48A Bukit Pasoh
Tel: 6980 0672
Open Wed to Sat: 12pm to 11pm. Tues: 4.30pm to 11pm. Closed Sun and Mon.
Have you ever had a particularly heavy meal, resenting the fact that you have consumed enough calories to last you a week on the desert island of your choice? Ever had a double helping of pommes aligot or quiche lorraine and cursed the French chef who invented them, wishing upon him an eternity of salad in his kitchen in the sky – with no chance of vinaigrette? Then you probably belong to the breed of unrepentant but wishful diners who would look a hamburger in the fries and implore, “Why do I have to diet? Why don’t you do it?”
Somewhere along the line, Louis Pacquelin heard you. The chef of the new Clos Pasoh may hail from the land of butter and cream but he creates a menu that is almost devoid of either – and you wouldn’t know any better from eating here.
They say you shouldn’t trust a skinny chef, but this reed-thin Alan Ducasse alumnus seems to have fed off his mentor’s teachings, imbibed the cultural and dietary preferences of his Asian clientele and riffed off his own globe-trotting career to put his personal stamp on French cooking.
It sure took him long enough to get here, after spending his initial time in Singapore at the helm of Raffles Hotel’s BBR by Alain Ducasse, taking his cue from his boss’s rule book. Now that he’s finally snipped his apron strings, he’s in full flight with his independent debut in the heart of Chinatown.
It’s certainly no budget set-up with its classy, contemporary French-tropical surroundings with a colonial accent. Step in the wrong direction and you might end up with a faceful of ferns in this plant-studded eatery. Just as the place is easy on the eyes, the food is light on the stomach with chef Pacquelin’s ability to take the weight off stodgy brasserie classics.
Bisque coco-homard ($29) is lobster bisque that comes to Singapore via Bangkok with a distinct kaffir lime fragrance and the use of coconut milk instead of cream to thicken the refined crustacean broth. The cross-cultural collaboration feels natural rather than cliched, and meaty discs of blue lobster flesh complete this composition.
Along the same milky vein is champignons au vin jaune (S$23) which in normal speak is what happens when mushrooms, walnuts and comte cheese come together like three strangers who discover they get along quite well. Intense mushroom dumplings are an unexpectedly good match with savoury grated comte cheese, walnut emulsion and an infusion of vin jaune for an earthy, nutty, buttery finish.
We haven’t really touched offal done the French way after an encounter with an andouille (kidney, heart and liver minced with culture shock) sausage that did not end well. But we’ll come back just for the trippes et caviar (S$32) – a treat of fried and braised tripe that is both crisp and unctuous from being simmered in its braising liquid and reduced with a scant bit of butter and noilly prat. Add a touch on kombu and caviar and the chef’s take on this Lyon classic is a French-Asian winner.
Such is chef Pacquelin’s adeptness with taste, texture and balance that he can convince you to eat vegetables as a main course. Using French turnips from the same supplier as the Ducasse restaurant in Plaza Athenee, and pears from a less famous source, he creates an excellent vegetable cocotte (S$36) in a sauce of vegetable jus enhanced with just a bit of butter and agar agar to give it a creamy mouth feel without any fat. Granted, the cocotte had us at ‘pear’, with its sweetness making up for the hint of bitterness in the turnips.
French sea bass or maigre (S$42) takes centre stage – perfectly seared with a fine texture without the usual muddy hints of farm-raised fish. Reduced fish broth is poured into a thick cloud of Hollandaise to emulsify it, with roasted Jerusalem artichokes on the side.
Finally, chocolate mousse (S$14) made to his mother’s recipe shows where he inherited his calorie-pinching ways from. Made without cream, it gets its aerated creaminess from eggs, milk and chocolate. Tasting like a whipped Aero chocolate bar, it’s served with tender nutty biscotti and two bite-sized rum babas that are innocent little cakes soaked in a grownup amount of booze.
Sometimes, you need to break out of your comfortable backyard to find out what you’re made of. For chef Pacquelin, striking out on his own is probably the best gamble he’s made. And with his ability to put food on a diet and not us, we win too.
This article was originally published in The Business Times.