Thomas Lian Tze only works at one speed – full steam ahead. After a recent stint helming the pass at Greca, the talented chef is spreading his wings and opening his own venue and – as you might expect from someone who operates in high gear – he’s not doing things by halves. In February next year Thomas will open ēmmē (pronounced ’em’), a restaurant that will harness the power of woodfire and charcoal to turn out an ever-evolving array of flavour-packed fare. He’s snagged a prime location for the concept, taking over the site previously home to Spoon Deli Cafe, a long-running brunch slinger at the heart of James St Market.
The opportunity to open his debut venue in a prized spot on Brisbane’s most high-profile strip was one that Thomas couldn’t ignore. But he’s not letting the pressures that come with running a James Street restaurant cloud his vision for ēmmē, which will see the chef adopt a more fluid and easygoing approach to cooking couched in a sense of simplicity, humbleness and authenticity. “ēmmē is not a fine-dining restaurant – it’s more about the humble imperfections in food, where nothing comes out exactly the same,” Thomas explains. “In life, you need to let go sometimes.”
When it opens in February, ēmmē will offer breakfast and lunch services before eventually expanding into dinner. Though the menu will be broadly Mediterranean influenced, Middle Eastern inflections will add nuance to ēmmē’s offering. “I’ve been cooking Mediterranean food for nearly my whole career, so I understand the flavours really well,” says Thomas. “But I’m not only going to do Mediterranean. There’ll be some Tunisian, Persian and a bit of a Jordanian influence, too.”
Thomas will be sourcing the freshest hyper-seasonal local produce – everything from of-the-moment veg to quality meats and seafood – and then will construct the menu on the fly, heroing a main ingredient in each dish. “None of my dishes will have a name – I’ll just create as I go based on what I feel like that day,” says Thomas. “If capsicum is in season and eggplant is in season, I can just barbecue them, combine them together and make it to a puree. For breakfast I might do something like whipped fetta with fresh tomatoes and bit of green oil to drizzle.”
Thomas reveals that Marin Mamata from Cuttings Wine is consulting on the wine list, which will hit a number of crowd-pleasing beats and price points. “We will have a mixture of everything,” says Thomas. “Some Italian, French, Australian and New Zealand wines, plus an Australian sparkling, one prosecco and one champagne.” Felons Brewing Co. is providing the beers and there’ll be all the necessary gear on hand for boozy brunches.
Work will commence on ēmmē’s fit-out in the coming weeks, with Alkot Studio (the design team behind good-looking venues Pilloni and BŌS) and Tonic Projects coming together to craft an interior scheme that is minimalist and timeless yet raw and organic courtesy of the use of neutral tones. The restaurant will open its 44-seat interior space first, with a 2.4-m woodfire dome and open fire pit serving as the attention-grabbing fixture of the space (especially at night, when the lights dim), though an alfresco addition equipped with a high-end coffee bar serving Five Senses brew will be constructed at a later stage.
While the fit-out will be slick, Thomas is eager to make the atmosphere approachable. “This is very informally formal,” says Thomas. “I believe in being comfortable. If people want to dress up, go for gold. If you don’t really want to, that’s okay.”
ēmmē will open to the public in February. Stay tuned for more updates in the new year!