Hotel Wanderlust - Cocotte
When people think French, they think stifling fine-dining, measly portions, extravagant black tie affairs for people who have the luxury of time and money. I’m not going to lie that French food isn’t pricey, but I must draw a distinction between the classes of the French cuisine.
In layman terms, you have the fanciful – but no less artful – fine-dining style of cuisine, and then you have the tuck-a-napkin-into-your-collar-and-get-right-in-there peasant-style of French cooking.
Fresh flowers. No-frills decor.
For all those afraid of formality, well, you can chuck out that bowtie of yours because it’s just going to get in the way of the food and your mouth, and if anything, it’ll only be useful as far as that dribble of sauce down your chin is concerned. At Cocotte, you get incredibly rich gravies so thick they don’t splatter, hearty portions of meat and potatoes and all sorts of root vegetables, and flawless (and very liberal) amalgams of butter and wine.
You get down-to-earth, sincere food.
When I heard that Cocotte was nestled within a boutique hotel, named Wanderlust, one with 4 thematic floors, each designed by Singaporean designing agencies, and after chancing across pictures of their quirky, edgy rooms, I knew I had to pop by sometime. Not so much to see the rooms, of course, because that’ll just be odd since I have no reason to spend the night in Little India, but just to, you know, get a feel of the place since the very name of the hotel just reflects my longstanding affliction of not being able to travel much.
And then I actually saw pictures of Cocotte, the spunky yet provincial decor, with splashes of Le Creuset-themed colours (bold reds, blues, yellows, oranges, whites and blacks…) against rustic, unlacquered wooden furnishings, and saw pictures of the kinds of French country-style foods they whip up, and I really should have contained myself, but I didn’t – I made a reservation.
Beouf Bourguignon (supplement of $12 for the $29-per-pax set lunch)
Despite, once again, forgetting to request for a window seat when making reservations, the ambience was still warm and cosy (kinda…sort of…could’ve been better) even after finding ourselves sandwiched between two pairs of diners, barely an arms length away from our left and right. It’s not quite so pleasant finding yourself involuntarily eavesdropping into other people’s conversations, especially during a meal.
We sipped our fancy Fiji water (please try insisting for Tap Water, use the knives if you have to, because I’m not sure we were adamant enough about not paying $10 for fraken water), and we pored over the 3 different types of 3-course Set Lunches Cocotte offers, trying to make sense of their subtle differences in dishes and variations in price. There are three choices:
1. $29 per person: 1 Appetiser, 1 Main, 1 Dessert
2. $35 per pax for 2 diners: 2 Appetisers, 1 Main, Dessert Platter
3. $33 per pax for 4 diners: 3 Appetizers, 2 Mains, Dessert Platter
It’s all about the sharing at Cocotte. There are no gimmicks and neither are any cheaper than the rest. The differences lie in the number of dishes.
Turned out that we should’ve asked for help in understanding this unconventional arrangement, but considering how 2 out of 5 mains were unavailable, we really should have gone with the $35 for 2 pax, or at least would’ve appreciated some warning that the mains we happily chose without looking were a supplement of $12 each. But let’s talk about the food.
Roseatte - French cured pork sausage
The Fried Tripe is one of Cocotte’s signature dishes, and while I’m no stranger to tripe, it was surprisingly devoid of any offaly undertones, slightly chewy yet crisp on the outside, and zingy with a few drops of fresh lemon juice. Bow-and-tie fine-dining be damned because I was dunking them into the saucer of fantastic tomato coulis like some bozo.
Of course the curls of Roseatte beckoned with almost equal vigour, and it’s hard to go wrong with salty cured meats. It would’ve gone well with bread I’d think, which then got me curious as to when our basket of bread was going to come. It didn’t, but we didn’t miss it.
Roast Pork Collar (supplement of $12 for the $29-per-pax set lunch)
When you see this, you’ll get this image of scruffy herders returning home from the countryside after a long morning of cheese-making, plopping down at the table, taking a swig of vin rouge and diving into this.
People don’t see or have enough of these kind of French cooking. It’s messy yet not sloppily so, heavy yet hearty, rich yet fulfilling. And it’s all in the sauce. Thickened and luscious with copious amounts of butter (I’m assuming, safely), herbs and whole-grain Dijon mustard, it’s so full and flavourful you just want to slather it on everything – tongue included.
And do something for me will ya? Take half a brussels sprout, roll it in the pool of gravy, top it with the fried almonds and shove it in your mouth. Don’t argue with me. There’s no other way to eat brussels sprouts.
The pork is straightforward – tear it apart. It just falls apart yieldingly. I’m starting to think that the pork collar would be my favourite cut of the pig, next to the tenderloin.
And you can’t quite see them, but they’re behind all that mass. The sauteed forest mushrooms. They’re oily, juicy, garlicky and earthy.
Sorry to burst your bubble (and a couple of buttons) but this ain’t diet food. If anything, it is it’s antithesis. It’s to die for.
Something not quite worth your untimely demise however, was the Beef Bourguignon. It wasn’t bad. But that’s precisely the point. While the sauce was lush in its red wine reduction and oh-so-buttery, the beef chunks -sizable as they were – weren’t as tender as I’d imagined. We got distracted by the Pork Collar all in all.
By the time desserts rolled around, they almost had to roll along with us on the floor. Peasant French cuisine is not for the faint-hearted. It’s probably one of the richest, most flavourful cuisines you’ll ever taste, and it is simply incredible. But it’s not one you’d want to have every day.
That said, the crème brûlée was well-received by my dining partner, infused lightly with espresso and gorgeously torched.
Mine was the Chocolate Royal, and I’d happily have this for tea any day. Bitter-sweet chocolate mousse with a crunchy bottom (!). The almond brittle bits on top scored in my books as well. It’s heavy, for sure.
I’ll sum up the food at Cocotte in one word: Richrichrich.
From the get-go your palate gets treated like royalty. Then when you hit the mains, it explodes. Come dessert, it’s begging for sweet, sweet mercy.
I have just one recommendation for anyone keen on tackling Cocotte: Please go for the $35 for 2 pax Set lunch, ok?
It’s not any less forgiving on the richness, but you won’t have to pay that supplement of $12 for the Roast Pork Collar (because if you’re ordering 1 main, it has to be that and I don’t care). We didn’t see the +12 beside both our mains, so the ache in our tummies was compounded by the ache in the wallet.
Cocotte is easily a worthy contender against Bistro du Vin for quality Set Lunches, but if you compare a French bistro to a French home-cooked meal, you can’t get any more intimate with the humbler side of French cuisine than home-cooked can you? You eat like a peasant but feel like royalty.
2 Dickson Road, Ground Level Wanderlust Hotel, Singapore
Tel: +65 6298 1188
6.30pm – 10.30pm
6.30pm – 11pm
(Closed on Sun)