June 2, 2009

French varietals at Cépage

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I finally made my way to Cépage, one of the most talked-about restaurants in town over the last 6 month. The restaurant's pedigree is well-known, so most people have been curious to see whether it lives up to the reputation of its siblings.

I arrived to find the dining room much smaller than I expected. This was the space originally taken up by Ingredients, which failed spectacularly in its transformation from a small-time private kitchen to a big-time fine dining establishment. The room was dominated by one of the wine cellars, and there are a few interesting pieces of artwork hanging in the room.

My friend was already browsing the restaurant's extensive wine list. I had expected this place to have one of the best wine lists in town, and they did not disappoint. It's a wine list that only wine geeks like me would spend any significant amount of time perusing, and most diners would probably roll their eyes and ask for help from the sommelier. Lots of old vintages are on offer here - which is the Achilles' heel for most restaurant wine lists. The list is also dominated by their French selections, reflecting the focus of Vinum's business in Singapore.

I did bring along two bottles of wine so we didn't order off the list. We started with the 1993 Marcassin Chardonnay Hudson Vineyard. Initially the wine was on the warm side, but was already showing a beautiful nose of toasty oak, lemon citrus, flint, minerals, butter and sweet corn. The wine was ripe and mature on the palate, with a finish that was sweet and turned slightly bitter right at the end. After a bit of cooling down the wine was even better, showing very sweet nose like cotton candy, marshmellow and caramel. How I love old Chardonnays!

We were presented with tiny salmon-filled cornets, à la French Laundry. The amuse bouche followed - heirloom tomato, buffalo mozzarella, watermelon and ham.

Egg pasta Agnolotti filled with seasonal mushrooms, ham and lettuce, truffle jus, Parmesan cheese fondue - this was pretty yummy, and due in large part to the abundance of truffles. Aside from the shavings on top, there is also a ton of truffle bits at the bottom. I almost wanted to use some bread to soak up the truffle sauce... This Piedmontese pasta actually looks a lot like Chinese dumplings (餃子)...

I also brought a bottle of 2004 Leroy Vosne-Romanée. As I mentioned before, 2004 was the extraordinary vintage when all Leroy wines were declassified, so what is being labeled as a village wine actually contained grapes from 1er cru as well as the grand cru vineyards of Richebourg and Romanée St. Vivant. The wine was just absolutely gorgeous! Loads of tangerine, sweet black cherries, grilled bacon and smoked meats in the nose. It was just so explosive and sweet...such a pleasure to drink. Despite being a very young wine, it's definitely accessible now. What else can I say other than "Wow"?

Roasted D'Anjou pigeon breast and confit leg, pan seared foie gras, potato-shallot terrine, vegetables bâtonnets, sweet corn blinis - what a presentation! One's attention is immediately drawn to the leg of the pigeon - not exactly confit but it's got the two-fingered claw (presume the third has been broken) sticking up in the air. The foie gras was done well - nicely charred on the outside but creamy inside. The breast and leg were just a tad overdone. Both were pink and tasty, but while the meat was tender it fell just short of being succulent. Maybe it was because the pigeon had gotten cold by the time I got around to eating it...

Here's where our dining experience ran into trouble. The restaurant's been having problems with their air conditioning, and during the whole night we were freezing because cold air was just blasting from the unit, to the point where we could clearly hear the air coming out of the vents. When we asked the staff to turn down the A/C, they actually couldn't... you can hear the A/C noise drop noticeably only to start up again, as the unit had a mind of its own. Hence the food got cold very quickly...

Oh and I did steal a small piece of the pan roasted Iberian pork chop from my friend. It had that nice layer of fat on top that just looked so succulent...and it was! I just love pork...

I was pretty full and didn't think I could take on any cheese, so I picked the lightest dessert possible - Champagne-elderflower soup and sorbet, fresh berries. I've always loved cold soups as desserts, especially in the summer. The Champagne jelly actually made this a bit more filling than I expected, but it still went down very well.

Now for the finishing touches...chocolates and petits fours. I was presented with a platter of homemade chocolates, and of course I wanted to have all 6 varieties! Raspberry, black sesame, hazelnut, dark chocolate, coffee and green tea. The black sesam was fragrant as I expected, the I couldn't identify the hazelnut initially, and the green tea filling tasted milky.

My eyes opened wide at the sight of the madeleines. These were huge, but came out in the wrong color! Normally these are a little more orange and caramelized, but these were beige... and they also failed the taste test. Instead of being yummy and sweet and full of lemon citrus flavors, these tasted like unflavored soufflé...and too soft and mushy. We are left wondering how they could have failed so badly on something so simple...

But redemption came in the form of canelés, which were tiny but absolutely delicious. The outside was hard and crunchy, while the inside was soft and moist. I wanted to ask the staff for a box to take home... So the meal ended on a positive note.

I do have to say something about the service. For a restaurant that charges this level of pricing - it's not any cheaper than the hotel restaurants - the service just wasn't there. Not that service was terrible, but something was just missing. A minor complaint is that on my visit to the men's room, they had apparently run out of towels so I had nothing to dry my hands wish after washing. That should not have happened. I had deliberately avoided coming here for the last few months, because I wanted to give them a chance to get things right. Looks like there's still some work to be done.

Was the food good enough to merit return visits? You bet. And I'll find opportunities to go and try out their lunch deals, too.

1 comment:

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