I've been meaning to try out Le Papillon after the endorsements of the restaurant and Chef Anderson Ho by Chubby Hubby and Pineapple Malibu, but didn't quite find the time. Thankfully I get two hour lunches, so I was able to have lunch there with my father earlier this week.
The Red Dot Traffic Building is one of those incongruous places you wouldn't expect to find a restaurant. A rather drab concrete courtyard affair houses a few eateries, of which Le Papillon is rather innocuously tucked away.
Le Papillon is decently-sized, probably able to accomodate about 50 people. I really like their clean, white lines, embellished by artful wall prints. Understated and in keeping with the modern European fare you expect from Chef Anderson.
I had some concerns about service, seeing only two waitstaff and two managers, but this proved to be a non-issue. Manager Kelvin, in fact, provided exemplary service, seeing to all our requests and queries professionally and confidently. Good service really isn't that difficult to accomplish if one tries.
The menu for lunch is rather limited; mainly a $28 set lunch of three courses and coffee. A la carte orders are possible but discouraged, allowing the chef to retain firm control of his ingredients and cooking.
I looked through the dinner menu, and the $60 and $80 set dinners looked very inviting, but not so the a la carte orders, which I thought were rather pricey in some instances.
I decided to have the pumpkin soup with marjoram oil, braised beef heel with root vegetables and potato chips, and the standard dessert of banana chocolate tart with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream.
The pumpkin soup was sweet, but very creamy and had a slightly powdery texture. There was also some coagulation, which could have been because the soup wasn't entirely hot enough.
The braised beef was very tasty, meltingly gelatinous, but I was slightly disappointed with the rather petite portion. The root vegetables turned out to be an assortment of diced onions, carrots and potatoes. Serving this with potato chips (crisps) seemed a strange combination to me, as the crisps inevitably soaked up the sauce and became limp.
Dessert was a huge let-down; I am rather partial to tight-run operations like Au Petit Salut being able to serve a wide range of fairly sophisticated desserts like souffles and cakes during the busy lunch hour, and I expected something special in return for not being able to choose a dessert. Instead, the few slices of caramelised banana on thin puff pastry topped with ice cream seemed to me both cheap and a bit of a cop-out.
Overall, Le Papillon at lunch isn't particularly impressive, especially at $28, but I am still quite eager to try out the dinner offerings, which look much more attractive and about which I have heard some very promising accolades.
Located in the heart of the CBD is a bit of a hassle, but I suppose access via the MRT provides some exercise before and after dinner. There is a public carpark just next door though, so parking is no problem.
The buzzing of lunchtime conversation is unintrusive, rarely rising above the clinking of cutlery, and food arrives at an acceptable pace.
28 Maxwell Road
#01-02 Red Dot Traffic Building
Tel: 6327 4177
Service: 4/5 (See below)
Food: 3/5 (See below)
Overall: I'll be coming back for dinner
[Edit: I came back for lunch on 28/12/06, and the set lunch is now $29. I had a chestnut soup with parmesan foam, a grilled millefeuille of beef and the obligatory strawberry shortcake for dessert.
The soup was fantastic; texturally smooth and light, with a delectable roasted sweetness from the chestnuts, and a slight saltiness imparted by the parmesan.
I was also surprised by the millefeuille of beef, which was extremely tasty and served with tender braised carrots and potatoes. It was a "millefeuille" because the beef had been cut in such a way as to appear layered, yet it was still juicy and meaty.
Unfortunately, I was still let down by dessert, which was just a small shortcake, topped with strawberry coulis, some dots of white chocolate ganache and a quenelle of whipped cream.
In terms of food, Chef Anderson has clearly smoothened out some of the earlier kinks; the appetisers and main courses are beautifully presented and perfectly cooked, arriving in just the right portions for a light lunch. The only thing that needs to be improved upon is dessert, which regrettably isn't as impressive as the earlier courses.
Once that gets sorted, Le Papillon will definitely be one of the more popular restaurants to eat at.
Service gets bumped up to 4.5/5, Chef Anderson was good enough to spend fifteen minutes chatting with us, and accepted all feedback (both positive and otherwise) with good grace and openness.
Food too gets nudged up to 3.5/5, possibly 4, and would be higher were it not for dessert.]