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Great place if you enjoy your drinks
38 Craig Road
Open Mon to Sat: 5pm to 12am
IF you have kids, you probably know the feeling: you step into a nice restaurant with your brood and the maître d's demeanour changes. It's the look that says they don't explicitly ban children, but are clearly uncomfortable about serving them. And you in turn feel uncomfortable because negativity is contagious.
Funnily enough, we feel the exact same way on a recent visit to Ma Cuisine - not because we're underaged, but because we under-drink.
Maybe we should have guessed from the people hanging around the bar counter and the colossal leather-bound wine list that's dumped on your table instead of a menu that you're expected to drink more than eat. As the friendly French manager - whose perfectly coiffed handlebar moustache so fascinates us we barely hear what he's saying - explains, this is a gastro-bar. As in, the idea is to pick from its many many pages of different kinds of wine, and the chef designs your food around it.
"But what if I don't drink?", you ask hesitantly. At which point he stops short, as if trying to process the thought that such a mutant actually exists, why one is sitting in front of him, and how to be polite about it. The tips of his moustache quiver slightly. "Ok, we drink a little," you finally lie. Which makes him super happy because then he can show off all the wines they have (and it is quite an impressive, if expensive list) and even offers you a glass of whatever wine you want even though it's listed at per bottle prices in the menu.
Just bear in mind that you need a stretchable wallet if you go that way - be thick-skinned and ask for the per-glass price if you're not in the mood to splurge S$70 on a glass, despite its very good vintage.
On the plus side, they don't seem to mind even if you settle for an S$18 glass of house red which goes very well with the traditional Burgundian cuisine prepared by chef-owner Mathieu Escoffier - who is unrelated to the culinary icon but used to cook in the kitchen of Saint Pierre - who is now leaner, sleeker and with an immaculately coiffed beard to match his manager's moustache.
On the minus side, it's only after much to-ing and fro-ing where we seriously think we won't get any food unless we meet their wine quota, that a menu finally appears - a two-sided sheet of paper with proper starters and mains as well as plates to share. Almost half the recipes come from his family, which runs the original Ma Cuisine in Burgundy and is also known for its wine list.
There is definite attention to detail here, even if it doesn't pull it off completely.
First is some impressive bread - giant slices cut from a massive 2kg loaf customised for them by the Maison Kayser bakery here - airy, chewy and addictive.
They're good with the Burgundian snails (S$20) - otherwise tasteless chewy morsels that depend on the searingly hot garlic and butter parsley sauce that smothers them for flavour. An odd hint of paint-like smell and taste in the dish that we can't place, is somewhat distracting.
A home-made jellied ham and parsley terrine (S$27) is chunky, rustic and pleasant but doesn't really strike a chord. Neither do the seared scallops (S$27) which are almost cold by the time they land on our table. They have a nice yielding texture and buttery pine nut crumble topping, but the root vegetable purée and sweet apple cider beurre blanc have cooled to a cloying texture.
We do enjoy the tete de veau (S$28) immensely - rich, fatty, gelatinous head cheese made from calf's head that's sliced and seared for a crisp exterior to cut the fattiness.
The star dish of the evening is the cocotte du jour - a whole lamb shoulder rubbed with the chef's own blend of spices and braised in vegetable stock for five hours in a Staub casserole. He buys the spices in Chinatown and roasts and grinds them himself for a Moroccan-Indian semi-curry/tagine like flavours. It's too heavy on the coriander and cumin but the texture of the lamb is lovely - it has none of the stringiness of long-braised meat, is fork-tender yet resilient.
We do get sticker shock later, though. The "market-price" of this dish is S$120 for two people, which seems pretty steep for an inexpensive cut of meat. But it does come with very good gratin dauphinois with its waxy potatoes bathed in luscious cream and cheese, and a petite salad to make you feel less indulgent.
For dessert, chef Escoffier wheels out a trolley of sweets. At S$15 a person, you get a slice of everything to share - silky creme caramel, top-notch chocolate pie, so-so lemon tart and a divine chewy fruit tart of some kind topped with creme fraiche.
Much of Ma Cuisine's cooking is rich and hearty comfort food that hits the spot, but you run the risk of indigestion from the market-priced items and other surprises that may come if you don't keep an eye on your tab. Plus their wine-centric concept smacks of Parisian snobbery, even if unintentional. We like the food, but not the pressure that comes with it.
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.