Absinthe: Starts Off Great, Then Falls Flat

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It was my birthday. DC took me to French bistro Absinthe for a nice dinner. For some reason, it was #1 on the best restaurant list for tripadvisor.com. We wondered whether it was worthy of its title. The seasonal tasting menu didn’t excite us – too much standard fare and not a great deal that would challenge our tastebuds. We went a la carte instead and it was totally worth it.

I started with seared scallops very simply done. One thing I really didn’t appreciate was realising that the “small herb salad” was miniscule side leaves plated on using tweezers. A small pile I understand, but 3 tiny leaflets do not a small herb salad make. DO NOT LIKE! The scallops themselves were good – well seared on the outside till I got the unmistakable and absolutely sublime charred shellfish flavour, and pretty much raw in the middle. Be warned that the scallops aren’t sashimi-grade because it was a little fishy on the inside. That’s fine with me because I quite like fishy things (especially belachan). The rich lobster hollandaise sauce was a nice foil to the seafood and pastry stick was very nicely short and melt in the mouth. I really like the seaweed flavouring they painted onto the pastry stick. If they sold them in boxes I’d totally snatch them up for an office snack. Oh and DC’s dry sherry went very well with this dish – held its own against the creamy fishiness. I think it was a Perez Barquero Grand Barquero Fino and the nutty, crisp aroma was just the thing to go with my scallops.

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DC liked his special of the evening of kurobuta pork with aniseed sauce. My sampling piece was decent though not mindblowing. DC really enjoyed it though. You’ll have to wait for him to comment to find out why it was that good.

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Then my main. I don’t know what they did, but the lamb rack was so simply done yet so darn good! It was beautifully medium, just as requested and the flavour of the meat just shone through. I think it’s about buying good meat and treating it with respect and love. It was tender, juicy and very tasty, yet not gamey. So good. What really gilded the lily for me was the cep mash. I love wild mushrooms and mixing ceps into the mash was such a masterful touch. So masterful that it was one of the reasons why I ordered that dish. Yummy fragrant cep mash and exquisite lamb made me a happy, happy girl.

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DC went for the classic bouillabaise. I can’t for the life of me remember what it was like beyond acceptable. I think I was too engrossed in my lamb. Again, wait for him to comment!

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And the dessert. I wish I could say better things, but it was a horrible nasty letdown. The apple souflle, while not deflated, was an absolute flop. First off, they used overly coarse-grained sugar to line the souflle ramekin. Did the chef run out of caster? It completely defeats the purpose of light ethereal sponge when you crunch into sugar. Didn’t help that the souffle was too small to escape from the side edges, which in the absence of coarse sugar would actually be the best bit of the souffle. The accompanying apple sorbet was way too sweet and not very aromatic. And the strawberry garnish? Sour. FAIL.

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So if this is America’s Got Talent, they’d have gotten the first buzzer by now. What got the second buzzer? DC made reservations for a birthday dinner. They FORGOT the birthday dessert. After our souffail, DC asked if I had space for more dessert. We’d been on an eating spree that day and I wasn’t too keen on a repeat fail. So we didn’t remind them. DC paid up and we left. That’s all. So much for attentive service, particularly because they have a habit of going through their reservations and calling to remind you the afternoon of the big dinner. Inexcusable.

I’d return for the appetisers and mains, then head off somewhere where they actually care about finishing off great and respect their desserts. You’ve been warned.

Absinthe
48 Bukit Pasoh Road
Tel: 6222 9068

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Au Petit Salut Birthday Dinner

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Chris and I celebrate our birthdays on consecutive days. We went to Au Petit Salut for a birthday blowout dinner in a dim romantic corner, making for rather grainy out of focus pictures.

We started with oysters in the half-shell, going easy with just two each. One was a “prota com” and the other a “white pearl.” The waitress said they were from France but couldn’t say much more beyond that. Couldn’t find any info on them on google, but both were excellent. The white pearl was milder and the prota com was earthy and minerally, tasting beautifully of the sea. It had a long finish with a flinty aftertaste. Gorgeous.

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Next, Chris had her favourite escargot, which she loved. I had to pass on the appetisers because of all the Christmas and birthday feasting, but the chef sent out a complimentary portion of duck rilletes. The rilletes was very good on bread and it’s one of my favourite potted meats.

For mains, I had the lamb shoulder with ratatouille, garlic confit and mashed potatoes. The lamb was very well done, though I like the ends to be a bit more rare. It had great flavour, very meaty without having too strong a “lamb” taste that many people don’t like. And that layer of fat? Crisp, salty outside yielding to soft unctuousness; in a word – heaven. I found the ratatouille a bit of a let down, especially since Chris ordered her own main of grilled fish just because it had ratatouille too. It was not much more than an overly salty vegetable mush. Pity because I loved the rest of the dish. I’m not a particularly garlicky person mainly because I get garlic (and onion) breath far too easily. Somehow these soft garlic cloves just didn’t let me go. They were addictive I tell you. And then there was the mash which was the typically lovely French style with beaucoup de beurre. It was rich and incredibly smooth, almost too rich but I still managed to finish it and it was all gone before I realised.

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By now we were stuffed, but still needed to round off the meal with some dessert. Having to wait 20 minutes for our souffle helped. Time passes quickly when you’re in good company. The grand marnier souffle was well executed and was redolent of oranges and liqueur. I liked the special touch of the tiny bit of dark chocolate that sank in the middle of the dessert. It was a good contrast to the sweet foam. I liked it, but my main grouse with souffle is that there never is enough of crunchy top and side and always too much foam inside.

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It was a lovely dinner. Great company, good food. What more can a girl ask for?

Au Petit Salut
40C Harding Road
Tel: 6475 1976

Braise

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DC took me to Braise for our anniversary dinner. It was a lovely place with the best service I’ve experienced in Singapore: warm and attentive yet unobtrusive. They noticed that I was cold and not only gave me a shawl, they also made sure that my hot water was topped up all the time.

It was too bad the tasting menu wasn’t very exciting, so we went a la carte. Still, the chef sent out an amuse bouche of some kind of pate on a sliver of toasted baguette. I don’t remember what it was, all I know that it was rich, very tasty and left us both wanting me. I suspect it’s a fish rillette of sorts. We’ll have to see whether it makes its way to the main menu before telling.

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DC’s starter was just his thing: a rich and unctuous pairing of foie gras and sweetbread. I wasn’t sure of the spongey-grainy texture of the sweetbread, but DC loved it. It’s pretty difficult to get parts like pancreas in Singapore.

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I had half a dozen fines de claire oysters au naturel. They didn’t even need the lemon, they were so fresh. I loved how the sharp, slightly briny taste mellowed into mouth-filling savour. It was a pity they didn’t have a muscadet to go with it, that pairing is made in heaven. I was so sad when I ate my last one, enjoying the aftertaste for as long as I could. It’ll be a while before I get oysters of that quality again.

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Now for the mains. Mine was a straightforward roast beef in jus, paired with braised beef cheek, savoy cabbage and decadent, decadent buttery mash. It was a good dish that tasted far better than it looks in the picture. (The problem with romantic settings is that pictures just don’t come out well at all.) The beef was nicely rare, just as I like it, and the beef cheek the expected melt-in-mouth tender. Coupled with the very buttery mashed potato, it was a tad on the rich side, which DC quite predictably loved. Needless to say, I finished the savoy cabbage quite quickly as it was a good foil to all the butter and fat.

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I think DC may have had the more interesting dish. His grilled fish with capellini was quite different as fish and cheese are not commonly paired. The pasta was doused in a very cheesy stock that wasn’t at all stringy. It was as if the essence of cheese had been distilled and used to flavour the pasta, without having any actual cheese in it. I can’t even imagine how they made this. The fish itself was good too, with a nice gratinated crust. It was ordinary in a good way.

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Dessert was a bit of a pity. I didn’t understand why they had to deconstruct a trifle. I liked the apple jelly and granite, it was just a pity that the custard was starchy. It showed that either the head chef was off-duty or hadn’t any confidence in his custard-making skills or both. I liked the cinnamon donut, but wasn’t sure of the point of it. Yes yes, I know that it’s the deconstructed trifle sponge, but it didn’t really add anything to the dessert. Braise would do better if they hired a better dessert chef.

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In summary, we’ve got outstanding starters and very competent, somewhat creative mains. Avoid the dessert and you’ll have a fabulous dinner.

Braise
60 Palawan Beach Walk
Level 2 Sentosa
Tel: 6271 1929