There are some chefs or restaurants that become inextricably linked and associated with a particular dish or drink. Think about the Singapore Sling and its long association with Raffles in Singapore. If somebody mentions Matsuhisa Nobu, the first thing many will think about is his justifiably famous black cod miso. Or think Heston Blumenthal’s egg and bacon ice cream. Some would say that you’d be silly to go to any of these restaurants without trying their signature recipe – that there is a good reason that these precise dishes became associated with these people and places, and that reason is that they best showcase their unique talents. Me? I am a bit contrary. I went to the Fat Duck and didn’t have the egg & bacon ice-cream. I went all the way to Singapore and never set foot inside raffles, let alone sip a Singapore Sling. I went to Nobu and… oh what the hell, yes I tried the black cod miso and it was awe-inspiring. But you get the drift!
So where did I go with that free slot in my itinerary that opened up when I took Raffles off my to do list? I went to explore the many and varied delights of the Shoppes at the Marina Bay Sands, a huge shopping centre at the foot of this iconic hotel that also houses a number of celebrity chef restaurants. We started the evening in Cut by Wolfgang Puck for cocktails in the small, elegant and buzzy bar area. Johanna and I shared two cocktails. First up was a Forbidden Kiss (Hendrick’s gin, fresh raspberries, rose elixir and lemon), a cerise drink which came in an old-fashioned champagne glass with a rose petal and a fresh raspberry resting on a bed of foam. I found this to be pleasant but the rose elixir made it a little too sweet for my taste. I was, however, rather taken by the Rough Love (steady on, missus!) – a mix of Champagne, Tanqueray No. 10 gin and Yatagarasu shiso ume (a paste made from pickled plums and shiso leaves). This was served in a large wine glass with a Titanic-sinking giant ice block in the centre, on which rested a single fresh raspberry. This was far lighter and less sweet and just up my street. Nick took the more manly (i.e. not pink) option and chose a Devil In Disguise (Patron Reposado tequila, passion fruit, chili, smoked kashmiri chili powder) and pronounced it excellent and refreshing. But even the excitement of these delicious cocktail paled beside the the appearance of Wolfgang Puck himself at our table, much to my Austrian foodie friend’s delight! He was in town for the Formula 1 night race and what a charming man he is in person, making time to chat to each table.
Cocktails done, we strolled across the mall to our dinner destination – db Bistro Moderne, the Singapore outpost of New York chef Daniel Boloud’s restaurant group. The restaurants in the group span the entire dining spectrum, from the fine French dining in his original Daniel, to the upmarket delistyle of Epicerie Boulud – and db Bistro Moderne sits somewhere in between those extremes, offering amix of traditional French bistro cooking with contemporary American flavors, and of course Boulud’s world-renown collection of signature burgers. The look is midtown Manhattan meets Parisian bistro, with red leather banquettes and marble topped tables. Service, however, is resolutely American – chatty and smiley in a way that no French bistro has ever been! The kitchen is in the capable hands of executive chef Jonathan Kinsella, an American-born chef who learnt his love of European cuisine from his German father and trained in restaurants all over America. He joined Bar Boulud in New York City as executive sous chef in 2010 and took over as Executive Chef at db Bistro Moderne in Singapore in January 2013.
The menu is heavy with French bistro classics including steak tartare, pork rillettes and French onion soup but occasionally veers off into the US with iceberg & blue salad, Boston lobster salad and New England chowder – and of course there are the steaks and the three burgers, including the signature containing braised short ribs and foie gras. But just as I had skipped the egg and bacon ice-cream at the Fat Duck, I was also to skip the burgers at db Bistro Moderne as the kitchen had kindly put together a special menu for us – all we had to do was sit back, relax and enjoy. While we waited for the first course, we enjoyed a basket of excellent bread (love the mini baguettes!) and a rather fabulous Alsatian tarte flambée – wafer thin and topped with fromage blanc, bacon and onion.
The first course was quite possibly one of the cleverest ways I’ve ever seen of serving scallops: Daniel Boulud’s sea scallops in black tie (black truffle-stuffed diver scallops, baby spinach in puff pastry with truffled chicken jus). As you can see from the picture, these were adorable – the creamy white flesh broken by layers of black truffle, and the whole tightly wrapped in gloden puff pastry. To match this, we were given a 2011 Au Bon Climat Cuvée Daniel (the db Bistro Moderne house white) – a beautifully structured Californian Chardonnay that smelt and tasted of buttery brioche and sweet grapefruit. If only all house wines were this good! The next course, paired with the same wine was the lemon-roasted brook trout with cauliflower, potatoes, vine tomatoes and a saffron & mussel velouté. The fish was just cooked, flaky perfection with crisp skin and was not overwhelmed by the gentle flavour of the accompanying vegetables. I particularly loved the saffron velouté studded with fat mussels.
The meat course of lamb was brought to us before plating so that we could gaze upon its full magnificence – and magnificent it was! Once plated, it comprised spiced roasted saddle of lamb with honey-roasted eggplant, stuffed shishito peppers, fava beans and a rosemary garlic jus. This was matched by a 2006 Jean Noël Gagnard L’Estimee, a Pinot Noir from the renowned Chassagne Montrachet village in Burgundy, France. Although not a very heavy wine, it had a glorious colour and its berries and spice added a bit of sweetness to the robust lamb dish.
Dessert was the perfect solution for people like me who have trouble in making up their minds: a degustation plate containing small versions of four desserts from the menu. My favourite of the night was the miniature apricot tarte tatin with lavender honey, and vanilla ice-cream – the texture was more financier than tarte tatin but who can resist the lure of caramelised apricots? The lychee & blueberry vacherin with violet petals and creme chantilly was intriguing to look at – like a small purple and white alien with its coating of mini-meringues concealing a delightful not-too-sweet interior of fruit and cream. Not perhaps as gorgeous to look at but nonetheless delicious was the palet au chocolat with sesame foam and pistachio ice cream, a symphony of chocolate textures and balanced with a savoury note from the sesame and pistachios. The final dessert of the four was a durian “royale” souffle with mangosteen sorbet Now the mangosteen sorbet was blameless and tasty, but I’m afraid I fall in that category of people that thinks durians smell and taste like a gas leak, and even incorporating it into a fluffy, light textbook soufflé could not distract me from this fact. Nick wolfed it down though… To pair with the desserts, we had a delightful Katinka Tokaji Patricius 2008, a Hungarian dessert wine made from Furmint and Harslevelu grapes and packed with sweet marmalade flavours. And with coffee, we had some delightful madeleines – rich buttery and indulgent.
Having started off the evening with a fair idea that burgers would feature in my immediate future, the menu came as a pleasant surprise and showed off that this kitchen is capable of far more than turning out gourmet burgers. Staff were knowledgeable and super-friendly and the atmosphere was relaxed while still remaining buzzy. With starters at around the £10 mark and mains (including the signature burger) at around £20, it’s also not going insanely expensive (although a ribeye steak will set you back nearly £40). Definitely recommended as a good night out if you happen to find yourself in Singapore at the Marina Bay Sands of an evening!
DISCLOSURE: I enjoyed this meal as a guest of the Marina Bay Sands and db Bistro Moderne. I received no further remuneration to write this post and all opinions are my own.
db Bistro Moderne Singapore
The Shoppes at Marine Bay Sands
2 Bayfront Avenue
Tel.: 656688 8525