Last week, I talked about how the cooking at some restaurants can be technically sound but lacks soul. That, however, is something no one can say about the food at the month-old Bar-roque Grill.
There is no mistaking the passion in the cooking of chef-owner Stephane Istel. The Frenchman, who was executive chef of DB Bistro Moderne in Marina Bay Sands, has gone back to his Alsace roots and come up with a menu that captures the warmth and soul of a country home.
There is nothing fancy, just everyday French fare, but it is food like this that one does not tire of. I went for dinner twice in a week and enjoyed the second visit as much as the first one, even with repeat dishes.
Dishes such as the tarte flambee, which looks like a thin, rectangular pizza but with quite different toppings, win my heart at the first bite.
The Classic ($12 for small) is topped with bacon, onions and cheese. The dough is light and crisp, and the topping delicious, the sweet-salty flavours of the different ingredients working so well together.
The pot of little neck clams, garlic pork sausage, mushrooms, parsley and white wine ($22 as appetiser, $32 as main course) is a dish that you can imagine being served in an Alsace farmhouse, especially on a chilly evening. It does not taste any less delicious in hot and humid Singapore, though I would suggest you order it for dinner rather than lunch.
The hearty flavours from the combination of shellfish, sausage and white wine all come together in the broth, which you can drink on its own or use as a dip for pieces of grilled sourdough served with the dish.
The other main courses look rather ordinary on the menu, but taste far from ordinary.
The French free-range chicken ($38 each or $20 for half) is the best rotisserie chicken I have eaten since the one at Cocotte in Wanderlust hotel.
The chicken is actually from Malaysia – though it is supposed to be a French breed – and it is juicy and succulent, unlike the market-variety poultry with its soft meat. It is also a lot tastier.
The chicken comes “natural”, with chilli or with black truffles ($78 for two persons). I have not tried the one with truffles but between the first two, I prefer the natural one. I taste the meat much better, and it is so rare to find such tasty chicken here that you would not want to mask it with chilli.
The grilled Australian wagyu hanger steak ($36 for 7oz or 198g) also surpasses my expectation. It is more tender than most hanger steaks I’ve eaten – due to its wagyu progeny, I guess – but it also has the meaty flavour of a regular hanger. It is easily the best $36 steak I have eaten.
The desserts hit the spot too.
The apple pie ($12) is especially good, its thick yet soft crust holding soft slices of sweet apple. A sprinkling of cinnamon relieves the dish of monotony without overpowering it.
On the side is a scoop of vanilla ice cream instead of the rum and raisin listed in the menu, which chef Istel finds adds too much to the dessert. I agree – nothing should take attention from the pie.
There are usually a number of off-menu items as well, which the chef would rattle off enthusiastically. And he always mentions the price – a very good practice all restaurants should adopt.
The dishes may be simple, but the decor is not. Playing on the baroque theme, it is a little over the top with chainmail curtains and a large painting of a cherub drinking wine and peeing on the wall. But it is all done tongue-in-cheek and it is unlikely anyone’s taste would be offended.
What can be improved, though, is the acoustics in the dining room. During the busy dinner hour, it gets so noisy that one can hardly hear the recommendations of co-owner Kori Millar, who is Istel’s partner and runs the front of house.
But that is a tiny quibble, really, and no reason to stop anyone from dining in this lovely establishment.
SundayLife! paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.
165 Tanjong Pagar Road, 01-00 Amara Hotel, tel: 6444-9672
Open: Noon to 2.30pm, 5.30 to 10.30pm, Tuesdays to Saturdays. Butcher’s Sundays ($78 a person) from noon to 8.30pm. Closed on Mondays
Price: Budget about $70 a person
Apple pie ($12)
I like that the apple slices are not sour or overly sweet. And the cinnamon crumble adds just enough character to the dessert.
This story was first published in The Straits Times on Aug 11, 2013To subscribe to The Straits Times, please go to http://www.sphsubscription.com.sg/eshop/