Monday, 1 September, 2014

Published January 20, 2014
French hawker fare heads upmarket
La Cuisson serves up tried-and-tested classics along with a new spin on popular French dishes, writes JAIME EE
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Hearty favourites: La Cuisson's classic French staples are worth a try, such as Pork Pot A Feu (above). - PHOTOS: LA CUISSON, JAIME EE

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La Cuisson

44 Prinsep Street

Tel: 8332 0302

Open for dinner only Tues to Fri: 5pm to 11pm. Sat: 10am to 2.30pm; 5.30pm to 11.30pm. Sun: 10am to 2.30pm; 5.30pm to 10.30pm

IT'S not Silicon Valley, but a little section of Prinsep Street seems to be a hotbed of sorts for culinary startups. This is, for one, where Bistrot du Sommelier made its name before moving to more refined digs at Armenian Street - so if you're a budding restaurateur on a budget but with a desire to say your eatery is in town without technically lying, this row of old shophouses will do the trick.

It's a bit of a stretch to call this place trendy or indie, but its rough-edged, grungy - think Dempsey Village in a shotgun marriage with a beer garden promoter - vibe could well be what draws crowds here in the first place.

It seems apt, then, that chef Kenneth Lin would pick this place when he decided to pack in his humble French hawker stall in Holland Close and go - relatively speaking - uptown. He follows the same footsteps as Saveur, which has gone from serving duck confit and pasta with Sakura ebi in a coffee shop to spiffier surroundings in Purvis Street. But where Saveur continued to attract the same crowd by charging only slightly more than it used to, La Cuisson has opted for a more upmarket approach, with prices to match.

Of course, once you start charging $26 for coq au vin and $33 for a pork chop, expectations go up. What worked perfectly well in a hawker centre setting no longer applies as you enter a different playing field against the likes of more polished mid-priced eateries such as, say, Bistro du Vin or even indie startups such as the very reliable cafe-bistro Sprmrkt in McCallum Street.

La Cuisson acquits itself decently when it comes to the classic French staples coq au vin or pot a feu, but it's when chef Lin tries to veer from the tried-and-tested into slightly more funky territory that the results are inconsistent. He's a pretty deft hand at charcuterie and his pork head terrine (bargain-priced at $8) is a delicious melange of carefully picked out bits of meat and cartilage that you're more than happy to eat on their own. It's when he tries to jazz it up with a drizzle of vinaigrette on top and on the accompanying salad that the acidity almost sends spasms through your brain.

More work is needed on the balance of flavour and acidity in the dishes that are of his own creation, such as the sous-vide pineapple salad ($12), an otherwise nice idea because there's a lot of juicy sweetness in the low temperature-cooked fruit. But combining it with fennel, musky-tasting jamon, walnuts and sweet tomato relish that you notice only too late because of the way it's plated leaves you with a question mark in the 'Did I like it?' department.

Tender if slightly sponge-textured ox tongue ($16) has a little more potential but again, the sharp mustard vinaigette overpowers where a mellower dressing would have sufficed. The coq au vin ($26) on the other hand, is a pleasing textbook favourite - it doesn't look like much but the chicken is meaty and not at all dried out, and you can taste the latent hint of wine and the smokiness of the bacon. It's a pretty generous portion for the price, and is served with toasted baguette.

Less successful though, is the sous-vide pork chop ($33) - a meaty hunk of meat but tough in spite of the low-temperature treatment, and overseasoned. But kudos for the effort in serving it with braised red cabbage, sweet potato and cooked apples. While we didn't try them, the pot au feu ($29) and Australian Angus shoulder tender ($28) are said to be the house specials, and for weekend brunch, the must-order seems to be eggs meurette ($17).

There are quite a few kinks to iron out, but La Cuisson is a laudable attempt by a local chef to enter the cut- throat arena that is the F&B business. Streamlining the menu might not be a bad idea, so that he focuses on the basics (nothing wrong with that) and leaves the experimenting on the side for now. Consistency - delivering the exact same quality dish each time with no variations - is also another issue.

Nonetheless, chef Lin is a welcome addition to what we hope will be a growing number of Singaporean chefs striking out on their own regardless of how modest their set-up is. There's nothing fancy about La Cuisson but what makes up for it is a friendly and sincere staff. When you're willing to learn, make mistakes and keep improving, there's nowhere to go but up. Which is what we hope for this little startup.

Rating: 6


10: The ultimate dining experience

9-9.5: Sublime

8-8.5: Excellent

7-7.5: Good to very good

6-6.5: Promising

5-5.5: Average