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Restaurant Review

Audace - Taste over looks

Dishes at Audace are not pretty on the plate, but they are refreshing to the palate

In this age of Instagram and Facebook, it is rare to find a restaurant that does not seem to care how unattractive its dishes look in photographs.

Audace, the new French bistro that replaced Cocotte in the Wanderlust boutique hotel, is one of them.

At my lunch there last week, every dish comes in shades of beige and brown, on plates that are plain white or in earthy monotones - colours that turn out really dull in photographs.

However, if you do not care too much for pretty plating but more for delicious food, that is not going to be a problem.

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French chef Jeremy Gillon's cooking is good. And this is so even without premium ingredients curated from all over the world, which is what many restaurants these days have to do to satisfy savvy customers. So there is no wagyu beef here, just a no-brand striploin from Australia. The server has to go into the kitchen to ask the chef about its provenance.

But no matter. My striploin for lunch, simply called Meat ($29) in the menu, has good flavour.

The server does not ask for my choice of doneness and the beef turns out slightly too cooked for me - medium well rather than medium rare, which is how I like it. But it is tender and not dry, so I do not send it back.

  • AUDACE

  • Wanderlust Hotel, 2 Dickson Road, tel: 6298-1188; open: lunch from 11.30am to 2pm, dinner from 6.30 to 10pm (Tuesdays to Saturdays); brunch from 11.30am to 4pm (Sundays)

    Food: 3.5/5

    Service: 3/5

    Ambience: 3/5

    Price: Budget about $70 a person for a la carte

Besides, I really like the grilled strips of sweet banana shallots draped over the meat. And the tarragon coulis with capers and anchovies goes well with the beef.

The lunch menu is very brief, with just one appetiser, one fish, one meat, one sharing main course and one dessert - and that is for the a la carte section. Then there is a set lunch, at $28 for two courses and $34 for three, with a choice of two salads and a choice between fish and meat.

Dinner, however, features three times the number of a la carte selections.

My lunch Appetiser ($19) is octopus, braised till soft then fired under high heat to char it. It comes with grilled shallots and spring onions, fresh basil leaves and, for texture and to expand the flavour profile, roasted hazelnuts.

I enjoy eating octopus, though the way it is popping up on restaurant menus, I wonder if I'll soon tire of it. But the dish here surprises with its distinct aroma of basil and the crunchy nuts.

The appetiser section of the set lunch offers celeriac, a vegetable that is less commonly seen here.

It tastes like celery, but has a firm and slightly crunchy texture. Celeriac does not always find fans, but I like how refreshing this dish is.

Chunks of the lightly cooked root vegetable are tossed in a celery dressing with salad leaves and a soft-boiled egg is placed on top.

The flavours are light - so light, in fact, I fail to detect any hint of the hay that the celeriac is supposed to be cooked in. It is not missed though.

My choice of meat from the set menu is pork loin, which turns out to be a disappointment.

The meat is devoid of juices and has a soft but rough texture that I find unpleasant. In this instance, I do miss premium meats such as Kurobuta or Mangalica pork, with their succulent texture and delicious flavours.

The pork here comes with undercooked slices of plain-tasting cauliflower and a balsamic reduction. There are also some roasted peanuts, which are my favourite part of the dish - for the same reason I like the hazelnuts with the octopus.

Desserts from both the a la carte and set menus are pretty good. The a la carte one offers a big macaron stuffed with Speculoos cream and black Colombian coffee jelly, and is accompanied by a cocoa sorbet. The flavours are deep and dark, with contrasts in textures and temperatures that keep the palate from getting bored.

From the set is a simpler white chocolate mousse served with caramel ice cream and roasted pecans. The flavours are familiar and pleasing. And the nuts here work for me too.

Audace's interiors do not feel much different from how Cocotte used to be, despite new furniture and a wall mural featuring a large eye. But the day I am there, the restaurant is quiet and I miss the busy vibe of Cocotte.

To draw more people for lunch, the restaurant would need to urgently beef up its menu. With its current lack of choices, there is less reason for diners to return.

•Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke and on Instagram @wongahyoke

•The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 28, 2017, with the headline 'Taste over looks'. Print Edition | Subscribe