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An air of finesse at Fleurette
204 Rangoon Road
Tel: 8725 8218
Open for dinner only Tues to Sat: 7pm to 10.30pm
DO aspiring chef-restaurateurs have a patron saint? If so, he can't be dispensing his blessings in an egalitarian way. On the one hand, he lets most of them scrape by on used equipment and creative DIY decor just to live out their culinary vision. On the other, he seems to have reserved his largesse for chosen ones like Fleurette - a newbie but decked out like an ethereal temple of cuisine, drawing worshippers of stylised dining to this unlikely neighbourhood in Rangoon Road.
For first-time restaurateurs, Fleurette is surprisingly polished, with all the requisite trappings of an 'it' restaurant - like a Zén-inspired foyer and high ceilinged dining area with stylish open kitchen and counter seating. Either that or they went to Esora and told their designer, "gimme something like that".
It's satisfyingly spacious yet intimate - barely eight people fit at the counter because of safe distancing, and an open private room seats five. Diners come in with a hint of reverence at being able to snag the hard-to-come-by reservations that have made Fleurette one of the hottest tickets in town despite its relatively unknown chef Tariq Helou. The 26-year-old Lebanese-Japanese-Chinese Singaporean comes fresh from his very successful Division Supper Club (which we've not heard of), which he ran with his childhood pal Aidan Wee.
The two are now front and centre of Fleurette, where the mild-mannered, unassuming chef Helou delivers a curious hybrid of Japanese-Asian-French that reflects his own mixed heritage; while manager-sommelier Wee handles front of house and occasionally tries to upsell wines with the earnestness of a baby-faced hustler. But if you are so inclined, he does make some interesting suggestions.
Assuming you want to add on upwards of 20 bucks a glass to an already hefty S$198 (now S$218 apparently) bill for your meal, it's a lot of money to put on an essentially unproven talent who is pitting himself against a range of more established, even Michelin star-rated chefs at that price point.
In this sense, chef Helou has some way to go. He may have a handle on technique, but he hasn't quite got the range to play at that level yet, seeming to prefer the safe route of re-assembling and upscaling rather than delivering a clear identity or direction. What may have worked well in a supper club setting doesn't easily translate to a fine dining setting especially when you're pushing out folksy concepts like elevated prawn noodles or McDonald's fillet-o-fish. It's fun, yes, and palate-pleasing sure, but also one dimensional and quite literal in translation.
Leaning heavily on his Japanese side, the so-called prawn noodle is a cold dashi with somen noodles - already a win by cold dipping soba standards - with a raw botan ebi dropped into the broth, and dribbles of oil made from the prawn shells shining on the surface. It's refreshing, with the slippery luxury of prawn sashimi against the chewy noodles.
Before that, your palate is teased with perhaps the most original creation of the evening - chef Helou's rendition of soba cleverly deconstructed as chilled buckwheat-infused chawanmushi with a delicate earthiness, covered with a ponzu-ish espuma with hints of ginger and leeks. It doesn't look like much with its off white paleness, but the delicate layering is just the kind of subtle complexity the chef should do more of.
Oyster tartare under the cover of creme fraiche struggles to assert its briny self, but is overwhelmed. Still, it's a pretty composition with a garnish of Polish caviar, chopped chives and flowers, finished off with crunchy buttered croutons.
Fleurette-o-fish is a tribute to his favourite fast food, the chef tells you as he presents deep-fried amadei fillet with its distinguishing standup scales - crispy and moist within, and served atop homemade tartar sauce with bits of hard boiled eggs, gherkins, onions, cucumber and mayonnaise. Good, but nothing special.
The same with a Hokkaido pumpkin soup amped up with lobster and pumpkin seed oil, but still a glorified pumpkin soup.
His Japanese kappo aspirations get a French jolt as he poaches abalone in an iberico broth and finishes it over bincho, glazed a lovely burnished brown with sweetish tare topped with an espuma of broth. Add a rich gravy of reduced broth with a bit of milk that surrounds some pomme puree, and you get a cross-cultural connection that isn't that clear but we get the message.
And finally, the A5 Miyazaki wagyu is a predictable affair, slow-grilled on bincho and draped with kampot pepper sauce.
Dessert comprises different shades of white, starting with a pre-dessert of ume pudding with a distinctive tanginess of pickled plum and minty shiso granite, over which is poured an infusion of shiso and mint. The main dessert of Hokkaido milk ice cream, olive oil and snow salt ends things on a sweet not, but is nothing original.
With its fancy trappings and high pricing, Fleurette perfectly creates the ambience of a Michelin-aspiring restaurant. But looking the part doesn't necessarily make you the part.
And once you cross into the S$200 a head arena, expectations are a lot higher than other local chefs who sweat to keep their menus in the low hundred. Chef Helou's got a long runway ahead of him. But with the patron saint pushing him along, we think he'll be a force to reckon with in good time.
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.