The French Kitchen
It’s hard to come by authentic French establishments these days. Far too many cafes, bistros and restaurants quietly serve up fusion fare, sneaking in herbs and spices otherwise never used in French cooking. But, as Jean Charles Dubois proudly declared himself, The French Kitchen has the pleasure of offering bona fide, untainted French menu selections for lunches and dinners at incredibly reasonable prices. The menus change every now and then, and so if you’re in luck, there’ll be caviar, if not, then pan-seared foie gras, sea scallops, veal or duck leg confit and a myriad of other very possible appearances by seasonal French ingredients may pleasantly surprise you.
The French Kitchen is situated in Central Mall at Magazine Road, a little ways from Clarke Quay and should not be confused with The Central that is directly above Clarke Quay station.
It’s a humble restaurant and seats about 30 people modestly. We easily took up half the seating capacity, walking in blearily after finally having found our way through the downpour that day for a three-course lunch.
The decor is bright, elegant and minimalistic, none of that froufrou ambience characteristic of French fine-dining establishments. It isn’t casual, oh definitely not, but it’s comfortable, and there is nothing else more satisfying than dining at ease, without a choking collar of propriety around your neck.
Raisin bread, wholemeal bread.
It is expected that there be complimentary yeasty carbohydrates, but I certainly was a little astonished that they served up a mixture of crusty slices of sweet raisin and savoury whole meal breads. It’s a welcome change, and a very delightful nibble.
Salmon Rillette. Thyme Butter.
And I would like to declare that any place that jazzes up their butter and spreads will get a good standing in my book even before the big French guns start their procession out of the kitchen. Since I’m not a stranger to having the tingle of sweet and salty all at once on my tongue, I didn’t hold back on the luscious Salmon Rillette or the salted Thyme butter. They were interesting, and – like all things unfamiliar – were duly greeted with a little hesitation from us before we started diving in with our butter knives in earnest.
Amuse-bouche: Toasted Brioche, Parmesan Crisp and Cauliflower Soup.
This was unexpected, as is expected of an amuse-bouche. I hadn’t a clue that such a course existed, let alone that when it is translated to English, it literally means ‘mouth amuser’. Adorable! As if I needed another reason to love French indulgences. An amuse-bouche isn’t ordered by anyone and comes free, courtesy of the chef’s hospitality and artistry, as well as a teaser for what’s to come. It’s meant to surprise – gasp! – as a little something extra.
And by little, I do mean quite little – in a nice way of course – because I had to chuckle at how the cauliflower soup (potently fragrant with truffle oil, I’m sure of it.) came in a shooter, and perhaps is best drunk as a shot but I preferred to sip at it, letting it coat the tongue like liquid velvet. This was something I could easily reserve bragging rights for the number of shots downed in a sitting.
That said, truffle isn’t for everyone, just like how some others preferred to dunk their brioches into the shooter of soup. But how I love its unmistakable scent.
Bisque de Homard: lobster bisque, tiger prawn beignet and leek custard.
Each of us had a choice of three dishes for the first and second course, and a choice between two desserts for our third.
For the first, I knew what I wanted even before looking at the other two. And so I had my first Lobster Bisque.
Also, leek custard. Now that’s another first.
And what an intriguing addition to a bisque, although ‘addition’ seems like quite an affront since the custard should, in my opinion, just be an integral part of every other lobster bisque with how fantastically it complimented the heady richness of the soup. The custard is simple, uncomplicated, smooth and warm, and anyone apprehensive of its delicate green hue should just close your eyes and eat. I find its colour a lovely contrast to the bisque’s fiery orange.
The lobster bisque one of the better tasting ones say a couple of the GC people, and I can’t agree more. The bisque is complex, with a staggering number of layers to its depth and an incredibly concentrated broth so sweet and flavourful it made the back of my throat tingle. The wait staff serve it separate from the prawn beignet, pouring it in only when everyone has had their soup bowl of fried prawns and leek custard in front of them – something I was appreciative of since I don’t fancy soggy fried food. I haven’t had any other lobster bisque to base this on, but I’m sure this set the bar way up high.
Fromage de Chevre Chaud: warm goat's cheese on brioche, spinach salad and walnut vinaigrette.
Although I chose the Lobster Bisque in a heartbeat, the other two first-course dishes faired very well with everyone else.
If you love goat’s cheese, then this will please you very much. I can’t find any reason why two sizable discs will not.
I personally relish the pungent aroma of goat’s cheese. In fact, the stinkier, the better.
Oeuf et Champignon: slow poached hen's egg, mushroom truffle veloute and sel de Guérande toast.
Those who ordered this gave it the thumbs up and sung praises of its intense mushroom soup and tender braised oxtail.
They were too far away from me to steal a taste. Quel dommage!
Confit de Canard: duck leg confit with truffle mashed potatoes and marinated cherries.
This second-course dish was meant to be a duck breast confit, but chef Jean Charles Dubois changed it to the popular duck leg for our hungry entourage, and very aptly, might I add, because almost everyone picked this out of the three available choices.
Yet perhaps it was because of the large volume of duck legs that the kitchen needed to churn out from the moment the first-course was done that there were some inconsistencies in the pan-searing. Some weren’t browned and crisped proper and were a tad disappointing in that respect, and although tasty, the meat wasn’t falling-off-the-bone tender. The truffle mash however, was divine.
Brochette de Boeuf et Frites: Skewer of Angus beef striploin, glazed champignon de paris, French fries
The mushrooms were excellent according to the one GC member who chose this (duck leg confit has gained much pomp and popularity in recent years it seems) and the beef was a perfect medium-rare. The thick-cut fries which came in a separate pot were sweet potato fries apparently, and he didn’t quite take to them.
Cabillaud et Jus de Moules: pan seared cod fish fillet, artichoke puree, bouchot mussel emulsion
I managed to steal a bite of the cod and it was then that I realised the beauty of austere cooking – doing as little as possible to something that’s already perfect in itself. Why mess up something good? The cod was of superb quality and only salted lightly. And perhaps that was all the seasoning it got before being pan-seared in a little butter of course. But other than that, it was just the natural sweetness of the fish which was surprisingly devoid of cod’s unique fishiness. I found myself nodding approvingly at its simplicity.
Sabayon au Champagne:gratinated red berry sabayon with wild forest berries ice cream
With the second course done and cleared, the desserts started parading out, and at this point in time we were already well pampered and feeling truly indulgent from all the richrichrich food we’ve consumed so quickly amidst chit and chatter.
There were two choices for dessert, and while most of us clearly couldn’t resist the calling of crème brulee (chocolate!!), there were those who were more interested in the sabayon. They came floating out of the kitchen first and were piping hot underneath that golden brown gratinated layer. The forest berry ice cream threatened to completely liquify but boy was it smooth and good with the steaming custard.
Crème Brulee: dark chocolate crème brulee with vanilla ice cream
Aha! I was waiting for this. Save the best for last huh, and it was. I dug in almost urgently, breaking through the layer of burnt sugar and deep down into the chocolate, the texture very much resembling that of a smooth mousse. In fact, it oozed and flowed languidly, just like how lazy, sexy chocolate should. And I don’t quite know how to begin on the ice cream because it wasn’t nauseatingly creamy, like many ice creams out there, but was…smooth. Almost liquid-y smooth and silky, except that it hadn’t completely melted. It was baffling. I’m still baffled. It was excellent, and paired with the square of crunchy biscuit and thick chocolate…this is the dessert to have after an already wonderful meal.
With Chef Jean Charles Dubois
We had the pleasure of Chef Jean Charles Dubois himself coming out to spend a little time with us, because I would think that after cooking up a storm in the kitchen for our bunch, he would’ve liked to know who were the monkeys maxing out his kitchen and floor staff and making his pregnant wife, Amanda Ee-Dubois, run about. To be honest, I was truly honoured that he took the time to sit down and have a little chat with us, because it’s nice to put a face to all the food that we’ve had the pleasure of eating. And if cooking just a meal with two mains and a side to share (say, pasta, salad and a soup) for a family is hard enough, then kudos to anyone who can whip up a three-course lunch with differing orders for a whole herd of tertiary students.
The French Kitchen doesn’t serve cheap French fare. What a terrible description. It is affordable, rather, and very much so. $36++ for set lunches and dinners ranging from $68++ to $88++, I doubt you’ll find that anywhere else. I’ll come back here over a buffet anytime.
So you’ve never had French before (that croissant from Deli France doesn’t count)? Make this your first. I’ll be back for Round 2 soon.
7 Magazine Road (off Merchant Road)
#01-03, Central Mall
Tel: +65 6438 1823
Fax: +65 6438 3043