Sunday 13 May 2012

Daniel Boulud’s db Bistro Moderne, Singapore

Last time I was in Singapore I didn’t get round to visiting the ‘celebrity chef’ restaurants in Marina Bay Sands. Part of the reason for this was the thought of dining in a mall did not especially appeal and also because there are so many other wonderful places to eat in and around town – diners really are spoilt for choice.

Inside the malls, you’ll find most of the big named chefs and their eateries – the likes of Daniel Boulud’s db Bistro Moderne, Mario Batali’s Pizzeria and Osteria Mozza, Wolfgang Puck’s Cut, Tetsuya Wakuda’s Waku Ghin, Hide Yammamoto and Guy Savoy all attract the crowds.

Not all the ‘celebrity chefs’ take the mall option however, Joël Robuchon is based on the Sentosa resort; Iggy’s, Jaan and Shinji by Kanesaka are all in hotels; Jason Atherton's Esquina, The Tippling Club, Gunther’s Modern French Cuisine and André are housed in ‘heritage sites’.

But this year, having tried most of the best Singapore has to offer and because we didn’t get round to visiting the three-Michelin-starred 'Daniel' whilst in New York, it was time to check out Daniel Boulud’s Bistro… they also had a cheap (by Singapore standards) pre-theatre set menu of 3-courses and a glass of wine for S$68, which appealed.

Arriving early for a window shop in the luxurious branches of shops such as Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Jimmy Choo, Hervé Léger, Chopard and Chanel we eventually made our way to the strangely positioned restaurant. I say ‘strangely positioned’ because instead of being tucked away in a food court, Cut, Osteria Mozza and db Bistro Moderne are in prime retail spaces on the main shopping thoroughfares.

Here’s where my post takes a turn: My stepson (who lives and works in Singapore in the industry) knows the Chef and had (unbeknown to us) informed him of our reservation - and had obviously 'laid it on a bit' implying that we were international jet-setting gourmands and were subsequently greeted like VIPs.

Chef Stephane Istel came out to greet us and was keen to find out about our foodist adventures in Paris. Stephane was as charming, passionate and generous as any chef we have met. After finding out that we had no allergies or aversions to particular ingredients he took away the menus that the waiter had given us and proclaimed, “Please, allow me to cook for you!”

So instead of the expected simple 3-course early dinner, Chef Istel prepared us a special menu of Boulud's classics and specialties from his own hometown of Alsace.

Each dish was brought out from the kitchen by Stephane himself and explained to us with his great passion - this personal, VIP treatment, whilst somewhat embarrassing, was much appreciated. The chef and the whole staff’s efforts making us feel very special.

We soon realised that provided you are seated facing the semi transparent screened kitchen (as we were), the mall setting would not be a problem - there was a compete sense of being in a French bistro of the highest regard.

The first course to arrive was a delicious Tarte flambée – a specialty from Chef Istel’s hometown of Alsace. The bread dough had been rolled ‘filo pastry thin’ into the traditional oblong shape and topped with fromage blanc (a kind of milk version of crème fraiche), onions, chives and ham lardons.

Next up an indulgent Gillardeau Oyster, set with a lemongrass cream and caviar – absolute perfection…  my new favourite way to enjoy oysters.

Yellowfin Tuna Carpaccio 'niçoise style' with white anchovies, French beans, egg, tomato, black olives topped with mini croutes and a delicious lemon dressing - vibrant on the plate and with wonderful clean flavours.

Duck Prosciutto – it seems, that I didn’t take any notes for this dish but I do recall the charcuterie being excellent quality.

Homemade Potato Gnocchi – the potato gnocchi were perfect examples, like 'little fluffy clouds' tastily paired with braised endive, the excellent Fourme d'Ambert cheese, baby spinach and walnuts.

Grilled Boston Scallop with Pan Seared John Dory – a beautiful dish featuring a real kick of citrus from a Meyer lemon emulsion. Every component was exquisitely cooked: perfect scallop and fish; crisp green and white asparagus and mangetout with an exceptional ravioli, so thin it was as though it had a window to its herby filling.

As mentioned, every course was hand delivered by Chef Istel but the one he rightly seemed most passionate about was the homage to his hometown of Alsace - ‘Lapin au Vin’ (like a ‘coq au vin’ but with rabbit). Accompanying the pot pie was another Alsatian specialty, a side of Späetzle; naturally served in a cast iron Staub cocotte (also from Alsace).

Made with a dry white Alsatian Riesling and served in a rustic ceramic pie dish, this was hearty home cooking done with the skill and precision of a world-class chef… during my Paris and Singapore trip I ate some wonderful food but for full-on-flavour this dish stood out. The gravy made with the rabbit bones was so exceptional. This was without a doubt, the best pie I’ve had in my life.

For dessert, my wife selected the tropical take on Baba Rhum with coconut mousse, passion fruit sorbet and mango coulis and dressed with superbly sweet membranous passion fruit seeds.

With a French chef of Stephane’s skill cooking for us, I selected the Chocolate Soufflé with Pistachio Ice Cream – I was not disappointed; the soufflé was spot on.

To finish I ordered a green tea with which we were served some delightfully dinky warm Madeleines.

Who would’ve thought that one of the best French meals of my Paris / Singapore trip would be in Asia and not France? I’m going to make it my mission to get down to Bar Boulud at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London. 

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