Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Review: The Canteen

**The Canteen has been shut down and has been replaced by an Italian restaurant, La Strada**

Old Review

Went to The Canteen for lunch yesterday. The Canteen is one of the few Les Amis concepts that has remained successful since its inception. The Canteen, and the Lazy Gourmet beside it, is Les Amis' effort at targeting casual but refined dining in Singapore.

Very much in the style of a French brasserie, the Canteen serves informal food like Steak Frites (mistakenly spelled "Frittes") and Sirloin Roulade, but also panders to local tastes by offering native fare like Hokkien Mee and Chendol.

The Canteen's Interior

Tasteful decor, very bistro, but without the noise. If you sit by the window you can watch the world go past and for a fleeting moment everything makes sense.

What I was very much impressed by, though, was the service. We were attended by a very pleasant waiter who was never intrusive, but always appeared when we needed. The food came very promptly as well; I cannot recall the last time orders came in such rapid succession. Definite brownie points for that. It's so rare to get either competent service or speedy food; both simultaneously is almost unheard of.

Mushroom Capuccino

First up was the mushroom capuccino with truffle oil($8). The reason it looks half empty is that I forgot to take a picture of it when it first came, so surprised was I with the speed of the service. Half empty or half full? Depends on how you drink it.

$8 is pretty much what you'd expect to pay for soup, in fact most places charge you more. The Canteen gives you a smaller portion than usual since it's a capuccino, so it balances out in the end. The soup was quite good (4.5/5), the truffle oil really does make a difference. I can't even do a decent cream of mushroom soup, so this was pretty impressive. Shall endeavor to discover the secret.

Steak Frites

Steak Frites (or "Frittes") was next. They used a rib-eye steak, but Steak Frites traditionally uses a skirt steak or NY strip steak. Minor quibble really, my main gripe was that the red wine reduction the menu promised was noticeably absent, as were the caramelised shallots the dish usually comes with. Maybe that's why they called it Steak "Frittes".

The dish cost $24, which is quite a lot to pay for a lunch, and is probably more appropriate for dinner. Despite it not being an authentic Steak Frites, as a steak and fries combination it was quite good (4.5/5); the steak was sufficiently juicy and meaty-rich, without the acrid taste a lot of grillers seem to impart. The fries were a bit salty though.

Dessert was really interesting, and being the chocoholic that I am, very, very enjoyable.

Chocolate Jupiter

My mother had the very creatively named and presented Chocolate Jupiter, which was part of the set menu for lunch. It's sold over at the Lazy Gourmet for $5.50, which is a steal for dessert.

Warm Chocolate Cake

I opted for the warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and caramelised banana($10), which, in terms of presentation, was somewhat shocking. My chocolate cake resembled a collapsed muffin, and the caramelised banana looked like a lazy afterthought.

Fortunately, though, both desserts really came through in the end. The Jupiter was rich and chocolatey (4.5/5), dense without being cloying. The only complaint was that it had a strange layer of banana paste and walnut in the centre. Usually I hate anything adulterating my chocolate, especially nuts, but the Jupiter was so delicious that I'll only give it a token penalty. The warm chocolate cake was also delectable (5/5), it was soft and moist and oozed a warm, molten chocolate centre. The banana probably was an afterthought, and the presentation could be improved, but in terms of sheer chocolate, I wasn't disappointed.

Jupiter Exposed

You can see what the Jupiter looks like from the inside - abundantly chocolate though with the offending centre a darker shade than its surroundings.

I wouldn't recommend going to The Canteen for the local food, as it is really absurdly overpriced. The chendol I was recommended cost $8. In fact, it'd probably be a better idea to have dinner there rather than lunch, as most people don't have such a large appetite for a midday meal, both in terms of prices and quantity of food.

The Canteen is located in Shaw Centre, which is pretty convenient for any mode of transport.

I can't praise the service enough, any faster and it'd be a fast food joint.

The ambience was pretty decent too. A bit warm, though...they could have turned up the air-conditioning a bit.

The Canteen (casual, French, local)
1 Scotts Road #02-10 Shaw Centre
Tel: 6333 8966
Location: 4.5/5
Ambience: 4/5
Service: 5/5
Food: 4.5/5
Overall: This one's for keeps. You get better value for dinner, though

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