November 30, 2019

3-star trip to Singapore: 3 stars too many

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We were meeting one of The Dining Austrian's old friends for dinner, but only after a few drinks first.  The last time I went to Que Pasa was probably around the year 2000, so it was nice to see that after all these years, the place was still thriving. After a quick round of cocktails - which turned out to be a more modified, more masculine Cosmopolitan - our host ordered a bottle of wine.

2014 Réserve de la Comtesse - ripe fruit, lots of dried herbs in the first whiff, then turned smoky and minty.

We moved on to dinner at Les Amis.  I haven't stepped foot in this restaurant for almost 20 years, and I also haven't tasted Sebastien Lepinoy's cuisine since just before Cépage closed 6 years ago.  Frankly, I haven't had much desire to come here.  I'm sure the cuisine is fine, but just from looking at all the pictures posted online, it just seems that the dishes and the plating still look like they belong at Robuchon.

But I'm playing the role of wingman, so here I was... hoping for surprises on the upside.  I couldn't have been more wrong.

We started with a little bubbly, and I chose a glass from a familiar name...

Bruno Paillard Première Cuvée, dégorgée Mars 2018 - initially a little yeasty, a little light, but later developed more on the palate.

Gougères - kinda nice with the cheese filling and topped with shaved 36-month Comté.

The tart came with homard bleu mousse, sherry vinaigrette, truffle, and caviar.  Somehow I thought it tasted like egg yolk...

I have no idea why they serve their butter like this.  It is obviously way, way too big for our table, even if we had 4 pax.  What do they do with the leftovers?  Sebastien has explained that this was the optimal size to serve this butter in order to ensure its condition is not compromised after transport.

Mushroom tart - with confit onions, bacon, and sliced mini king oyster mushrooms on filo pastry.  This was really lovely and tasty.  That bacon was sooooo good!

Cep velouté - with shaved matsutake (松茸).  This was really rich, and actually a little too much.

Yup.  Way too rich...

Petit croissant with bacon

2011 Markus Huber Riesling Reserve Berg - big petrol nose.

Le crabe "kegani" en frivolité au caviar - UH-HUH.  One look at this dish and I kinda rolled my eyes a little.  So he's still doing crab meat with caviar, and how many years has it been since he left the Robuchon empire?

And did we really need silver foil (Quelle horreur!  It's not gold!) on top of the Kaviari Kristal caviar, along with perilla flowers?!  Oh, in terms of flavors, I felt this was somewhat out of balance.  There was simply too much caviar against the already savory Japanese horsehair crab (毛蟹), so the whole thing was too salty.  Had he used a different crab where the meat was sweeter, the flavors would have been more balanced.

La langoustine de Loctudy - RIIIIIIGHT...  I need more caviar like I need a hole in my head.  The langoustine from Brittany was apparently pan-seared, although the texture would suggest poaching or sous vide... and wrapped in thin slices of zucchini.  The olive oil emulsion had plenty of lovely, fruity flavors which surprised the hell out of me.  According to Sebastien, the emulsion was made with fish bone reduction.  Yummm...

Here's where my new friend started to raise his objections to tonight's execution.  While I thought the execution was fine, and the texture of the langoustine was consistent throughout, our friend thought a properly cooked langoustine should have been more cooked on the outside while being mi-cuit in the middle.  Instead the whole things had the same half-cooked texture from one edge to the other.  There was no hint of any browning or Maillard reaction which would have made it more flavorful.

La noix de Saint-Jacques aux herbes - this thing was at least two inches thick... and came with a herb and seaweed sauce.

Yes, the waiter did mention that this was slow-cooked... which meant it was probably done sous vide.  Sebastien said this was cooked by covering the scallops in seaweed butter in an oven for about 7 minutes. Hence the uniform doneness across the scallop.  Not surprisingly, my new friend objected to the execution.  This time, I kinda agreed with him.  There was absolutely zero reason to cook the scallop this way.  I would have preferred it pan-seared so that there was a little browning outside from the Maillard reaction, but Sebastien felt strongly that this would cause the scallops to deform and would not do justice to the quality of the diver scallops.

Le bar de "ikejime" de Royal au verjus - what an absolute disaster!  Who gives a shit about your sea bass being "line caught" and killed by ikejime ( 活け 締め) when it ends up being overcooked?  OK, so it wasn't completely dry inside, but whoever pan-roasted the fish took what was supposed to be a beautiful and premium product and ruined it.  What made it a completely useless dish was the verjus.  That level of acidity was totally unwarranted, although Sebastien felt the high acidity was absolutely necessary for an autumn dish.  I ended up leaving the fish on my plate and ate the muscat grapes instead... as they were the best part of the dish.

Did anyone else notice that this was the third dish in a row garnished with chervil?

By now The Dining Austrian has switched sides, and there were three unhappy diners at our table.

Sensing our collective unhappiness, the kitchen sent out an extra course of ceps from the chef's hometown.  Simply pan-fried with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Unfortunately, this course actually made our experience WORSE.  Three out of the four ceps in my bowl were bland and almost completely tasteless.  And I found big grains of sand.  Seriously.  W-T-F.

Le canard de Challans au poires - the color looked rosé, but the oven-roasted duck breast was actually a little overcooked for my taste.  I found the fatty skin very interesting, as there were deep, almost fermented flavors.  But overall the dish was below par.

2003 Château de Fonsalette Rouge - opened 1 hour prior to serving.  Nice and fragrant, with a hint of metallic notes, some leather, and almost minty.  Dry and lean on the palate. I was hoping it would be a little better...

Chocolate tart - very good.  The chocolate came from Venezuela and Mexico.  I didn't bother asking them about the origins.

Le baba au rhum agricole - this was pretty good.  I was allowed to choose which rum I wanted to go with my baba.

Neisson X.O. Full Proof - in a way, this was like a sweet whisky in terms of nose.

Neisson Bio - very exotic, and I definitely smelled sugar cane.

Chestnut and hazelnut tart - the chestnut purée was a little too thick and dense, and definitely a little dry.

Hazelnut chocolate

Canelé - SERIOUSLY?  Cheryl Koh is still the pastry chef, right?  This thing came out of her station?!  Now THIS actually looked like cat anus...

What an absolutely disappointing meal! All three of us could only wonder how this place got two stars, let alone three.  OK, so we know that all restaurants have their off nights when things just go wrong, but consistency is actually one of the most important criteria for Michelin.  Three star restaurants aren't supposed to have off days.

And here my friend The Dining Austrian was, deep down, a little upset with my ethics.  A friend who knows Sebastien had wanted to tell him that we were coming, but I insisted on staying anonymous and under the radar.  I didn't want any special treatment, because I wanted to see what the experience would be like for a "regular" diner.  And now I know.

I guess I'll wait another 20 years for my next visit.


Markus Schmidt said...

well it would seem you have been there on a particularly off night. I have a reservation there in two weeks, and will let myself and my daughter be surprised.... fortunately the wine list is excellent, and fortunately we have bookings at Caprice, Sushi Shikon, The Chairman and Neighborhood the week before and after.

Davis Sharp said...

Lovved reading this thank you


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