Dine like in Paris

Balzac's new cosy and intimate location in Fort Canning Arts Centre complements its classic French dishes

Walking up the hill to the Fort Canning Arts Centre, where French restaurant Balzac recently moved to, one can see the top of the Rendezvous hotel a short distance away, towering above the treetops.

The hotel was where Balzac used to be for more than two years until it closed in January.

Yet, the two venues could not be more different.

While there was an attempt to dress up the old place as a Parisian brasserie, it could not be fully shielded from the busy Bras Basah Road foot and vehicular traffic outside or the bright light streaming in during the day.

And the result was a casualness that made the menu prices seem a bit too high for the setting.


  • B1-08 Fort Canning Arts Centre, 5 Cox Terrace, tel: 6336-0797

    Open: Noon to 3pm, 6 to 10pm (Tuesday to Sunday). Closed on Monday

    Food: 4/5 stars

    Service: 3/5 stars

    Ambience: 3/5 stars

    Price: Budget about $80 a person, without drinks

At the new premises in the basement of the arts centre, however, you get to leave behind the hustle and bustle of city life, even though it's just a short walk away.

You enter an intimate dining room lit with hanging lamps that cast a warm yellow glow.

Facing the entrance is a small bar with a row of tall wooden stools where you can have a tipple while waiting for your table. And beside that is a wooden wall on which is etched, in large letters, a quote from French writer Honore de Balzac - after whom the restaurant is named.


If you wonder, like me, why the dining room is so tiny, that wooden panel is also a partition that opens to reveal the rest of the room, which is used when the restaurant gets busy.

All that, together with the wall mirrors and framed posters, as well as a soundtrack of subdued French and English standards, can make you think you are in a little brasserie in Paris, a feeling that grows when you see the menu.

Executive chef Jean-Charles Dubois has mainly kept the selection of classic French dishes from the old restaurant - tweezer- free rustic food that is cooked really well.

The Braised Wagyu Beef Cheek A La Cuillere ($38) is a dish I will never get tired of eating. The meat is slow-cooked the way I like it - firm enough to keep its shape, but also tender enough to be broken up with a fork. Its flavours are deep, complex and well-balanced and the truffled mash potatoes match it in its richness and silkiness.

The Crispy Duck Leg Confit ($38) is done expertly too, with tender meat under a layer of thin crispy skin. My only complaint is that it is rather lean, without the melt-in- the-mouth layer of fat that makes duck confit such a treat for me. But if you are not a fat lover like me, this would suit you fine.

For starters, I decide to pass on the Lobster Bisque ($24) and Pan Fried Duck Foie Gras ($24) - two Balzac staples I enjoyed at the old location - and check out some new dishes instead.

The Char-grilled Galician Octopus Leg ($26) does not strike me as particularly French, but it is tender from long and slow cooking before being grilled to get its smoky flavour. I like it, especially with the smoked sweet paprika creme fraiche, but the accompanying slices of avocado and Parma ham seem to belong to a different dish.

The Carpaccio Of Wild Caught Hokkaido Scallop ($26) is also a hybrid dish, but tastes so good that I will not nitpick about its genealogy.

You can eat the shellfish on crispy slices of summer truffle brioche or on their own with a dash of homemade tarama, a creamy fish roe dip that blends well with the sweetness of the scallops. They taste good either way.

The dessert of Brioche Perdu ($16), a version of French toast that uses brioche instead of bread, is the biggest disappointment of the meal. I expect the fried brioche to be fluffy and rich, but it turns out chewy and bland instead.

I will skip this the next time and settle for a nice, dependable Cointreau souffle instead.

• Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke

• Life paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 13, 2015, with the headline 'Dine like in Paris'. Print Edition | Subscribe