Dining

Where to have the best duck confit, beef tartare and other French classics in Singapore

When it comes to French bistro favourites, these are the best renditions in town. We should know – we ploughed through many days of food coma so you wouldn’t have to.
 

Best duck confit

La Brasserie

Duck confit can be tricky to execute because it calls for a tight balancing act of three essential components: the crispness of the skin, the tenderness of the meat, and the overall saltiness. There are more than a handful of good duck confits in Singapore, but it took a while to find a rendition that thoroughly won us over; most restaurants only nailed two out of three factors.

Remarkably, the newly revamped La Brasserie at the Fullerton Bay Hotel, and the Bib Gourmand-crowned Bar-Roque Grill at Amara Singapore managed that feat, neck-to-neck with each other.

At both restaurants, the skin was faultlessly crisp with almost no visible trace of fat. The meat was suitably moist and perfectly seasoned such that there was just the right amount of salt to whet the appetite without tiring the palate. Most notably, the ducks retained robust flavour without once being gamey.

Bar-Roque Grill

The secret perhaps lies in that both chefs import their fowls from France and do the curing themselves. As Stephane Istel, chef-owner of Bar-Roque puts it, the French breeds, with their fattier build, are better suited for the traditional confit method of cooking. The fats protect the meat from drying out during the slow curing and cooking processes; and the fat is also where the flavour's concentrated at.

Both restaurants are in favour of countering the intense profile of the duck confit with lots of acidity. In the case of La Brasserie: Beluga lentils cooked to al dente in a zippy, sherry vinegar base. At Bar-Roque, a simple frisee salad in honey vinegar dressing joins forces with an orange jus reduction to provide zing, but there's also a handful of crisped kale to provide an unexpected, pleasant bitterness into the fray.

Bar-Roque Grill, #01-00 Amara Singapore, 165 Tanjong Pagar Road, tel: 6444-9672.

La Brasserie, ground level, The Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore, 80 Collyer Quay, tel: 6597-5288.

 

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Best French onion soup

db Bistro just about nailed it on all fronts.

The soup easily outpaced its competitors because the flavours here are so vibrant. The broth brims with beefiness from the broth, and the sweetness of the slow-cooked onions, but what earned our respect was the way the flavours retained a lightfooted freshness without once weighing down the palate. It's rich, yes, but never overwhelming.

Top marks too for the way the cheese ─ emmental, gruyere and comte ─ melds to the bread, and that the baguette soaked up the soup without losing texture; but the star of the show was the broth.

db Bistro & Oyster Bar, #B1-48, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, 2 Bayfront Avenue, tel: 6688-8525.

 

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Best beef bourguignon

Bar-Roque Grill

Think of beef bourguignon like how you'd approach say, buah keluak. Variations abound, sometimes by region, sometimes by the personal preferences of the chefs, or even that of the chefs' grandmothers!

Most restaurants in Singapore favour a rich sauce that coats the meat almost like a glaze. If that's the style you seek, Bar-Roque Grill is right up your alley. Here, the tender chunks of French beef short ribs are swathed in a flavour-dense reduction of Burgundy red and beef stock. But chef-owner Stephane Istel also borrows from his Alsatian heritage and blankets the whole casserole in a buttery puff pastry (with a bonus of truffle shavings!), all the better for soaking up the sticky gravy.

Cafe Gavroche

Over at Cafe Gavroche, chef-owner Frederic Colin turns out a beef bourguignon that he has recalibrated with the Singapore palate and climate in mind.. Not that the localisation makes it any less of a winner. The result is a lighter, almost soupy beef stew that doesn’t feel cloying even on hot, humid days. Those cubes of Angus brisket are tender enough to cut with a spoon, and plump enough to offer a good bite. And the flavours are robust without being heavy. It's almost like the broth has a spring to its step, with soft tannins from the red wine, and a faint hint of sharpness from strips of softened leeks. You'll definitely be wanting to order more bread to mop up every last drop.

Bar-Roque Grill, #01-00 Amara Singapore, 165 Tanjong Pagar Road, tel: 6444-9672.

Cafe Gavroche, 69 Tras Street, tel: 6225-4869.

 

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Best coq au vin

You would think, given its prime location within the Marina Bay Sands, and the way it's been billed everywhere as a celebrity restaurant, db Bistro would be all dainty plates and teensy bites.

On the contrary, db Bistro is very much rooted in French bistro classics, and executive chef Jonathan Kinsella's cooking delivers on that promise, from the bold flavours right down to the hearty portions.

The Red Wine Braised Chicken 'Coq au Vin' is everything it should be. The wine-y sauce is rich and lusty, the chicken is succulent, the potatoes are tender, and there's a firm bite to the smoked bacon.

But db Bistro also goes the extra mile with their own twists. They add roasted chicken breast to the finished dish, then serve the coq au vin with a side of house-made spaetzle. The idea is to use the simply seasoned roast chicken to lighten up the dish, but it's probably also designed to prove a point: To reaffirm db Bistro's superiority in roasting chooks such that even the notoriously tough breast meat is supple. As for the spaetzle, it's a traditional dish from Alsace ─ an eggy type of pasta that, if you will, resembles crudely formed fusilli. Brown around the edges from a quick stint in the pan, these plump, chewy morsels make for a pretty unusual carb pairing.

db Bistro & Oyster Bar, #B1-48, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, 2 Bayfront Avenue, tel: 6688-8525.

 

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Beef Tartare

Beef tartare is probably the most ubiquitous French dish in Singapore, and most versions are very agreeable. But what bagged the crown for La Brasserie's beef tartare was the way every single component hung in balance elegantly.

It goes without saying that there's not even a hint of gameyness to this one. The seasoning is spot on: The tartare tastes very clean and light, with the sweet, tart, and piquant nuances in check. There's a good chew to the meat – grade A5 wagyu rump is used with the textural end goal in mind – and a discernible snap and tartness to the pickles buried within. Capping off the tartare with a sous vide-cooked yolk was another brilliant idea. Mixed in, the yolk helps to bind the flavours with modest creaminess.

There's lots to praise about the accompaniments too. First, there's the imported Poilane sourdough – probably the most celebrated bread in all of France – that's enhanced with olive oil and pan-fried toasty. Then there's that dangerously generous portion crisp and fluffy shoestring fries, anointed with a subtle earthiness from truffle-infused olive oil.

Just remember to pace yourself, since you've probably got mains coming up.

La Brasserie, ground level, The Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore, 80 Collyer Quay, tel: 6597-5288.

 

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Best buckwheat crepes

Wheat flour-based crepes, the kind your crepe suzette is made with, are dime-a-dozen but buckwheat crepes are much rarer commodity in Singapore. They’re also much more finicky to get right.

And when it comes to French crepes, you can't get any more authentic than at Entre-Nous, a tiny, blink-and-you-miss-it shop tucked inside Seah Street. The owners hail from Brittany, home of the galettes de sarrasin – those gritty, mahogany-tone savoury pancakes made from buckwheat flour. They’ve got the recipe down pat, so if it’s buckwheat galettes you seek, this is the place to go.

The Breton style is much crispier than the ones typically seen in Paris. Here, the whole galette, not just the edges, borders on brittle – probably well-suited for the Singapore obsession with crunch. But if you'd rather your galettes a little softer, they'll be happy to accommodate too.

The Complete is one of the most quintessential among galettes: emmental cheese, ham, and an egg cracked right into the middle. Renamed La Brehat at Entre-Nous, the galette is burnished and beautifully lacy, and a cohesive balance among the richness of the egg and cheese, the mild sweetness of the pork leg ham, and the earthy, slightly tangy character of the batter.

While you're here, get a dessert crepe (made with wheat flour) to share to – you wouldn't need anything more than the deep, sweet and salty hit from the housemade salted caramel sauce.

Entre-Nous Creperie, #01-01, 27 Seah Street, tel: 6333-4671.