From the sublime to the ridiculous, and from the pretentious to the plebeian, Singapore’s francophilic culinary community is whipping up everything from traditional garlic snails and frogs’ legs to the foams and trompe l’oeil confections of cutting edge molecular gastronomy. Here’s a good sample of what’s out there. Bon appétit!
Swissôtel The Stamford
+65 6837 3322
Located on the 70th floor with glass walls overlooking an uninterrupted vista of city, sea and sky, Jaan probably has the best view in Singapore. And the new winter degustation menu by young chef André Tsiang (see profile, next page) has to be at least one of the best in town.
All eight courses – sangria a la framboise, legumes oubliés, ventreche de ton ootoro (super-fatty tuna), foie gras et cepes, goby et son coulis a la setoise, boeuf aux pommes rotis revisite, citron a la pomme vertes, and chocolat a la vanille avec fromage blanc aux fraises – were exceptional and perfect, but we have space here to acclaim only a few.
The amuse bouche – hot crab sandwiches with potato – is genuinely amusing. When the Perspex dome is lifted from the serving board, the trapped smoke dissipates to reveal morsels that are in fact chilled, a feat of trompe l’oeil that makes us giggle out loud. The Ruinart Rosé champagne helps, too.
His personal philosophy, which is as attractive as the man himself, inspires each of Tsiang’s dishes. Legumes oubliés, for example, is a selection of “forgotten vegetables” flown in weekly from a farm north of Paris. It includes earthy purple carrots (the original colour of this vegetable, we discover, only later bred to be orange in a sycophantic bid to please members of the Dutch royalty – the House of Orange), yellow baby beetroot, delicious romanesco (an ancient variety of cauliflower) and other delights, cooked simply sous vide with a little salt and served in tiny portions arranged like a work of art with ocean trout confit and olive oil sorbet.
And instead of bringing in red mullet from Brittany for the fish course, Tsiang chooses the local goby, caught and bought fresh every day. Lightly scented with Pernod and served with baby endive, it’s divine. The main course of Wagyu beef (grade 9) is complemented with a green pea puree and tiny but memorable truffle-topped roast potatoes, and I can see from that faraway look in my smitten husband’s eyes that it won’t be another five years before we’re back at Jaan. Don’t we have business guests to entertain next week?
The degustation menu is $240 per person (or $390 with wine pairings). An a la carte menu is available for lunch and dinner, and there is a three-course set lunch at $58.
100 Turf Club Road
+65 6877 1191
Visit www.picotin.com.sg for home-delivery details
Maybe it’s the equestrian-themed surrounds. After all, Picotin (the name refers to a ration of horse’s oats) is located among the restored stables of Singapore’s old racecourse; the kitchen was once the jockeys’ washroom.
Whatever the reason, our 18-month-old daughter chooses dinnertime at this tranquil suburban restaurant to behave as friskily as an unbroken pony.
The staff handles her antics with aplomb. Meanwhile, my partner and I tuck into some “grandmotherly French”. That’s how manager Jacky Stevens describes the Picotin menu to us.
She’s right, too. After a sextet of wickedly garlicky snails ($14), a plate of beef bourguignon ($27) proves as home-style as it gets: chunks of dark, Pinot-steeped cheek fall apart at the touch of a fork. (Is there any better side dish than buttery mash, by the way?) Baby roast lamb ($24) is similarly rustic and hearty. Next visit I’m trying the rabbit confit.
By the time a hot and gooey sticky-date pudding emerges ($10), our daughter is finally showing signs of tiring – unlike the couple beside us who are just getting started on a wood-fired pizza with pepperoni and spicy minced pork ($21).
Picotin is just a furlong or two off Bukit Timah Road, but it feels like a country mile. A great escape, with great food to match. Perfect for a lazy weekend breakfast, too. (Full sets are from $12.)
The French Stall
544 Serangoon Road
+65 6299 3544
This place might be worth visiting for its unusualness alone – a real Frenchman serving authentic French cuisine on Little India’s Serangoon Road?
Starters range from $4.80 for the soup to a hefty $22.80 for the foie gras. The better of our two starters is the chicken liver pâté, served with Delifrance bread. The green-lipped moules mariniere ($8.20) are disappointing, the liquid a bit sour and tasteless.
Meat dishes ($15 to $22) include a pedestrian pork Kiev stuffed with ham and cheese, lifted by a yummy mushroom sauce but let down by a pile of greasy potatoes. My duck is a bit stringy, but the lentils it sits on are delicious, and the bit of foie gras perched on top of it s suitably succulent. A few green beans – anything green, really – would have been nice. It’s a good crème caramel ($5.20); the giant profiterole is so-so.
You get something of the flavour of France and none of the finesse. But the place is full every night, says owner Xavier Le Henaff. Part of me wanted The French Stall to be good, or at least good value. I’m not sure it’s either. Quel dommage.
Brasserie Wolf Restaurant
#01-13 The Pier at Robertson
80 Mohamed Sultan Road
+65 6835 7818
Tucked away in Robertson Quay, the Brasserie serves up authentic French bistro fare in generous portions at good prices, something that can be hard to find in Singapore. You can dine alfresco next to the river, or in the spacious interior.
Our tasty meal began with a traditional French onion soup and a creamy lobster bisque, after which we sampled a number of delicious appetisers. The steak tartare with green salad was a meal in itself, while the blue cheese salad had just the right amount of zing and was a great complement to the other flavours.
From a vast choice of main dishes, we tried the exquisite veal chop, served with a full-flavoured forest mushroom sauce (best mopped up with fresh baguette) and mashed potatoes. We also recommend the crispy duck leg confit served with bacon, poached egg, sauté potatoes and a mesclun salad.
No meal is complete for me without a decadent dessert, and here Brasserie Wolf certainly delivered. The choux buns with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce were delightful, but my sweet pick of the night was the Valrhona warm pistachio chocolate cake. Take your time over this one and watch the world go by.
The service was friendly and attentive and the choice of wines extensive. Starters cost from $12 to $28 and main courses are $22 to $45. Remember to look at the daily specials board, too.
36 Purvis Street
+65 6338 8955
Chef Gunther Hubrechsen, of Belgian descent, was at Les Amis before opening his own restaurant in 2007. Here you can have a meal tailored according your taste, dietary requirements and the size of your party.
“Many of our customers do not even see a menu,” he says. “They leave it up to me to choose their meal.”
Anywhere else and you’d be taking a risk, but not here. Gunther is a genius at marrying flavours; each dish is created by a process of untiring trial and error until he is satisfied with it.
The consommé with black truffle and French onion is a magnificent example of his craft. Paired with a glass of dry sherry – recommended by the brilliant sommelier – it is delicious, and any residual soup is deftly mopped up with bread.
Although we weren’t totally enamoured with the cold angel-hair pasta with oscietre caviar ($60), everything else was love at first bite: carpaccio of Wagyu beef tartare with crispy potato ($30); pan fried foie gras with crushed candied almonds and confit of date ($40); Alaskan crab leg with chilli monto poro; roasted Wagyu beef with a cognac flambé (not on the menu); and fine apple tart with Havana rum-and-raisin ice cream ($20). (Prices may vary depending on ingredients and portion size.)
Harbour Grill & Oyster Bar
Hilton Hotel, 581 Orchard Road
+65 6730 3393
Lacking either a harbour view or a bar, this has nevertheless been a long-time favourite for upmarket, classic French cuisine. And the new menu presided over by young Senior Sous Chef Alexandre Lazachmeur has received a potent injection of Asian inspiration.
The synergy between him and sommelier Jean Christophe, who suggested outstanding wine pairings and served the meal in a most entertaining way, was a pleasure to see.
My Hokkaido scallops ($35 or $48) were nicely undercooked but with a satisfying texture, their seared-in flavour refreshed with pomelo, blessed with caviar and mysteriously shrouded in foam. Roy’s duck consommé ($23) was delightful, infused with lapsang souchong tea and poured over a nest of smoked duck wantons. Jean Christophe paired this dish perfectly with an oaked Napa Valley chardonnay, and also – most adventurously – with a smoky, peaty single malt, Ardbeg Connoisseur’s Choice 1996. My cod ($48) had been marinated in soya sauce before being steamed, unusually but fairly successfully. But we found the pan-fried pigeon ($51) was somewhat overpowered by its crust of ground spices, and the accompanying daikon too acidic.
A Grand Marnier orange sorbet confection ($27) rounded off the meal in zesty fashion.
The new fusion menu is in addition to the traditional French one that won the Harbour Grill such a strong following, especially among Singaporeans.
Le Pont de Vie
26 Kandahar Street
+65 6238 8682
Singapore’s hip crowd is drawn to the colourful Malay heritage site of Kampong Glam, where quaint streets are lined with exotic Asian and Arabic food stalls. So, it may seem a tad incongruous to locate a French restaurant on Kandahar Street. But therein lies its charm, for Le Pont De Vie prides itself on being unique and contemporary, with just a nod to the French culinary tradition.
The award-winning restaurant, relocated from Waterloo Street just six months ago, offers an innovative menu featuring gourmet European dishes with a French twist and a smattering of Asian flavours. It is complemented by the talents of manager and wine expert Tye Yee Nen whose energy and charisma create an impression within this intimate and chic setting that seats just 26 people.
Noteworthy is the starter dish of sea scallops on soba noodles ($20), which comes with an avocado salad and chilli miso dressing. It scores high for its freshness and subtle flavours. The wild sea bass on cabbage with risotto comes with a chilli crab sauce ($30), which has a good, spicy kick to it without being overpowering.
The portions are generous, and, although fit to burst, we couldn’t leave without sampling the Bailey’s Irish cream cheesecake ($18), a splendid dessert that begged to be savoured down to the last crumb.