April 29, 2021

Disappointing Bastard

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For all the buzz around Bâtard ever since it opened, I was never eager to go check it out for myself.  The dishes which helped the restaurant become popular were, primarily, dishes first created by others or seemingly popular and available elsewhere.  The cold angel hair with caviar starting showing up in Singapore more than a decade ago thanks to Gunther Hubrechsen, and over the last few years more than a handful of fancy restaurants in town served up roast chicken - sometimes with rice as accompaniment.  Every time a friend asked me whether I had been to the restaurant, I always replied that I didn't see anything that would draw me there - in terms of food.

Of course, the restaurant is operated by the people behind The Fine Wine Experience, who wanted a venue to enable them to sell more wine.  The real attraction here, at least for someone like me, was the pricing on the wine list.  The wines were priced just about the same level as the retail shop, which was just like the way I used to buy a bottle at Vinum and have them serve it to me at Les Amis in Singapore.  For people who, myself included, insist on BYO because they don't want to pay ridiculous markup on wines at restaurants, this was music to our ears.

So I finally got around to booking a table, which entailed a wait of just about 2 months.  Meanwhile, Belo and I spent some time browsing through the wine list to pick out a few bottles.  Unfortunately for my friend, I am too cheap and ended up removing the more pricy bottles she had chosen...

Beef tartare Cannelloni - the crispy tubes were stuffed with minced beef "from Northeast France" seasoned with olive oil.

Shiro ebi with walnuts and caviar - OK, I admit it.  I DID IT FOR THE GRAM!  I knew this was a new dish, and although I never feel I need to have caviar, I figured "what the hell"... and ordered the dish over Sankala's objections.

And it turned out to be the biggest mistake tonight.  For HKD 400, our waitress proudly announced that we get 7-8g of Kaviari Kristal (although I had to make her ask the kitchen for the brand of caviar), some glass shrimp (白海老) from Japan - presumably from Toyama Prefecture (富山県) - and a sauce made with walnuts, milk, and grape juice.

First of all, I couldn't taste the glass shrimp. At all. The caviar also kinda went to waste, because I didn't really taste that, either. What I got was a mouthful of Chinese walnut cream (核桃露), with a powdery, grainy texture and the unpleasant aftertaste coming from the oil in the walnuts. I also didn't get why grape juice was thrown in the mix. A total waste of money, even considering that each portion was shared between two people.

Japanese fruit tomato tart, fennel pollen, burrata - this was pretty good. The sweet basil on top was very fragrant. However, while I found this to be delicious, the numerous posts on social media almost gave the impression that this was something earth-shattering or life-changing. Not even close.

Monkfish en croute - I'm glad that many restaurants in town are now serving up with ingredints en croûte. Just 7-8 years ago, one would be hard pressed to find more than 3 places in town offering them.

The duxelles surrounding the piece of monkfish was made with black spinach, trompette de la mort, and langoustine. Monkfish jus on the side. Again, tasty but far from mind-blowing. Or maybe I just know jack shit about food and can't see why people go gaa gaa over this.

Roasted quail, morel mushroom, Madeira - hands down the best dish tonight. The quail from Brisbane was served with the leg done slightly more cooked than rosé, with a layer of black spinach between the leg and the mousse made with quail breast. The crust was made of croûtons and chives. Morels on the side. While Sankala was slightly disappointed with her quail being overcooked, it didn't bother me too much.

Bâtard's signature roast chicken, warm pilaf rice - while I was really happy to see a world-class chef serving a simple roast chicken instead of fancy schmancy Japanese beef at his restaurant some years ago, these days it seems everybody and their grandma has a roast chicken with a bunch of herbs coming out of its butthole.

The Huxu/Longgang chicken was tasty for sure, and the rice pilaf cooked in chicken oil reminded me of Hainanese chicken rice.  Certainly tasty, but we didn't manage to finish it.  I was only too happy to pack the leftovers for another day.


Grilled French beans - surprised by the smoky flavors here.

Apple tart - since apple tarts are just about the only desserts Sankala cares to eat, I ordered this up when our waitress told me on arrival that there were limited portions of this.  I don't know why I bothered.  Sankala thought the chain bakery in our neighborhood did a better job.

I pre-ordered 4 bottles for tonight, and to my surprise we did end up opening the fourth bottle.

1996 Egly-Ouriet, dégorgée en juillet 2005 - color was pretty deep, nose was very caramelized, with sugar cane notes. Maybe a little too ripe and oxidized. But really fragrant and almost floral. Acidity was actually OK at the end.

1953 Huët Vouvray Le Haut-Lieu Sec - tons of toast on the nose, with lots of bee pollen, a bit of acetone. Very lovely. The minerality came out with the monkfish, and was slightly unpleasant but with a little honey. More than 2 hours later there were coffee notes on the nose. So interesting.

2011 Clos de Tart - opened 2½ hours prior to serving. Still pretty young with tons of herbs on the nose. About 45 minutes after decanting the nose of pretty fragrant, with black fruits and potpourri notes.

1976 Jaboulet La Chapelle, rebouché en 2016 - decanted 45 minutes after opening and served 15 minutes later. Minty and forest notes, with lots of black fruits and some smoke. Acidity was relatively high. Not bad at all.

I was a little disappointed, to be honest.  Maybe all the hype and buzz around this place from people around me had set my expectations too high.  It is, after all, meant to be a place serving good but simple fare at reasonable prices - although tonight wasn't that much of a bargain, food-wise.  After factoring in the wines, the bill did seem more reasonable... but then again I do have enough wine to last me a lifetime so I can easily BYO.

In discussing my disappointment with this place, my counter-argument is simply this - for a place that serve delicious and unpretentious food at a reasonable price, would I want to go back to Bâtard, or would I be happier at Neighborhood?  I'm pretty sure most of my friends would side with me when the decision is as simple as this one.

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