As the economies (and property prices) defy gravity and the insatiable desire for all things Western continues unabated in Asia metropolises like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai the dining scene is equally electric and eclectic. And yet with all the bling and prowess of celebrity chefs, I find myself apathetic with much of it and anything more than two sets of cutlery scares me; I fear my degustation days are over.
It might be ageing or just over-exposure but I now much prefer wholesome dishes; unadulterated seafood, grills, rotisseries, slow roasts, casseroles and ‘nose to tail eating’ - simple cooking with exemplary produce.
Such a subjective predilection is perhaps not the sort of prejudice that a food commentator should have, but that’s what it is. Besides I get the feeling there are a lot of people out there like me, who are more interested in the provenance of produce and less fuss on the plate.
This brings me to my “Restaurant of the Year”; the chef a food hero in my books, a saviour of a cuisine in threat of extinction – the classic Parisien Bistro – only thing, it’s in Singapore.
The restaurant is called Brasserie Gavroche and the Chef Frédéric Colin, www.brasseriegavroche.com.It is a small, tastefully decorated 19th century period shop-house in an obscure backstreet of Chinatown that oozes Paris ambience. The food is classique; no surprises, timeless dishes with the added touch of recipes from Chef Colin’s Parisien restaurateur grandparents.
The sad thing about the Parisien Brasserie; that is the ones in Paris, is they have subsided to oblivion, so ordinary and leeched of all decency by restaurant groups profiteering on a formula almost at a McDonald’s level only the service is far friendlier at McDonald’s. Yes, I know there are those establishments whose historical ambience makes up for the substandard food and service, but it is the artisan ‘art and soul’ of the humble Parisien cuisine that is endangered.
The demise of the Parisien Brasserie runs in parallel with the notion that French cuisine, with all its illusionary obesity in butter and sauces is perceived as not healthy, which is in reality a completely unjustified; you only have to look at Parisien woman and contemplate how they remain so slim yet maintain this staple diet.
The fact is the Parisien Brasserie is in suffering terminally from a lack of quality ingredients, a cancerous complacency and parasitical commerciality.
But not here in Paris-Singapore, having eaten at Brasserie Gavroche countless times now, the consistency of the food and service is impeccable. Oysters arrive freshly-chucked, almost impossibly fresh when you consider they have come all the way from Cancale, Brittany, but here they are gleaming in their salt-salt juices and exhilarating in their mouth-watering briny-salty-iron-minerally burst of flavour – washed down with an edgy-Chablis.
Yes, I know freshly-chucked oysters are so basic, but why is it so many restaurants completely stuff this up. Perfection of the simplest dishes is not only the hardest to thing to achieve but is the clearest indication of the chef’s dedication to the very best produce and ability to handle it properly; if the oysters are right than you can be assured the entire menu will be deliver.
Chef Colin’s Andouille poêlée et pommes de terre moutarde is my favourite dish, the best Chitterling sausage in memory. And the Potée Auvergnate, recette du grand père Henri, Grandpa Henri’s pork hotpot with cabbage and garden vegetables is sensational, like an Alsatian Charcroute of pork bits but even more hearty in its soupy-stock - bring on the riesling!
The Tête de veau sauce Gribiche Braised, veal head with hard-boiled egg and pickles sauce is another brilliant dish, and Parmentier de canard confit, shredded duck confit with crushed potatoes gratinated, with a glass of burgundy, is halfway between heaven and heart attack. And the iconic bistro staple, Steak frites et sauce Béarnaise, pan-roasted Angus sirloin with Béarnaise sauce and French fries exemplifies the cooking perfection here.
Indeed Chef Colin’s entire repertoire is classique perfection and the service here is also excellent, friendly and appropriately headed by French staff along with the radiant host Madame Colin with the affable Chef Colin constantly touring the restaurant saying hello to guest – yes I know, it sounds too friendly to be like Paris – but I like it, very much.
Another nice touch is the gougère to start, small cheese choux pastries that teases the palate; and the sourdough baguette here is excellent too, actually the best in Singapore, another revealing sign of master chef pedigree and as humble as Chef Colin is, his 5-Star hotel form and many years of experience with the professionalism clearly evident.
The all French wine list is snappy and concise offering some of the best value I have seen in Singapore restaurants. It is so refreshing to see a restaurateur grasp the concept of contribution-margin, that is to only apply a set mark-up on wines beyond a certain price point, rather than the ballooning and prohibitive percentage mark-up and cost-of-sales that paralyzes wine sales and alienate diners.
I have enjoyed many excellent bottles of Chateauneuf du Pape here, moreover some with 10 or more years bottle age for less money than what other restaurants are charging for a simple current-vintage Cotes du Rhone.
I applaud the all French wine selection, which I know that might sound strange coming from an eclectic (Wandering) palate, but it is well-executed here covering the requisite regions and appellations of France with honest wines that the high-end restaurants fail to appreciate. Actually I would encourage Chef Colin to push the boundaries further on this as I am the loyal clientele here would be happy to be further enlightened on French ‘country’ wines.
Equally commendable are the many quality wines that are available by the glass; from Chablis to Sancerre, Burgundy to Rhone, there is plenty on offer to help the diner discover French wines.
Above all this and perhaps the most commendable element is Brasserie Gavroche’s overall affordability; relative to the cuisine and quality ingredients this is one of the best-value restaurants in Singapore. It is painfully obvious that Singapore has become an expensive place to dine and whilst there is great eating to be had in the lower spectrum of local dining, the top-end has become disturbingly prohibitive and frankly, in many places under-delivering.
Brasserie Gavroche brings some relief to a dearth of mid-range restaurants to a bourgeoning underserviced middle-class stomach and the sort of place I would happily dine at once, even twice a week. Indeed, I would say it is now not only my favourite restaurant in Singapore, but somewhere I readily take people, including overseas visitors, to reacquaint them with very best of classique Parisien cuisine but save them the airfare to France.
Brasserie Gavroche, 66 Tras Street in Tanjong Pagar, Singapore Visit www.brasseriegavroche.com