Tue - Fri: 12:00 - 14:00
Tue - Fri: 18:30 - 22:00
Sat: 18:00 - 22:30
Closed: Sun, Mon
Nicolas Le Restaurant is set up by Nicolas Joanny whose style of cuisine is traditionally French with great usage of products from the Provence.
After a stint away, Nicolas Joanny is back in Singapore and his latest twin ventures in Chinatown are not only exercises in Gallic exuberance, they're a worthy counterpoint to the wildly expensive Les Amis. In the heart of Keong Saik Road's red-light drag, Le Restaurant (complete with a chef's table) ramps up the fine-dining quotient, while a few doors down, Les Artistes Bistrot presents a more wallet-friendly option that offers set lunches and dinners only.
From the reassuring presence of the tall French maître d' at the entrance to the French-accented English floating through the kitchen's peek-a-boo service window, the bistro gets everything right. Except, that is, its turgidly boring interior - plain walls and minimal decoration by way of unremarkable for-sale artwork - that evokes more a corporate diningroom vibe than it does a bistro. Indeed, the noise level from the long table of thirty or so business types - even when primed by a constant flow of reds and champagne - rarely rose above that of a polite argument.
Still, the moment passed when the bread basket arrived with warm, chewy home-made bread alongside a rich, earthy duck rillette. There's not much on the regularly changing menu for vegetarians, but that's the French for you. Why settle for sautéed greens when you could hoe into beef cheeks that have been braised for five hours? The portions themselves are on the small side and, for a bistro, a little too prettily plated. The upside is that everything is cooked with seasoned aplomb.
On the night we dined, a meaty, rosemary-laced rack of lamb arrived with a shot glass of garlicky, truffled purée that sparkled with the low crunch of sea salt. The gelatinous beef cheek, stained a deep red by wine, was defenceless against the slight prod of the fork. A speckled green wave of chives surfed along the foam of the velvety lobster bisque. It was all artfully done with obvious technique and a confident hand with the seasonings, even if the foam was so five years ago. Even the desserts cleaved close to Joanny's less-is-more approach, exemplified by a sweet pear poached and served with a mere scattering of shaved almonds. Simple, but not insultingly so.
There were dull moments such as the rather tough and bland snail meat that not even the accompanying silky ravioli could rescue. But the lowest note of the evening came when the waitress started clearing up the table when my dining companion was still mopping up the last of her lamb. If this had been Paris, the incident would never have happened. But that's when you remember that you're in Singapore after all, and most chefs' good intentions stop at the kitchen door.
First thing first, alot of what they were trying to serve as home made tastes and probably is... industrial. List of a few things that tastes industrial, bread and crackers from the starters, and the cakes for the desserts even the rillette they were using for the starters tasted like it came out from a can. The entire experience was inadequate. The food was pretentious and unappetizing. Poor and uneven seasoning which makes some things bland and most of others salty. Granted that the quality of the meats in the mains were good, but good ingredients also requires good seasoning and proper treatment. Alot of what they were trying to create didn't make sense visually or even in the mouth. And of course the worst experience comes with the price that they are charging for their food. Way too expensive for what is being served. I had seen the share of bad reviews of the place from others before we went in, but i was not prepared to be disappointed to the point of leaving this review.
I can't think of that many restaurants in Singapore where you are served real perfection, in fact I can count them on one hand. This is one of those few.
The Chef has an excellent control of the kitchen, consistently delivering perfection with every dish, maintaining the right balance between creativity, tradition and taste. I would consider without a doubt this to be the best fine dining French in Singapore (setting aside insanely priced "celebrity" restaurants), only having Jaan as a worthy competitor.