San Bistro, which opened in February, is what I would call a right restaurant in a wrong location.
Right for the impressive modern French cooking by executive chef Josh Chua. And wrong for the odd location in a tiny neighbourhood shopping centre in Bedok.
A casual Italian eatery or a brasserie might work, but a bistro serving elegant French dishes will be a tough sell in the suburban Eastwood Centre, which is surrounded by landed homes, condominiums and the busy Bedok Food Centre at the Upper East Coast Road junction.
And that is a shame, because chef Chua is a gem in the making. His cooking is not Michelin star standard - not yet - but the 32-year-old permanent resident from Terengganu, Malaysia, is definitely someone to watch.
He came to Singapore to work at Raffles Grill 10 years ago and later joined Guy Savoy at Marina Bay Sands. He left before it closed down in 2014 and taught culinary arts for a while at the Institute of Technical Education.
20 Eastwood Road, 01-03, tel: 6448-9959, open: 11.30am to 10pm (Tuesday to Sunday), closed on Monday
Food: 3.5/5 stars
Service: 3.5/5 stars
Ambience: 2.5/5 stars
Price: Budget about $100 a person, without drinks
It is easy to see Guy Savoy's influence in the dishes at San Bistro. The pretty plating, the use of a single ingredient in different variations and the deconstruction of classic desserts are signature Savoy touches.
But inspiration is not necessarily copying and the food at San Bistro can stand on its own.
Among the appetisers, the Angus Beef Tartare ($29) is a dish that I like a lot. What makes it stand out is that the aged raw beef is finely hand-cut, not minced, giving it a bite and juiciness that you would not get otherwise. It comes topped with a raw egg and is surrounded by a scattering of salad greens, a vine-ripened cherry tomato and quartered grapes soaked in Moscato.
Mix the egg into the beef, scoop a bit on a piece of brioche and then savour the lovely combination of flavours in the mouth. Clean your palate with the vegetables and grapes, then repeat with the meat.
I do not always have the stomach for raw meat, but this works for me.
The pasta section should not be ignored either. If having four courses is too much food, get one pasta to share before the main course.
I'd recommend the Linguine Lobster ($38), not so much for the lobster tail, but for the delicious bottarga di muggine sauce. Made with cured mullet roe, it has a distinctive flavour that is slightly salty and fishy, but not in an unpleasant way. It is also a bit heavy, so it would be wise to share it.
For the main course, get the Amadai ($40) if you like fish. This Japanese tilefish, which is usually oven-roasted with scales on and is getting very popular on fine-dining restaurant menus, is expertly done here.
The scales are very crispy, forming a beautiful contrast to the fish's smooth, sweet flesh. It is served on potato mousseline, a creamy mash that accentuates the smoothness of the fish, together with roasted cauliflower and a dash of sauce meuniere for flavour.
The Turbot ($48) that I try another night is less successful, mainly because the already firm fish is a tad too cooked, which toughens it further. While not exactly a failure, it lacks finesse.
From the meat selection, I am happy with the Lamb Rack ($48), which comprises three meaty pieces with a rib bone attached to each. Accompanied by charred marinated peppers, green lentils and lardo crudo (lard) and served with natural jus, they are tender, juicy and delicious.
The Braised Kurobuta Pork Belly ($45), however, is less successful. While the fatty bits are melt-inthe-mouth, the meat is a little dry, which can happen when it is cooked for too long without sufficient liquid.
Desserts are where the restaurant gets a bit playful. A boringsounding Apple Crumble ($17) is totally unrecognisable with bits of caramelised apple and sable breton scattered on a plate with macadamia gelato, yogurt semifreddo and popcorn. To eat it, you reconstruct the dessert by putting a bit of everything on your spoon. Then, savour how the different flavours, textures and temperatures come together.
Olive Oil & Rosemary ($17) is a good choice too. I like the savoury character of the dense cake and the rosemary ice cream is a good match.
The restaurant manager eagerly recommends the Orb ($18) during my first two visits, obviously wanting to show off the visual trick of having the dark chocolate ball vanish under a flow of hot Baileys.
But I already know how the dessert works, so I wait till my third visit to order it. It is good, with a centre of mascarpone ice cream and a base of sponge crumbs and white chocolate powder - flavours that complement the dark chocolate and Baileys very well. Think of it as a sort of deconstructed tiramisu.
The food at San Bistro is fit for a fine-dining restaurant, but the ambience is not. From the outside, it looks like a cafe. Step inside and you see a glass-walled wine cellar taking up substantial space in the small unit.
Which makes things a bit confusing. It doesn't feel right for a formal dress-up dinner and yet the food looks too fine for the weekend attire of shorts and a T-shirt.
Still, such things do not bother me too much, as long as the food delivers. And you find that at San Bistro, it does.
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• The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.