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Being focused pays off for Saint Pierre
1 Fullerton Road
#02-02B One Fullerton
Tel: 6438 0887
Open for lunch and dinner Tues to Fri: 11.30am to 3pm; 6pm to 11pm. Dinner only on Mon and Sat. Closed on Sun.
I DON'T know if restaurants can be existentialist, but if they could, Saint Pierre must have been asking "Who am I?" ever since it moved from Central Mall to Sentosa and now to its Singapore River-facing dining room at One Fullerton. Sometimes it's fine dining, sometimes it's smart casual with elaborate Sunday brunches. Sometimes owner-chef Emmanuel Stroobant mans the kitchen, sometimes they get someone else to. It's been avant-garde at times, but it's also back-pedalled into familiar French bistro territory.
Now that it's got the two Michelin-starred Shoukouwa attached to it like a bicultural Siamese twin, Japanese ingredients and borrowed aesthetics are in the picture too. And obviously, when your twin has two stars off the bat and you have none, the pursuit of self-identity becomes less of a generic "Who am I?" but a more precise, "How do I become someone Michelin will like?"
Mathieu Escoffier is no Jean Valjean, but as former executive sous chef of Joel Robuchon's now defunct two-starred La Grand Maison in Bordeaux (due to the infamous split between the maestro chef and the restaurant-hotel's owner) he brings stability and Robuchon-style discipline to Stroobant's more free-flowing creativity.
As the new executive chef, he brings Saint Pierre into yet another new phase and from the looks of it, it's a restrained, focused and almost by-the-book classic approach. The urge to come across as mature becomes an end in itself so that while the food is confident, clean and satisfying, there are no surprises, no elements of whimsy and certainly no room to well, play-play. And forget about Sunday brunch, too.
But if the focus on flavour comes at the expense of creative spontaneity, then so be it. Escoffier and Stroobant make a good tag team, and the current menu is the most confident yet, with almost every dish delivering in terms of flavour, execution and concept.
The set lunch is a good sampler, with most of the choices available on the tasting as well as the ala carte menu. The S$58 set is a three course meal, but we like the S$85 version for the two starters and other little extras.
You definitely want to have the amuse bouche - a beautiful line-up of little bites that include a cherry tomato with a crackling sugar crust and filled with espuma; bouncy little square of silky gravlax on sweet beetroot and a pat of wasabi; sardine on crunchy olive toast; and whipped foie gras piped into a crispy filo roll.
Artichoke - usually an acidic, earthy turn-off when you eat them outside of Spain - is a winner here. The tender hearts are dusted in crumbs and pan-fried so you get a mouthful of tender flesh, crust and pine nut stuffing. Paired with the distinctive aroma of turmeric sauce, it's like a reunion of long-lost siblings separated as seedlings.
Of course, you can't beat the famed Robuchon potato puree - what's described as smoked potato espuma is a featherlight creamy potato mixture with the faintest resemblance to aligot - shrouding a perfect soft cooked egg with crunch from the tiniest croutons and a fragrance from the last Manjimup black truffles of the season.
Asian diners, rather than native Europeans, are best able to appreciate the Iberico pork belly with buah keluak sauce (from the tasting menu). Usually a recipe for fusion disaster in a French restaurant (memories of Pierre Gagnaire's attempts at Chinois cooking remain with us forever) it's clever and unpretentious here, thanks to the acclimatised taste buds of Stroobant, a naturalised Singaporean.
For some reason, buah keluak and foie gras work together like magic - sauteed with minced pork and stuffed back into the black nutshell, it really goes well with the fatty pork slices dressed with a smear of buah keluak sauce and perky dots of piquillo pepper cream.
Stroobant's vegetarian entrees are well-grounded, and mushroom lovers will make short work of his pan-fried gyoza skin ravioli flanked by buttery sauteed mushrooms and cups of comforting mushroom enhanced vegetable broth. Langoustine covered with crunchy puffed wild rice is pleasant enough though not quite as attention-grabbing, while medium rare yet tender-to-the-bite roast pigeon is textbook competent with its foie gras sidekick.
Dessert-wise, we have mild matcha cream sandwiched in puff pastry with really sour strawberries and a little-too-sharp berry sorbet.
Given that change is a constant at Saint Pierre, we're a little wary of getting too excited about the food this time. For sure, we like it the way it is now, but whether it stays consistently this way remains to be seen. We have a feeling that unlike Les Miz's Jean Valjean, this plot is not about to end here just yet.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: BT 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.