In celebration of one of the world’s most beloved cuisines, and in honour of Bastille Day on 14 July – generally called La Fête Nationale in France – we review some of Singapore’s favourite French dining spots.
Le Bistrot du Sommelier
46 Prinsep Street (now at 53 Armenian St)
+65 6333 1982
Admirably, my upstairs neighbours often walk from our Cavenagh Road block to this restaurant in a picturesque terrace of shophouses in Prinsep Street to have dinner – half an hour each way. It’s a good idea: the walk would burn off the dessert, at the very least.
I took a taxi, and not just because of laziness. Driving after drinking is not allowed, and this is Le Bistro du Sommelier, after all. What’s more, if you’ve read Superfreakonomics, you’ll know that your chance of being killed while walking in an alcoholic daze is much, much greater than if you were merely driving drunk.
LBDS serves generous portions of authentic, rustic French fare that will warm the cockles of your heart. Malinda and I shared everything and loved it all. The place is known for its charcuterie, so onto chunks of divine baguette we piled tender duck rillettes and a light but intensely flavourful chicken liver pate ($12.50 each). And even if you don’t like the idea of frogs’ legs ($24 for a big pile) you should try these supple little morsels sautéed with garlic and parsley.
Many of the dishes are designed for sharing. For mains, we could hardly finish our leg of lamb ($68), cooked to a turn, piled with soft-roast cloves of garlic and served with potato gratin. Superb.
We finished with the most generous cheese platter ($28) I’ve seen in a long time, then realised we’d been yakking for four hours. Amazingly for a week night, the restaurant was still full. It’s been two years since it opened, and it’s obviously doing extremely well indeed.
Best of all, the extensive wine list is not overpriced. And as you’d expect from a place owned jointly by a chef and a sommelier, food and wine pairing is the order of the day. Our lip-smacking Clos Marie l’Olivette 2006 Pic Saint Loup (from Languedoc Roussilon) was a reasonable $78; I’d order it again. And next time, if he’s been very good, I might even take Roy along to share it with me.
By Verne Maree
Le Saint Julien
#02-01 The Fullerton Water Boat House
+65 6534 5974
In a world over-run with experimental fusion and gastro-alchemy, sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and enjoy a languorous dinner with food that hasn’t been tinkered with, deconstructed, reconstructed, or turned into liquid nitrogen. To this end, then, you can’t get better than classic French – the granddaddy of all cuisines.
St Julien is the fine-dining epitome of this genre and Chef Julien Bompard, former Executive Chef at Raffles Hotel, is a genius. Most of his ingredients are imported from the motherland itself, and he does beautiful things with all of them.
The core menu rarely changes (why fix it if it ain’t broke?), but Chef Julien isn’t averse to dropping in the odd “off-menu” amuse bouche or surprise course. My delicately seared frogs’ legs with bacon and truffle emulsion, for example, was an exquisite surprise.
Both the bloke and I loved our elegantly presented meals. We’d highly recommend the escargots with spinach and red wine sauce ($25), slow-cooked egg with bacon and truffle emulsion served with wild mushroom ($36), lobster bisque ($28), classic beef tenderloin with red wine sauce ($64), and the most classic of French desserts, crêpes suzette ($44 for two persons), flambéed in front of us by Shari, the very friendly and knowledgeable maître d’. Each dish had an extraordinary depth of flavour – not to mention a healthy dollop of creamy butter – that had our taste buds whooping for joy.
On average, a meal here will set you back up to $200 per person (depending on which good French wine you order). You have a wonderful view over the river and the ambience is cosy and elegant. It’s the kind of place to go for something a little bit special.
By Deborah Goldman
24F Shangri-La Hotel
22 Orange Grove Road +65 6213 4598
Here’s hoping the delegates at last month’s Shangri-La Dialogue, Singapore’s important annual security summit, didn’t eat at the hotel’s 24th-floor restaurant, BLU. Otherwise the only Dialogue would have been about Chef Kevin Cherkas instead of the region’s pressing security concerns.
And rightly so – the guy is a wizard. Here’s a fellow who looks at food in a very different way to the rest of us. Kevin sees a regular toasted waffle, for instance, and wonders: “How could I fill those little square holes with something interesting?” (Answer: caviar, sour cream, chives.) A stint in Spain’s world-beating El Bulli restaurant doubtless left its mark.
To make the most of Kevin’s culinary creativity, try BLU’s unique tasting menu, “The Experience” ($139++). Same name as Jimi Hendrix’s band, and about as wild.
Before you eat – and after you’ve had your fill of the breathtaking views – Kevin grills you, so to speak, about your personal food likes and dislikes. Once my wife had rattled off her various phobias (mostly to do with molluscs, bones and fat), I informed the chef that I eat everything that moves and most things that don’t.
“Giddy up!” he said with a Kramer-like click of the fingers, then disappeared into the kitchen.
The two-hour taste adventure that followed offered highlights aplenty: Hawaiian calzone parcelled in an edible black velvet satchel; an extraordinary fish dish with a flavour profile that included pea, vanilla, puffed rice, octopus and bacon; a fizzy grape; a fairy-floss puff of southern-fried chicken; eggs like you’ve never had them before.
There was more – much more – but to tell all would be to spoil the surprise.
We shoehorned BLU into this month’s French dining roundup, which is probably fair enough considering the lobster thermidor, foie gras and other Gallic goodies we sampled. Strictly speaking, though, this is “progressive dining”. I have no idea what that means, but I know that I like it. A lot.
By Shamus Sillar
12 Chun Tin Road, Upper Bukit Timah
+65 6468 7433
Sometimes, the richest treasures can be found in the unlikeliest of places. At Vis-à-Vis we found unexpectedly exquisite food and service out in the suburbs.
Maître d’ and owner Jeremy Choo recommended a light and fragrant Chilean Sauvignon Blanc ($12.50 glass; $70 bottle). We’d heard that the French onion soup ($12.80) was to die for, and to that we can now attest. Jeremy also recommended the buttery rock melon bisque ($16.50), full of diced lobster meat and seasoned with a hint of nutmeg. If I didn’t love gooey Gruyere so much, I would have chosen the subtle bisque over the onion soup.
The sea bass ($36.50) was pan seared to perfection and served with ratatouille, carrot coulis and crisp shredded leek and celery.
Pretending we still had room left, we ordered the chocolate torte of all chocolate tortes. It’s secret? The dark cake oozes coffee paste instead of traditional chocolate paste, and is paired with banana in Jamaican coffee-flavoured rum served with homemade rum raisin ice-cream ($16.80). It was a struggle to finish, but somehow, we managed.
Sandwiched between a karaoke bar and a pizza joint on the far side of Bukit Timah, this place does not impress at first sight. But this was – hands down – the best meal we’ve had during our three years in Singapore.
By Meghann Collard
The French Kitchen
Central Mall #01-03
1 Magazine Road
+65 6438 1823
When two women friends get together for dinner à deux, especially two as gabby as Alix and me, it would be rather useful for them to have two mouths – one for talking and the other for eating.
My fears that we might not pay enough attention to the food prove completely unfounded. After having our bouches amused with Parmesan-topped poached eggs, Alix gently taps my arm with her fist to remind me that we’re supposed to be sharing my sublime lobster bisque and prawns beignets with leek custard – only after I’ve polished off all three prawns. Her seared Hokkaido scallop is interesting, but could have done without the pastry.
Both main courses are hard to fault: a small, crispy duck-leg confit with truffle potato puree; and a bourguignon of braised angus beef short rib with glazed onion, mushroom, seared pork belly and soft potato fondant. This time, we share. (The bruise is already beginning to show.)
For dessert-lovers, I can heartily recommend the rich, dark chocolate fondant with salted caramel ice cream.
This is traditional French food that is nevertheless light and flavourful. Long and narrow, the 35-seater restaurant is perfect for intimate dining or even for a party. It also does three-course lunches for $36, which Alix, who tried one a couple of months ago, says is outstanding value.
By Verne Maree
1F Raffles Hotel, 1 Beach Road
+65 6412 1816
“When in Singapore, feed at the Raffles.”
So spoke Rudyard Kipling and, following in the footsteps of the grand old chronicler of colonialism, my partner and I crossed the manicured gravel towards the Raffles Hotel for a spot of dinner.
After passing under the doorman’s narrowed eye, we shimmied into the Raffles Grill, a haven of gilded chandeliers, muted chatter and complex cutlery. Opting for the degustation menu ($185), first up on the hefty china plates came a lovely chicken confit terrine, served with brioche and a sweet jam. A Château d’Yquem wine proved a gorgeously rounded and fruity companion to the paté.
After a little champagne to clear the palate, at the recommendation of the resident sommelier, it was on to my personal favourite: veal sweetbread. Taken from the stomach or pancreas, this may not be on most people’s dining wish-list, yet these were golden morsels of creamy, salty deliciousness.
For mains we had a steamed sea bass, perhaps over-seasoned, with excellent tomato-stuffed calamari, and an exceptionally tender Angus beef tournedos on a bed of sautéed spinach; the accompanying horseradish-flavoured gnocchi lacked bite, we thought.
While the Earl Grey tea-flavoured chocolate tart was too sweet for my taste, it was delivered (as all the dishes were) in an impeccable manner by the immaculate wait staff.
By Joseph Jones
Our anniversary dinner at Les Amis au Jardin (+65 6466 8812) in the Botanic Gardens was outstanding. We sat on the glassed-in balcony and had the four-course degustation menu featuring foie gras, carpaccio of Wagyu beef with truffle, pigeon, suckling pig and more. Best of all, they took us back to the car in a golf cart! We also enjoyed the set lunch at Au Petit Salut (Harding Road, +65 6475 1976) for just $30: beetroot salad, mushroom risotto and the most beautiful crème brûlée.
Le Pont de Vie (26 Kandahar Street; +65 6238 8682) has an intimate ambience and is nice for a cosy dinner for two, or with another couple. On our last visit (May 2010), we enjoyed the lightest, fluffiest black truffle and cheese soufflé, yummy pan-fried foie gras, crispy duck-leg confit and grilled pork cheeks. They also do a three-course lunch for just $30 – great value!
I love French food and I would recommend:
Absinthe (48 Bukit Pasoh; +65 6222 9068) has a refined but casual setting, good for both romantic and business dinners. The chef is visible in the restaurant and makes you feel at home. And L’Angelus is a casual bistro with nice food and a killer chocolate cake. However, be prepared for inattentive staff that may forget you are there.
I like Absinthe as Chef Francois is skilled at injecting traditional French dishes with modern flair. The braised kurobuta pork belly with pickled daikon and star aniseed-infused jus is lovely and the degustation menu is great value at $98.
I’m a vegetarian, so French restaurants aren’t always great for me, but a while ago we went to Le Pont de Vie and they were fairly helpful. My meat-(but not beef)eating husband loved it.
I enjoy La Fondue (25 Dempsey Road; +65 6474 0204) and Les Bouchons Rive Gauche (41 Robertson Quay; +65 6733 4414). Simple food that tastes great.
Hediard (123-125 Tanglin Road, Tudor Court; +65 6333 6683) has a limited yet delicious menu, reasonable prices and great lunch specials.
We love Au Petit Salut at Dempsey; you can’t beat their lunch menu. And Le St Julien is ideal for very special occasions or smart business lunches.
Try Bistro du Vin (#02-12 Shaw Centre; +65 6733 7763) for great cuisine, friendly service and wonderful décor.