Next to MoMA, Singaporean Chef Akmal Anuar’s 53 Is a Culinary Work of Art

Named for its location at 53 West 53rd Street in Midtown, Anuar's contemporary Asian restaurant opened last month

July 26, 2022 6:00 am
The lower dining room at 53 is sight to behold.
A colorful piece of art connects lower dining room to the middle floor.
Evan Sung

From Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” to Salvador Dalí’s “The Persistence of Memory” to Andy Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans,” West 53rd Street in Midtown Manhattan is home to many a masterpiece.

Located directly next to the digs of those three works at the Museum of Modern Art at the base of the adjoining Jean Nouvel-designed residential tower at 53 West 53rd Street, a new piece of fine art courtesy of world-renowned Singaporean chef Akmal Anuar has taken up residence.

Named for its location, 53 is the fourth destination concept in New York City from restaurateur Ahmass Fakahany, and its contemporary Asian menu is designed to be an artful blend of the flavors and cooking styles of China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and other Southeast Asian nations. Adapted from traditional classics, trendy street foods and even some of Anuar’s childhood favorites, 53’s menu is meant to be high-end and modern as well as authentic and recognizable to members of the Asian community.

“When this project was being discussed in pre-pandemic times it was initially supposed to be Cantonese. Then I came to New York in 2021 and had a walk around,” Anuar, who is in Dubai overseeing his freshly Michelin-starred restaurant 11 Woodfire, tells InsideHook. “I saw downtown, I saw Chinatown, I saw everywhere. Then in Midtown, there was nothing that was just Asian. If something referred to being Asian it was always a Japanese or Chinese concept. I wanted to try to incorporate every small part of Asia and then make it contemporary but not too overcomplicated. The flavors are very clean, very simple.”

To help guests truly embrace the diversity of the dishes on offer, 53’s menu isn’t sorted by cuisine type and is instead ordered by temperature and preparation: Cold, Hot, Steamed, Grilled, Clay Pot and Wok. “Chefs play a very big part in this kitchen,” Anuar tells InsideHook. “We have people who specialize only on the wok. We have people specializing on the grill only working the grill. We cannot mix them all. It’s not like a Western kitchen where everything is pretty simple. It’s a different craft. I think it’s like you’re walking into a restaurant with a few restaurants.”

Whatever section a dish comes out of, only fresh seasonal and local ingredients are used to prepare it, and chef de cuisine Mark Yu is the one doing the preparation many nights while Anuar is overseas. “I don’t think you’ll find any restaurant like us in New York because we are embracing all different sorts of Asian cultures,” Yu, who is Korean but grew up in Los Angeles, tells InsideHook. “In the city, I feel like restaurants are usually straight Chinese, straight Japanese or straight Korean. You don’t see a lot of Southeast Asian added into that mix, especially at this sort of level of cuisine. The menu is sort of all over the place, but it works. And it tastes really good.”

To complement the colorful, yet tastefully simple (and tasty) menu and the chic aesthetic of the three-level restaurant’s interior, 53 also has partnered with Friedrich Petzel Gallery and features a curated installation of artwork from an avant-garde artist that will rotate every three to five months. The first in-residence artist is Jorge Pardo. Ross Bleckner will follow, and some combination of artists will also be included periodically.

For high art to merge with fine dining, the location really couldn’t be better. And, according to Yu, people are starting to notice. “It’s summertime in Midtown and the clientele is very mixed, but I’d say most nights over 60% is Asian,” he says. “I think that’s a good thing. Once you have Asians come in and approve, everybody else will follow. Word spreads.”


Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.