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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Reaching for the stars

Bruno Menard of the defunct three-starred L'Osier in Tokyo now helms La Cantine.
The Business Times - September 24, 2012
By: Jaime Ee
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Reaching for the stars French style: La Cantine's elaborate chandeliers are countered by its more spartan blond wood tables and chairs - PHOTO: LA CANTINE RESTAURANT

NEW RESTAURANT

La Cantine
#01-01 Asia Tower 1
8 Marina View
Tel: 6690-7567
Mon - Fri: 8am - 10pm
Sat: 6pm - 10pm

YOU can take a chef out of a three Michelin-starred kitchen but can you take the three Michelin stars out of that chef?

That seems to be the question and challenge facing Bruno Menard of the defunct three-starred L'Osier in Tokyo who has spent much of his time since moving to Singapore justifying his decision to sell hamburgers for a living.

Never mind that people tend to forget that stars are awarded to a restaurant rather than the chef, or that Chef Menard doesn't actually flip the burgers himself. Judging by the wild success of &Made, diners seem to believe that it takes one of his pedigree to create a tasty beef patty in a home-made bun. And now that he's shown what a three-star burger tastes like, Chef Menard is on to his next task - to create a three-star brasserie in the heart of the financial district.

La Cantine looks more casual than it does in photos which zoom in on the elaborate chandeliers above - its over-the-top detail immediately countered by the more spartan blond wood tables and chairs. Rooster figures hang upside down from the ceiling as a kind of nod to its self-styled quirkiness, even if this significance is a little lost on us. But then we didn't get to scrutinise it from our vantage point outside the restaurant - an outdoor space facing the taxi stand and a public restroom that diners without prior reservations are relegated to.

That would be your punishment for assuming that the restaurant couldn't possibly be fully booked at lunchtime, but at least there's an attempt to make the alfresco seating area comfortable.

It'll take a bit of time to get service from harried staff who already have to cope with the full house inside, but they get to you after a while, and they're a pretty obliging lot.

The food was mostly good, albeit a little too reliant on the old school of thought that French food isn't French unless it's got a good dollop of cream or dairy in almost every dish.

We relished the fact that the Cevennes onion soup on a "foie gras royale" ($24) was not the run-of-the-mill cheese toast-crusted braised onion broth until the creaminess of the mild onion-sweetened soup with the layer of rich foie gras custard underneath hit a "red" on the cholesterol meter. Tasty, but you're better off splitting the generous portion into two.

A refreshing momotaro tomato salad ($16) was a pleasantly tart-sweet combination with its light vinaigrette dressing given some heft with a big mound of fresh goat's cheese and herbs. The cheese had a tangy, creme fraiche flavour and tempered the fat tomato wedges nicely.

Meanwhile, comfort food appeared in the form of a perfectly cooked egg confit sitting atop a bed of chorizo bits cooked into a sharp-edged ratatouille in a thick reduced tomato sauce. Tiny croutons helped soften the acidity of the tomato and gave this dish a pleasant breakfasty twist.

A distinct whiff of fishiness hit our nostrils when the steamed cod arrived ($30) in a vegetable "nage" (broth) and olive oil emulsion. Our suspicions were confirmed when we cut into the otherwise lovely textured fish that flaked nicely but the less than fresh smell, overly salty salmon roe and a creamy (again) white sauce underneath did not make this our favourite.

Instead, what won our votes was the la Bavette ($36), an uninspiring sounding beef flank with caramelized onions and ravioli au gratin, with barbecue sauce. Flank is an inexpensive, potentially chewy cut that is hard to work with unless you have a steady hand with the cooking time or lots of baking soda in your cupboard. Here, it's done rare and as flavourful and tender as any expensive rib eye, with just a little bit of chew. It's good on its own without the caramelised onions or thick tomato sauce. Skip the accompanying cheese ravioli baked au gratin, but it was a guilty pleasure we couldn't help indulging in.

For dessert, Chef Menard seems intent on making his caramel lava cake ($15) a signature sweet in all the restaurants of the Deliciae group (which La Cantine is a part of) and despite some less-appealing versions elsewhere, the one here passes muster with its sticky toffee pudding-like texture and the oozing caramel that pools around the scoop of vanilla ice cream coated with crunchy crushed wafer bits.

So Chef Menard may not have his fancy three-star digs to lord over anymore but he's perhaps doing something better - imparting his skills and recipes to a younger generation of chefs doing the actual cooking at La Cantine, reaching for stars of their own.

Rating: 7/10

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