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A good show by La Dame de Pic at Raffles
La Dame De Pic
1 Beach Road
Open for lunch and dinner Tues to Sat: 12pm to 2pm; 7pm to 9.30pm. Closed Sun and Mon.
BY the time you read this, Le Grande Dame Raffles would have finally opened her doors. About time too, considering how she spent the last month or so in a sort-of-kinda-almost-not-quite state of being not open. It's like waiting anxiously for Madame Butterfly to finish putting on her makeup and step into the spotlight - letting rip with a heartbreaking aria, her devoted Sikh doorman standing gallantly by her side.
But as with all headline performances, there's always an opening act and in Raffles' case it's another Dame - not as grande but no pushover herself, in the form of La Dame de Pic.
The restaurant by Anne-Sophie Pic - the only female chef to helm a three Michelin-starred restaurant in France - has been open since July 5, playing to a crowd eager for a first hand look at the iconic hotel even if it meant side-stepping construction workers and plastic safety barricades in order to get into its classy chic premises.
It's a beautiful space - speckled with all the appropriate feminine touches Madame Pic is known for. Pretty in pink without the cloying sweetness, blooming with peonies on every table. The stiff formality of the former Raffles Grill is gone too, evaporating along with other fine dining cliches of starched white linens and tuxedoed waiters. In its place are matt leather-topped tables, a mostly Asian serving staff and contemporary vibe that is totally of its time, as in, now.
The smartness of La Dame de Pic is seen in its intuitive ability to project a sense of place, in this case Singapore. As it is, Anne-Sophie's cuisine is derived from her early fascination with Asia, so it makes it easier for her to pick up on local nuances and ingredients, which her chef-protege Kevin Gatin executes with razor-sharp precision.
Lunch is a refreshing introduction to the Pic-style and Chef Gatin has us at "honeycomb" - the familiar kueh rose cracker more commonly seen during Hari Raya or Deepavali - getting the French treatment here with piped dots of intense mushroom gel and dabs of lemon compote to sharpen it up.
It's part of a generous line up of snacks considering we order the cheapest three course S$128 set lunch. There are yuzu bon bons - flavourless cocoa butter shells that burst into a flood of ice cold yuzu juice enhanced with a hint of coffee and pastis for an aniseed flavour. A wispy rice cracker is topped with fermented yoghurt, raw amadei sashimi and a dusting of lapsang souchong powder.
And finally, peanut mua chee meets French marshmallow in this peanut powder-dusted dense fluffy square on a stick.
As an amuse bouche we have green on green - tender peas in a broth of peas lightly perfumed with geranium. A hint of mint. A mouthful of Spring.
In a choice of first courses, a pearlescent soft-boiled egg on a circle of lightest, crispest pastry, flanked by a green pea espuma infused with coconut milk lulls you into a state of cosiness. Shavings of celeriac, green apple and celery dressed in an emulsified remoulade, in turn, snap your taste buds to attention. This lunch is infinitely better than an earlier media preview we attended.
The main courses of brill in a green fennel sauce and veal that's slow roasted but with an under-the-weather hue don't quite hit the high notes. For better mains, you'll need to return for dinner where a pan-seared butter basted turbot bounces its way into your heart with its zingy granny smith broth scented with marigold flowers and tarragon. Aveyron lamb, too, fills you with both guilt and joy at these tiny, baby lamb saddle and chops so buttery soft with grilled artichokes.
Compared to lunch, which is light, fun and very good value, dinner takes on a more subdued note - probably because we're expecting more bells and whistles but instead we get a replay of the same snacks, plus added courses to justify a higher price of S$198 and S$218. If you want to go the whole hog with lobster, set aside S$328.
Besides the main courses, the difference between the S$198 and S$218 menus is a palate-perking tomato myriad - shiny cherry tomatoes in a clear broth and given some depth with unsweetened sage ice cream.
Whether for lunch or dinner, don't miss the signature berlingots - matcha pasta shaped into bite-sized pyramids filled with a whipped mixed cheese filling that you scoop up with clear green tomato consomme emulsified with butter and herb of grace. It's an Asian herb that Madame Pic discovered in local markets, balancing out the acidity and creaminess with a pleasant bitterness.
Desserts are the high point day or night, kicking off with a pre-sweet of fresh cherries layered with olive ice cream and lemony foam that is just the thing to kick your palate into different gear.
La Dame also has a way with chocolate - whipped, melted, glazed and manipulated into multiple textures of joy. Guanaja chocolate is turned into a palette of sticky chewy chocolate with holes for brown and white chocolate cream, while Araguani chocolate is fashioned into petal-shaped layers of cookie, chocolate ganache and tuilles. But the dark stuff isn't all there is to dessert. Pineapple gets its stage in a pina colada creation of fruity cubes, coconut ice cream and wafer thin cookies.
White millefeuille is a creamy cube of chantilly cream whipped with gelatine like a modernist sculpture. It hides layers of puff pastry and grapefruit jelly that we are as ambivalent about as contemporary art.
Fine as the techniques displayed at La Dame de Pic, there's a certain pattern that repeats itself - the clear broths, the freshness, the classic meats - which gets tiring, especially at dinner. But that said, there's a lot to like about this opening act, and part of it has to do with its cast.
We can already pick out three favourites: Dexter the engaging young maitre'd; Suresh the Robuchon-trained server with his amazing slow-motion sauce pouring technique perfect for Instagram shots; and Hiromi the Japanese sommelier with her tireless work attitude. Add that to Madame Pic's elegant cuisine that will get better once this initial phase is over, and of course the final act of the grande dame's full opening, and you've got a show that's destined for a very long run.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: The Business Times pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.