaurant. I get bored and want to keep mixing and changing things up in order to step up to the next level.
“On the business side of things, it may seem stupid. But it is not about me but what I can do for diners,” he adds.
While Aisbett is still thinking about his upcoming restaurant’s name and location, he says that it will still centre on modern Australian cuisine, using ingredients from all over the world and he plans to downsize the restaurant operations down to a 30-seat space, which is slated to open in the first half of next year. Currently, Whitegrass is housed in a 3,800 square feet space that seats 70 people.
He adds: “With a smaller place, I can manage and control the restaurant better. I can do finer food and push the boundaries a bit more. I will be able to execute my food ideas faster and elevate dining and service standards.”
Aisbett also thinks that it is tougher to ensure covers in a bigger restaurant space in a competitive dining landscape. However, he adds that Whitegrass "is performing at its peak" with the restaurant filled up to 80 per cent of its capacity on weekdays and a full house on weekends.
He says: “When we first opened, there was hype and buzz. After six months, it starts to die off. Singapore is nuts as restaurants keep opening, and in such a city, you need to keep pushing yourself.”
However, Aisbett acknowledges that manpower has been his biggest challenge of running Whitegrass. The staff turnover at his restaurant is about six months, which can be difficult to maintain consistency. He says: “Running a restaurant at this level requires highly trained staff. He says: “I run the hardest kitchen in Singapore and things go very strictly as I am a perfectionist. It is hard if the staff doesn’t perform.”
In the meantime, he is also looking for a location to open another restaurant, and is considering countries in Asia and does not rule out remaining in Singapore.
The Melbourne-born chef has worked in restaurants in Australia and Europe before becoming a senior sous chef at fine-dining restaurant Tetsuya and the head chef of Quay, a renowned modern Australian restaurant. Both are in Sydney. He uprooted here in 2015 to start Whitegrass, which opened in January 2016.
Aisbett, who is taking a break for the next few months after the closure, says: “Closing the restaurant that I have built from scratch is obviously a sad decision but I am looking forward to the next evolution.”