Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Review: The French Kitchen

The thing about going away for a while is that when you come back, you find a profusion of new restaurants (and an absence of old ones); such is the rapidity with which the restaurant scene changes here, and such is the fickle taste of the Singaporean consumer.

The French Kitchen is one of the latest restaurants to offer formal French fare, and is one of those places that suffers from a mysterious lack of custom, despite having everything going for it (except, perhaps, location, though being situated in Central Mall never stopped St Pierre).

While it does not make for very good photography, the dim lighting is perfect for a romantic dinner, under the friendly, unobtrusive and very competent stewardship of Jan Stroop, who brings his wry humour and impeccable service to bear.

In the kitchen are Jean-Charles Dubois and Jutet Lim, whose illustrious CVs are easily accessible on the restaurant's website, and who will ensure that your meal is both memorable and enjoyable.

Said meal began with slices of raisin and rye bread, which came with little tubs of thyme butter and mackerel paste (a tad strong for me but very well-received by my father), and an amuse-bouche of skinned baby tomato stuffed with fresh tuna, topped with a quail's egg and a parmesan crisp, nestled on a futon of creamy avocado mousse. I'm not usually a fan of fish, but as an amouse-bouche this was technically perfect: the baby tomato is a fairly exotic riff on a common ingredient, imparting a sweetness and acidity to the fish which was in turn mellowed by the neutral mousse, soft and cloudy, which then played off against the crispy parmesan. A kaleidoscope of tastes, textures and colours all encapsulated in one little ensemble.

The French Kitchen offers a fairly affordable degustation menu (6 courses, $88) and a very worthwhile set lunch (3 courses (many from the main menu), $36), both of which feature the lobster bisque, which is supposedly a Dubois family recipe. Served with prawn tempura and a slight flourish as the soup is poured before you, this is a great addition to any prix fixe menu.

Another French Kitchen special is the veal sweetbreads, which are lightly fried and paired with a creamy morel sauce in vol au vent pastry. I've not had sweetbreads for a long time, and was hoping this would rekindle my love affair with them. Unfortunately, the sweetbreads were stodgier than I would have liked, lacking the creamy consistency I am more fond of. Surprisingly, the combination of sweetbreads in a cream-based morel sauce is not overwhelmingly rich, the earthy tones feeding off each other rather well.

An apricot granite to cleanse the palate and we continued onwards through the menu.

My father, feeling peckish, decided to order a huge cote de boeuf, and naturally I was co-opted into helping him finish this rather spectacular side of beef. I've recently bought myself the River Cottage Meat Book, which is a carnivore's bible, and a well-cooked piece of meat, as the author appreciates, can be a true thing of beauty.

Such a beautiful piece of meat is to be enjoyed simply, without too many distractions. A velvety reduction, some garnishings, and a gratin dauphinois are all that's necessary to elevate beef into an artform.

The current meat course on the degustation is a braised angus beef short rib with pink garlic purée, onion and Vieux Comté cheese gratin, served with a shallot and red wine sauce. Slow-cooked to perfection, with layers of caramelised sweetness, and an extra shade of moodiness from the garlic, this is an utterly delectable dish.

Having had to underwrite half my father's beef, I could not manage dessert, but the degustation's peach melba is an update on an old classic, which really cannot go wrong.

Mondays are BYOB nights at the French Kitchen, which combines inventive cooking with attentive and professional service, and I would definitely place the restaurant on my list of "places to come back to".

The French Kitchen
7 Magazine Road, #01-03 Central Mall
Tel: +65 6438 1823
Mon-Fri: 12pm-2pm, 7pm-9.30pm
Sat: 7pm-9.30pm
(Closed on Sun)

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