“I don’t call myself a chef,” says Anthony Ung, who opened Char Restaurant alongside his brother, Alvin. Instead, ‘experimenter’ is his preferred way of describing his job. Specializing in traditional Cantonese fare with an East-meets-West flair, the restaurant’s cuisine nods at the brothers’ upbringing in Britain.
Let’s turn back the clock. All his life, Anthony lived in the UK and called it home. Growing up and eventually graduating with a major in Computer Science, he naturally found a job in the IT industry. In 1995, he came to Singapore for what was supposed to be a short vacation. After securing a job, meeting his to-be-wife, and falling in love, he decided to plant his roots here. In 2012, at the age of 40, he finally decided that it was time for him to pursue his lifelong dream of opening his own restaurant.
Why Cantonese roast meats?
Anthony’s dream was to open a steakhouse of his own. We wondered how he ventured into traditional Chinese roasts with Char Restaurant instead.
He shares that he used to travel extensively to Malaysia and Hong Kong due to his job. And if he didn’t know what to eat at a Chinese restaurant or hawker center during those trips, he’d always go back to one thing—roast meats.
His brother, Alvin, was selling roast meat at his own restaurant in the UK, and Anthony thought it was the perfect opportunity for them to start a business together.
This led to a full year of experimenting with recipes, in hopes of finding the perfect way to replicate the roast meats that he tasted overseas.
At the beginning of starting out Char Restaurant, Anthony would begin working at 8am. He would only return home at 1am, with enough time to shower and catch a few winks for a few hours, before repeating the cycle again. This was his routine, day in and day out, for 6 months.
“We are a lot of pork during that one year,” he says, chuckling. “My wife got sick of that for a while.”
Jumping into a newfound industry
In terms of jumping from the IT industry to opening a restaurant, (which he jokingly describes as turning from being one kind of geek to another), Anthony believed that was a “good time to start now, before [he gets] too old.”
He adds that he might have regretted not giving his dream a shot, too.
“Not knowing what to expect, you’re more gung-ho,” Anthony says. Diving straight into what he thought were green pastures, everything felt exciting and new as he did not know much about the F&B industry. Despite the difficult start he had in the first year, he pulled through with unwavering encouragement from his dearest ones.
What made it easy was the passion that I had, and the support… from my wife and my brother.
Anthony Ung from Char Restaurant, on making the jump into being a restaurateur
Char Restaurant’s specialties
To Anthony, cooking a precision science, which is why he spent a gruelling amount of effort in getting his recipes as perfect as possible. Getting the exact temperature, weight of ingredients, and length of cooking time down to the T, is the key to Char Restaurant’s immaculate creations.
So when it comes to roasted meat, Anthony is undoubtedly an expert. He knows what he is looking for, too. To him, the perfectly made char siew (sweet BBQ pork) strikes a delicate balance between sweet and salty, has an enhanced umami flavour, and also boasts a soft and tender texture alongside a sticky glaze that almost adheres to your teeth. Unsurprisingly, Char Restaurant’s Signature Char Siew ($27 for 300g) ticks all the boxes. With over 25 ingredients in the marinade alone, and undergoing 3 different cooking processes before being served, each bite of the char siew encapsulates impeccable flavours.
Who could talk about Cantonese roast meat without crispy roast pork, or siew yoke? Char’s Crispy Roast Pork Belly ($27 for 300g) embodies the perfect blend between East and West, marrying unprecedented flavours with traditional roasting methods that promises an airy, crispy skin alongside tender meat. Meanwhile, Western herbs—ranging from oregano to thyme and basil—gives this roast a flavour profile that is unlike any other siew yoke on the market, or what is common within Singapore’s culinary scene.
“If you taste our roast pork, there’s a hint of something—you just can’t put your finger on it,” he says. “It’s more flowery because of the herbs that we use.”
Finding his way to success with dedication
Though Anthony has finally turned his lifelong dream into a concrete reality with Char Restaurant’s success, working in a kitchen never is and will be a rosy affair.
“You have to get your hands dirty,” he says. Washing dishes, mopping the floor, wiping grease from the extractor fans—these are a given for those who live and breathe food.
“If you’re not willing to do that, if you’re gonna go, ‘Ugh, that’s very icky’, it’s not for you.”
But if you say, “Yes, I want to do whatever it takes to make this thing work”, then you’re 90% of the way there.
Anthony Ung from Char Restaurant shares the key to success in F&B — dedication.
Anthony’s story is testament that it is never too late to chase after what you have always dreamed of, what you’re most passionate about, and what makes your heart beat. Risks do pay off with years of effort, dedication, and sacrifice.