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

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

Not Bad Not-Chocolate at Laurent Bernard’s

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By some freak coincidence, DC and I were both at business meetings in the Portsdown area on a weekday. It was just too bad that our favourite place in the area was closed, so we plumped for Laurent Bernard Chocolatier instead. I wasn’t expecting a great deal, mainly because I’d been disappointed at its Robertson Quay branch before (rude service, not particularly great food). This place surprised me.

I went for a healthy niçoise salad, which turned out more substantial than I expected as it came with a well-toasted piece of rustic farm bread. It went beautifully with the rare seared tuna chunks and the generous portion of salad. DC found the tuna a bit fishy but I liked it that way. It’s probably the best version of niçoise I’ve had as it doesn’t have the stuff I don’t fancy (boring boiled potato and squeaky boiled string beans) and has lots of green leaves and plenty of tuna.

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DC went for the goat cheese sandwich, which turned out very similar in style to my salad! There was the same slice of toast and a fairly substantial heap of salad greens, a bit less than the stuff for my salad. The main difference was of course the grilled goat cheese, which was of course fantastically oozy and runny under a crisped up crust. He loved it.

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Dessert was where we misstepped.  I’m surprised that the dessert here didn’t fare too well. We ordered the cherry soufflé to share and had high hopes seeing as they had an extensive soufflé section in the menu. I really like Blackforest-style sour cherries and it’s hard to find a place that does it well. Our soufflé was obviously fresh from the oven as it started to quite rapidly lose height once it landed on the table.  The dessert itself wasn’t too bad, although it was a tad weepy. I think the chef overwhipped the egg whites and undercooked it slightly. Still, it was light and airy with a tender, slightly crackly top. The raspberry sauce accompaniment was rather quotidien and didn’t do very much to help the soufflé along. I liked the cherries, although there was some kind of liqueur or flavour added that gave it the typical cherry cough syrup flavour when I had more than a mouthful of it. I suppose it would suffice if one were truly craving cherry, but not otherwise.

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Laurent Bernard Chocolatier
5B Portsdown Road #01-02
Telephone: 6475 9410

Dessert at the Former Factory

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I’m getting old. My aging brain keeps referring to Laurent’s Cafe & Chocolate Bar by its old name, The Chocolate Factory. It still has rather decent, though often patchy, offerings. Shinta and KK shared a molten chocolate cake that was accompanied by vanilla bean ice cream and chantilly cream. None of us were too impressed as the cake was a bit overdone. Only the very centre of the cake was molten, with only the tiniest ooze. The chantilly cream was fake. Sure, it was better quality fake stuff, probably not from a can, but it was definitely not real dairy cream. Eeyore and I, the cream experts, sniffed at it and then looked away. Oh, and by the way, what on earth is that raspberry sauce posing as? Whoever plated this dessert has a ridiculous sense of aesthetics.

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Shinta and KK’s chocolate souffle fared better. It was baked just right and was chocolatey and yummy. KK made the hole in the picture so she could pour in the chocolate sauce. The tart raspberry sorbet went winningly with the souffle. Two thumbs up.

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Onwards to the Grand Marnier souffle I shared with Eeyore. It’d risen quite impressively in the ramekin and went nicely with the vanilla custard sauce. Too bad the inside wasn’t cooked enough. It was as if the souffle was only cooked on the outside. On the inside, there was still plenty of raw whipped egg white that was just on the verge of weeping. I didn’t like the feeling of damp foam in my mouth. The orange liqueur flavour was very good though.

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I’m still not completely convinced by this place. This time, the service had improved from abysmal to decent with nothing to complain about. The food was pretty much hit and miss. I’d only come here if I was craving souffle very badly and wouldn’t mind an inferior version.

Laurent’s Cafe & Chocolate Bar
The Pier at Robertson Quay 80
Mohammad Sultan Road #01-11
Tel: 6235 9007