Crunchy Bottoms

Striking the caloric balance. Barely.

Category Archives: French

Le Bistrot du Sommelier – Reliable Bistro Fare

It’s been a while.

I’m aware that I’m not quite done waxing lyrical about Dario Cecchini, but I recently had great French bistro food, so this bears much gushing. Brace yourself. If I were to let it wait any longer, I fear that it may end up the way of all my other posts – abandoned or forgotten in a sad heap on my dashboard.

Now let’s just say that while bistro food in France is of unparalleled quality, Le Bistrot du Sommelier comes pretty darn close. I take my hat off to them.

I’d been here once, back when they were still at Prinsep. Dinner that night was cloaked in darkness, sitting at an outdoor table, with the only lights coming from the ghastly orange street light nearby and the pink neon sign from the next-door tenant. While I would have preferred to view my food in their natural colours, the food was spectacular. I vividly remember the unctuous, maddeningly tender joue de boeuf (beef cheek), garlicky cuisses de grenouilles (frog legs), and les profiteroles the size of my fist. Each.

Their new restaurant at Armenian Street now has two storeys and an alfresco area, and might I add that the second storey houses a rillette bar. When I first got wind of it, I swore I could have spasmed in sheer joy. Think of it this way: You can’t serve rillette at such affordable prices if it’s not homemade. These cured meat mixtures can be imported, but it’s easier to make a large batch to store – the longer the better. You can’t deny the appeal of homemade French charcuterie.

So, I mentioned its affordability. Now hold on to your seats, because you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere that serves charcuterie at such a price.

We ordered the Duck Rillette, as pictured above, at 100g for $10. I know! What sorcery is this?! Rillette anywhere else could run upwards of $15. It’s everything a good rillette should be. Salty, creamy, slightly chilled, and chunky. We schmeared it on bread, shovelled it in our mouths, and if we had ordered any more, I would have face-dunked in. Should you think that 100g is pricey, well, consider that it comes with a bowl of the cutest petits cornichons (baby gherkins), and imported French bread (I assumed so since they tasted like they were frozen before). 100g was sufficient for two people, and why would you want to order more when they have such a large variety of charcuterie?

Other than duck, they’ve got pork, rabbit, mackeral, and salmon rillettes. As if things couldn’t get any better, they have terrines and pâtés and saucissons. I was thrilled to spy an interesting Piegeon Mousse with Port Jelly (but alas, it was pricey), and wild boar sausage. 

Speaking of saucissons…

Iberico Ham. Cured for 18 to 24 months. $13 for 50g.

I’ve never seen Iberico at such a price. But wait! That’s not all! They have the option of Iberico de Bellota, cured for 30 to 36 months, at $20 per 50g!!! The questions that ricocheted off the walls in my head were something to the effect of, ‘How is this possible?!’, and ‘Where did they get it from?!’, but eventually settled on ‘You know what, I don’t care! It’s Iberico! Bring it on!’.

Cue the dramatic fanning and subsequent fainting.

I’m aware that all this gushing is a bit unbecoming, but the exclamation marks are only apt, for a fullstop would not give proper glory, laud, and honour to Iberico ham. I promise I’ll sound more proper onwards, now that I’m done hyperventilating.

I went almost giddy with delight when I saw that they served Pâté Lorrain, a mixture of meats baked in puff pastry. But it happened that they were sold out, so we got the Smoked Pork Bun Pâté ($6.50), which came as a palm-sized round of brioche, encasing a ball of pâté. It was moist, and was definitely tasty, but I was more enamoured with the thought of the Pâté Lorrain that we unfortunately couldn’t have.

Le Bistrot du Sommelier is known for their beef dishes, with an entire side menu of beef specialties on top of their already extensive charcuterie and main menu. The classics would include the côte de bœuf (a thick, bone-in rib steak), joue de bœuf (beef cheek), and tartare de bœuf (beef tartare)

That said, we got a Cassoulet Canard ($34) instead, a duck leg stew with a massive slab of tender pork belly, pork sausage, and white beans. I can’t quite think of anything else that could embody rustic, hearty French fare than a stew. The portion was generous, and the meats just sublime. It wasn’t out-of-this-world, but it was an excellent execution for sure.

Through the course of our meal, we had ginormous soufflés, fist-sized profiteroles, and deliciously burnt crème brûlées floating by our table, but we decided on a Gateau de Crepes ($14), essentially a stack of crepes filled with subtly sweet chestnut cream in between its layers. It’s not quite a powerfully sweet Mont Blanc, but it certainly was delicate and fluffy and had an adorable tumble of roasted French chestnuts.

So there we go – bistro fare at its best. Bistro ambience too if I should mention. The walls are a warm yellow, painted on brick, and it’s noisy and bustling with the clinks of wine glasses floating above raucous laughter and (if you listen hard enough) the gentle lilt of occasional French exchanged among the wait staff. Although we didn’t have any wine, it’s safe to say that for a bistro named after a wine steward, their wines should be exceptional.

Le Bistrot du Sommelier gets packed most nights, so reserve in advance. But if I wasn’t looking for a full meal, I could easily step in, head up to their second floor, and sit myself down at their Rillette Bar. It’s amazing, and that’s something to head back for, if not for the fact that it’s a road away from where I’m usually at every day. I don’t say this often about most places, but this is a reliable restaurant, and perhaps as authentically French as one could get. So, well, the gushing won’t end here.

Le Bistrot du Sommelier

Address: 53 Armenian Street

Tel: 63331982

Opening Hours: Mon- Sat, Lunch 12 to 3pm, Dinner 6 to 11pm

Restaurant Ember – Another great set lunch find

It’s not quite a well-kept secret anymore that Ember’s set lunches are an absolute steal. At $39.40++, their excellent 3-course lunch doesn’t just aim to impress, but to entice and rope you into repeated visits of your own will.

If you take a look at their 3-course set lunch menu, you will eventually realise that its stunning variety of dishes to choose from is meant to please, to befuddle, and to frustrate in the best way possible. Having to choose among 3 to 4 types of foie gras for your appetiser becomes what is possibly the best sort of happy problem there can be – because you will get your dose of fatty goose liver anyway.

Ember has been around for years now since it’s opening in 2004, fusing robust European cuisine with the intricacies of the Asian cuisine. It’s a modest restaurant located in Hotel 1929, a boutique hotel establishment, seating perhaps no more than 40 people in its airy interior that is furnished simply in light tones of brown. Lit warmly from the midday sunlight streaming in through its floor-to-ceiling glass windows, suffice to say, it was a welcoming setting for our little SMU Gourmet Club event (or perhaps not so little since we took up half the restaurant). Service was attentive and efficient from the get-go. Your napkin will remain on your lap as much as possible if the wait staff can help it.

A restaurant’s bread sets the stage, as most will agree. The tomato foccacia that floated out of the kitchen, while most of us were still bustling around and trying to settle down, was warm and crackly as good bread should be. It was perfumed with rosemary, thyme, and specks of sun-dried tomatoes, the combination and taste standing strong on its own without additional butter. But warm, crust, tender bread without butter? Who are you kidding? You’re already on a roll (pun-intended), so just go with it and start shmearing your bread.

The most outstanding appetiser went to the Roasted and Poached Foie Gras with Mirin, Shoyu, and Shiitake, essentially just fatty goose liver on a bed of braised shiitake mushrooms. But that’s an understatement, because the thick, sweet and salty Japanese-influenced sauce was a smashing hit with the juicy shiitake. Whip that all up with a slab of creamy foie gras poached to tender perfection, and you have a mind-bogglingly crazy-sounding ingredient combination that works. No figs, no apples, no prunes, nothing classically sweet in the dish at all. Just pure savoury bliss.

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Cocotte – French country cooking

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)

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Bistro du Vin #2

Bistro du Vin!

I used to shun set lunches like Singaporeans shun the sun (say that ten times fast). I mean, nondescript “Soup of The Day”s, “Garden Salad”s, and “Dessert of The Day”s? You get what they’re trying to do after a while – Cost cutting. You know, things that the chef or the kitchen needs to be rid of in a manner to avoid any wastage. Isn’t it perfect then, to feed the sorry souls hungry for a break from sitting at the desk who brighten up at the mere thought of a ‘3-course set-lunch’ the chowder from yesterday’s dinner rush, and a fritatta of last night’s leftovers?

Oh lordie, am I jaded much?

Right, enough of the mopey grousing over all the times I’ve been hoodwinked into forking out cash for crummy food. I should make it clear though, this does not mean I condone the fact that just because it is a set lunch and not an à la carte order for lunch/dinner, it is an excuse for serving less-than-excellent food. Nuh uh.

That being said, I declare that I am now a convert.

I now order set lunches with wild abandon. So shoot me.

Interior. Complimentary bread.

Bistro du Vin swept me away from my first visit about half a year back. It was dinner that I had then, and their rendition of the timeless Duck Leg Confit (confit de canard) had me weeping at the table with how delicately it literally melted off the bone, yielding to barely a prod of a knife, and had skin so fine and thin and crackly it was like a single, most intense moment of self-revelation – that it put the french in French cooking that I’d never realised before.

So then I heard that they offer equally, if not better, 3-course set lunches at $30++ that could potentially make me burst into tears, I had to go. I needed a good cry.

Salmon Trout Gravadlax with Dill, Citrus and Radish.

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The French Kitchen

 

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. Read more of this post

Choupinette

Choupinette

I’ve never been a brunch person.

At least not intentionally because, I mean, can I be blamed if I sleep in and have breakfast at 10-11am? I still consider that breakfast, by the way. Feel free to contend with me on what you’d like to call a meal at that time. I thrive on confrontation.

Meals, to me, are the fundamental three: Breakfast, Lunch and then Dinner.

Anything else in between is subject to preferential labeling. Brunch, tea, lunchner, dinch (you know, since breakfast + lunch = brunch. Therefore lunch + dinner = lunchner/ dinch), dinper, supner. Whatever.

I don’t care what time I’m eating something at, because regardless of how school life has been granting me only lunchners and supners, the only and important fact to me remains: I’m eating.

‘Nuff said.

Yet this was a planned brunch. Afternoon classes make certain of that. And have I mentioned how there should be more weekday French brunch places to cater for the increasingly prominent crowd of late-rising tertiary zombies? Oh any kind of brunch place is fine. But I’ll be a regular at any French cafe. Give me a piping hot croissant anytime and you’ll seal the deal. Read more of this post

Bistro Du Vin

Bistro Du Vin

I love surprises. 

I really do! 

Especially if you say you’re going to surprise me with food. 

But – and I know you’ve been expecting a ‘but’ – here’s where I stop getting giddy and giggly and springy and skippy, and where I show you that I am fully capable of doing a one-eighty and turn homicidal in the blink of an eye. 

I very much appreciate the quaint French bistro decor, charming and homey with deep-red walls covered with framed pictures, low-hanging cafe lights above marbled table tops with jet black finishing, handsome wine bottles reclining comfortably on racks… 

Which is when it hit me that it’s French and there isn’t such a thing as cheap French food anywhere, and heaven forbid it actually, since any native French wouldn’t hesitate to try to bring the place down if it’s the last thing he’ll do just to uphold the integrity of French food. Even the tiny things are pricey (that is not to say that they aren’t worth the price though). When was the last time you bought a croissant? Hmm? Which is probably the reason why everyone just heads for Breadtalk now anyway. 

Ok, so I’m joking about turning homicidal. 

I’ve wanted to try French for the longest time but haven’t because of the hefty price tag that comes with it. 

This, in hindsight, was truly a surprise and certainly didn’t warrant my pouting and whining about how a main starts from $22 onwards. I apologise, Oliver. But it was either French, or the Italian to its left, or the mysterious looking Japanese to the right with no view of the restaurant from the outside and just a door curtained by heavy cloth leading into the darkness… 

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Spoilers

Canele Macarons

I’m spoilt.

I’m spoilt by everyone around me.

I spoil.

I spoil everyone around me.

So I suppose that means we’re all even then.

We’re all Spoilers, on top of being Snobs.

I’d like things to stay that way.

(Funny how using the same word repeatedly makes the word itself look and sound strange and foreign suddenly. Try it.)

Ash came back from Perth, and I got soft, gooey nougats.

Gushi came back from Sydney, and I got liquor chocolates.

I voiced the thought to Gushi of never having a single macaron in my entire life and I wanted one.

I got six. From Canele.

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