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Restaurant review: The best of French cuisine in Singapore

 

We’ve got to hand it to the French. In the past year, Singapore has seen an explosion of new French restaurants. In honour of Bastille Day on 14 July, here is a roundup of some of the newcomers that are making waves – from an up-and-coming hawker to exalted celebrity chef establishments.

Name: Le Petit Cancale

Location: 37 Duxton Hill | 6534 7671

Chef: Damien Le Bihan, group executive chef (also of L’Entrecôte, Sabio, Forlino and 83)

Region of Cuisine :  Brittany

Background Story: This pretty French restaurant serving ocean platters and grilled seafood is named after Cancale, the oyster capital of Brittany from where Louis XIV is said to have brought in his oysters.

The Experience: This atmospheric, packed restaurant is the latest addition to Duxton Hill. The menu largely features platters of cooked, cold seafood – crab, lobster, oysters, shrimps, prawns, langoustines, clams, whelks and winkles – served in different combinations on long-legged stands; such as Le Petit Cancale for one or two people ($90), a spectacular dish that would impress any date – visually at least.

Taste-wise, the oysters were the standout. Dedicated solely to them, the Oyster Platter ($68) has six varieties, and champagne to swallow them down with, of course.

Dishes served warm include grilled lobster, oysters au gratin and seabass. If there’s anyone at your table who doesn’t eat seafood, tant pis; but there are grilled lamb chops ($25) or they can tuck straight into dessert or l’assiette de fromages ($24).

Beate Baldry

Name: Guy Savoy

Location: Level 2, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands (above the casino) | 6688 8513

Chef: General Manager Eric Bost

Back ground Story: Guy Savoy is the youngest of the group of French chefs who invented “Nouvelle Cuisine”, a lighter expression of traditional French food, and his eponymous restaurants in Paris and Las Vegas have three and two Michelin stars respectively.

The Experience: You’re unlikely to be a chance visitor to Guy Savoy, located as it is above the massive Marina Bay Sands casino – unless you’re a high roller, that is, flush with winnings and of a mind to spend part of them on some of the best food in the world.

This is the sort of place where the amuse bouche – the actual amuse bouche – arrives after your bouche has already been triply amused by three yummy little things on silver toothpicks, including a tiny “club sandwich” of foie gras with truffle vinaigrette. (Similarly, tiny pre-dessert desserts start the descent into a sugar coma at the other end of the menu.)

Then there’s superb Iberian ham, sliced at the table from a large and lovely leg complete with still-furry hoof. Rosemary-infused crusty bread, a choice of gourmet butters, cracked pepper from Pondicherry and fleur de sel say it’s time to ditch this low-carb nonsense, so we do.

A restrained menu of six starters ($50-$90), seven mains ($90-$200) and five desserts ($50) features several long-time Guy Savoy signature dishes. Our favourite is the artichoke and black truffle soup with toasted mushroom brioche and black truffle butter – brioche-dunking is actively encouraged, you’ll be pleased to hear. Before that comes an oyster in a nage gelée, and a cold Maine lobster dish shrouded in icy steam and accompanied with cold lobster bisque. After it, pigeon poché-r ô ti in the style of spring, and a chocolate orb, filled with fresh fruit and sorbet and topped with hot mango coulis.

Suggestion: Try the four-course Menu TGV ($150), which changes daily; or the six-course Menu Elégance ($250).

Wines start at $160 per bottle; tonight’s selection by the glass includes the lovely house Champagne Guy Savoy, a light and creamy Limoux chardonnay, a well-balanced Château le Puy Bordeaux and – wonder of wonders! – our favourite South African dessert wine, Vin de Constance, from Klein Constantia.

Though elegant, the place is not stuffy at all; and that’s due to the warmth and personality of an impeccably well-informed team.

Verne Maree

Name: Saveur

Location: 5 Purvis Street | 6333 3121 and Far East Plaza, Scotts Road

Chefs: The two founding chefs have excellent pedigrees, both having started out as trainees at Raffles Hotel. Joshua Khoo See Sen did an apprenticeship at landmark Sydney restaurant Tetsuya’s, and returned here to work at FiftyThree and Guy Savoy. Dylan Ong Shun Ping worked at Singapore institution Flutes at the Fort.

Region of Cuisine: Singaporean interpretations of French classics.

Back ground Story: Saveur started life as a hawker stand in Joo Chiat, and relocated to a new air-conditioned restaurant in April. The modestly priced food has attracted a legion of fans.

The Experience: The popularity of Saveur and its no-reservation policy sees a queue snaking outside before the 6pm opening time, but it’s all very orderly. Once you’re seated, the waiters are attentive; a note in the menu requests patience, but on our visit the food arrived in timeously.

For starters, our group of four shares two servings of duck rillettes with thinly sliced bread ($4.90), which is a little bland but does assuage the hunger pangs. We’ve brought our own wine ($15 corkage) and happily quaff an Australian rosé until the mains arrive.

We’ve chosen four very different dishes. The confit of duck ($13.90) is tender, flavoursome and served on a bed of creamy mash. The crispy barramundi with crab potato and French beans ($12.90) is almost inhaled by the hungry banker, who then gives it the thumbs up. The crispy pork belly with poached egg and lentils ($10.90) is tender and moist, but sadly lacking the promised crackling. Beef bourguignon ($13.90) does not resemble the traditional casserole; we suspect it was cooked sous vide and the succulent but somewhat fatty meat sliced thinly and served on a bed of sautéed vegetables with a cracking potato gratin laced with garlic.

We sample all three desserts on offer and agree that the standout is the chocolate and hazelnut mousse ($7.90), which is arranged on the plate with artistic flourishes and lashings of nuts.

At these prices, Saveur can be a weekly indulgence, and the food is worthy of repeat visits. It will be interesting to see if the energetic chefs add new elements to the menu to keep regulars coming back.

Katie Roberts

Name: L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon

Location: Hotel Michael at Resorts World Sentosa | 6577 7888

Chef: Lorenz Hoja

Back ground Story: Though the term “celebrity chef” is used rather loosely these days, few are more deserving of the moniker than Joël himself – a man once dubbed “Chef of the Century” by Gault Millau. With more Michelin stars than any other chef in the world – 28 to be exact – Robuchon upped Singapore’s culinary stock last year with the long-anticipated opening of the world’s eighth L’Atelier.

The Experience: Save for high-end sushi establishments, it feels somewhat bizarre to pull up to a bar for an evening of haute cuisine. But that is exactly the idea here. L’Atelier removed the wall between guests and chefs by inviting you to sit around the perimeter of the open kitchen for a front-row view of culinary creativity at play – and a little friendly banter with Chef Hoja and his trusty side-kick, sommelier Michael Leitner.

You can order à la carte, but the Discovery menu ($260) is a ten-course ensemble that, true to its name, promises to take your palate to places it’s likely never been. I’m as annoyed as the next guy at the hyperbolic posturing that abounds on food network shows, yet one bite of the amuse bouche – a foie gras custard with a layer of red Porto wine and parmesan foam – and an involuntarily moan escaped my lips. True, L’Atelier is more casual than Robuchon’s reputation might convey (the term is relative, of course, as the interior is the embodiment of ultra-swank), but the clientele is a discerning crowd. Openly fawning all over the meal won’t be appreciated. So, I checked my emotions for the next few dishes – king crab wrapped cannelloni-style in a Japanese daikon, hot spinach velouté on a delicate nutmeg royale, and a phenomenal pan-seared foie gras with cherries, rosemary and sumac – each more complex than the next, and expertly paired with tipples, ranging from a rich 2001 Vincent Girardin Meursault Les Genevrières to a thick, golden sherry.

In true Robuchon style, ingredients are king – the techniques may very well glide over your head, but you’ll at least recognise what you’re eating. Take, for example, the desserts: a creamy citrus coconut ice cream, or Araguani chocolate with cacao sorbet and Oreo crumbles(yes, that Oreo).

Though casual, this will cost you. But you’re still likely to walk away with a smaller bill than what you’d rack up at the Joël Robuchon Restaurant next door, a traditional fine dining hall best left for those who consider matters of price to be of no concern.

Monica Pitrelli

Name: Balzac Brasserie | 6336 0797

Location: 9 Bras Basah Road, #01-01 Rendezvous Gallery

Chef: Jean-Charles Dubois

Region of Cuisine: The Loire Valley, land of fairytale castles and crisp white wines. Back ground Story: Born into a family of chefs in Angers, in the Loire Valley, the chef’s interest in food started in his family’s kitchen in France. He moved to Singapore in 2004 and has since worked at Raffles Hotel. He was behind The French Kitchen, which specialised in simple, rustic recipes from his family kitchen.

The Experience: The interior has literally been imported from France. The chairs, the bar and the knick-knacks (including novels by its namesake) have all been handpicked and shipped to Singapore to provide a genuine Parisian je ne sais quoi. My Francophile friend and I were welcomed in French by a happy and attentive waiter and we were delighted to find that the menu read like a Larousse of hearty French bistro classics.

My lobster bisque ($16) arrived with a pleasingly foamy top, but thank goodness the foie gras de Castaing ($24) was big enough to share because I got food envy the moment it arrived. Next came succulent duck confit ($26) with a perfectly crispy skin, on a bed of smooth and creamy mashed potato. I watched my pal tuck into beef cheeks à la cuill è re ($26) and she assured me they were deliciously tender.

Although we were stuffed, we spent the next hour nibbling on a well-balanced cheese platter ($22) and were blissfully left to do so without being rushed or pestered. Balzac’s specialty is providing a comfortable, genuine bistro setting and hearty, home-cooked French fare.

Kate Mallord

Name: db Moderne Bistro

Location: #B1-48 Marina Bay Sands | 6688 8525

Chef: Daniel Boulud’s legacy in the capable hands of Executive Chef Stephane Istel

Back ground Story: A remarkable Parisian bistro in Asia, db Moderne Bistro’s roots go back to Chef Boulud’s first gastrobaby, “Daniel”. Perched in New York’s Upper East Side, Daniel is Michelin-starred, frequented by adoring celebs and the stars keep coming. With ventures in Miami, Vegas, Vancouver and Beijing, db Bistro Moderne at MBS is Singapore’s understated counterpart. Bistro, however, is something of a misnomer – the impeccable food and service, high ceilings and seductive dark wood encapsulate all we love about fine dining, minus the pompous pouts and extravagant costs.

The Experience: We recommend the Gillardeau oysters ($9 each) set with a lemongrass cream and caviar and the assiette Lyonnaise ($26), an assortment of cured meats and house-made terrines with toasted sourdough. For the main event, share the famed original db burger ($36), an indulgent sirloin patty stuffed with braised short ribs and foie gras on a Parmesan bun.

If you’re there on a Monday evening, take a walk down memory lane with Chef Stephane’s three course Alsatian menu ($68, add $32 for wine pairing), a cuisine characterised by rustic simplicity and full flavours. Harking back to his mother’s cooking in Alsace, it begins with the tarte flambée, a traditional Alsatian flat bread topped with fromage blanc, bacon and onion. Then follows the choucroute royale – organic suckling pig prepared eight different ways, including three rustic sausage styles: knack, boudin noir and one made with juniper berries and pork confit. If you’re struggling for space, take a breather and finish off light with the kirsch soufflé, ice cream and basket of warm, house-made madeleines ($8).

Leanda Rathmell

Recommendations:

We polled our staff for their favourite French places in town. Here’s a list of the names that came out on top:

Absinthe

72 Boat Quay

6222 9068 | www.absinthe.sg

Au Petit Salut

40C Harding Road

6475 1976 | www.aupetitsalut.com

Bistro du Vin

1 Scotts Road, #02-12 Shaw Centre | 6733 7763

56 Zion Road | 6836 6313

www.lesamis.com.sg

Brasserie Gavroche

66 Tras Street

6225 8266 | www.brasseriegavroche.com

Brasserie Les Saveurs

29 Tanglin Road, St. Regis Singapore

6505 6866 | www.stregissingapore.com/BrasserieLesSaveurs

Flam’s (closed)

181 Orchard Road

#02-30 Orchard Central

6884 4202 | www.flams-asia.com

Gunthers

36 Purvis Street #01-03

6338 8955 | www.gunthers.com.sg

Le Bistrot du Sommelier

53 Armenian Street

6333 1982 | www.lebistrotdusommelier.com

Le Carillon de L’Angelus

41 Robertson Quay, #02-02 Tyler Print Institute | 6738 7429

24 Ann Siang Road | 6423 0353

Les Bouchons

7 Ann Siang Road | 6423 0737

Taratata Bistrot

35A Keong Saik Road

6221 4506 | www.taratata.sg

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