The Arts House
1 Old Parliament Lane
Tel: 6333 9312
Open for lunch Monday to Friday: 12pm to 2.30pm
Open for dinner Monday to Saturday: 6pm to 10.30pm
SO who knows Olivia Cassivelaun Fancourt? What did her friends call her - Olive, Cassie, Ms Fancourt or Mrs Stamford Raffles? Surely not OCF. Somehow, it's got a ring that you associate with either a financial institution or a behavioural disorder. But in tribute to the wife of Singapore's founding father and its location near his statue, a new restaurant in the Arts House has settled on this awkward acronym to personify its otherwise elegant, high-end French cuisine.
The tenuous connection between OCF the person and OCF the restaurant aside - the lady wasn't even French - settle down and take in the restored colonial surroundings that the dining room enjoys. Sitting above the edgy home-grown music cafe Timbre and facing the river, OCF looks like an old world lounge with a grand piano taking centrestage in a spacious alcove, facing an open kitchen with dramatic overhead mirrors reflecting the sombre grey and black furniture.
The exaggerated Frenchness of OCF can come across as a little over the top, from the very thick accent of the non-French restaurant manager and the orchestrated movements of the serving staff - they probably need to loosen up a little. When they do warm up later on in the meal - especially when the accent fades - the genuine sense of hospitality comes through which is really what you want. And when the diner doesn't feel compelled to conform to the protocol of an uppity French restaurant, there's more leeway to appreciate the food - which really deserves your attention.
The food is light and produce-driven, an approach the Singaporean chef has successfully absorbed through stages at Michelin-starred restaurants in France. A lot of the ingredients are imported from there and the rest of Europe, so the food shadows the seasons as well.
From the very good value ($38) set lunch, we sample a well-executed starter of creamy scrambled egg resembling potato purée, topped with a perfect soft-cooked egg, dollop of caviar and cubes of smoked salmon ($15 supplement). It's hard to go wrong with a combination such as egg and caviar and this one hit all the right marks of comfort and luxury.
An eye for pristine produce results in a crisp-tender grilled Sicilian zucchini which has the texture of thick king oyster mushrooms, simply assembled with lush mâché leaves, tomato concasse and a tomato-mustard mix that pulled all the elements together. Pricey at $35 but very good.
Vegetables get good play here, and one standout is the Vitelotte risotto ($25) where rice is replaced by finely chopped purple potatoes to resemble grains. The creamy texture has a good bite to it, and the fine bacon crumbs are a good foil.
A well-seared crisp-skinned seabass from the set lunch is also enjoyable, sitting on a cassoulet of fava beans which make it satisfyingly creamy but without the heaviness of stewed beans. And the Iberian pluma ($38) features tender grilled pork and crunchy fried cubes of braised pork cheek and off-cuts such as tongue and ears.
Dessert is passable with crispy profiteroles filled with vanilla ice cream (set lunch) and the fluffy corn souffle with popcorn ice cream.
For all its posturing, OCF is a welcome addition to the local dining scene. When it dials down the forced style and builds on the substance, it will grow organically into a restaurant to watch.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good