Commentary

Review: Le Bistrot du Sommelier

Where do I start? I suppose Le Bistrot du Sommelier is what happens when you pair someone who loves to drink (Maximilien Fedkiw) with someone who likes, and is particularly good at, cooking (Patrick Heuberger). Although Patrick has since left the restaurant – he decided to take a sabbatical to learn how to properly make sausages – I was lucky enough to dine at the Bistro before his departure. As such, this review is a little outdated since Patrick’s been gone for some time – but the experience was so good it’s worthy of a review nonetheless. Also, I did actually go back again after Patrick’s departure and, although not blown away, I was still suitably impressed with the food, ambience and overall experience (from my understanding, Patrick remains a shareholder and may rejoin the restaurant in the future – or may not…I certainly hope it’s the former).
In short, Le Bistro du Sommelier is certainly one of the most authentic (albeit pricey) French bistros in Singapore. Since the turn of the millennium there have been a few such French bistro style restaurants and there are still some now. Sebastian’s at Greenwood would regularly draw in crowds (but unfortunately closed down for reasons unknown) and Au Petit Salut opened its bistro at the back of Chip Bee Gardens quite a while back (I’m not sure if it’s still around).  There was Picotin, which originally opened near the old at the old race track along Bukit Timah and which was helmed by Sebastian of Sebastian’s, but it looks like the philosophy is no that of a French bistro. #rant Then sometime along 2010 – 2012 came La Petit Cuisine which set up shop at Serene Centre and which was (and still is) amazing value for money. That being said, I have a serious grievance with La Petit Cuisine: the service is absolutely terrible. I mean yes, I accept that it is not a fine dining establishment but the staff, and one male waiter in particular, have generally poor (and for the identified staff, TERRIBLE) attitudes.
As someone in the F&B industry, I am extremely reluctant to come down hard on restaurants for bad service or bad food, particularly if the experience is a one off. I’ve always figured that there’s no point in doing damage to a business like that – I simply just won’t go back. But the service experience at La Petit Cuisine (the branch at Serene Centre) has consistently been atrocious to the point where I think an exception has to be made and a rant justified. It’s a pity really because the concept is nice, the prices are good and the food is decent. Over the past 4 years I’ve patronised the restaurant about 4 times and each experience has left me, short for a better word, pissed off. Ok. #endrant.
Let’s get back to the positive. So you have all these French bistros and, of course, at the same time the culinary scene in Singapore was choc-a-bloc with French fine dining restaurants (see Les Amis, Gunthers, Au Petit Salut, Au Jardin, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Jaan, etc). Given the sheer number of options, it is truly to Le Bistro du Sommelier’s credit that it is a standout performer and, in my view, possibly the best French restaurant on the island, all things considered. It certainly was when Patrick helmed the kitchen. Of course, my opinion must perhaps be taken with a grain or two of salt, since it may be unfair to compare bistro food to fine dining – but that’s perhaps a discussion for another day.To the food review proper.
Homemade Blood Sausage
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I don’t think this is either on the menu or that it is strictly legal but boy, oh boy….Handcrafted by Patrick and almost certainly the pièce de résistance of my meal(s) there. Think of black pudding but with a far richer taste and texture. Decadent, delicious and authentic. I’m running out of adjectives here. It’s just a pity that I probably won’t be able to try this again, since it was a one off and the chef has since left, but at least I now know what to look out for if and when I next dine in France. Verdict: 5 / 5
Homemade Liver Sausages
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This is what Patrick left the Bistro to learn how to do. I suppose he wanted to hone his sausage / meat-curing skills. I have no idea why since they were on perfect display here! The sausage had perfect composition and consistency and pair spectacularly with the boutique wines fed to us by Max. Again, it’s a pity that this is also not on the menu and unlikely to ever be available again (unless Patrick returns). There’s a common theme becoming apparent here… Verdict: 4.5 / 5
Oven Roasted French Whole Duck
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Alas – this is again not on the menu. BUT I think you might be able to persuade the current chefs to try their hand at preparing it if you call in advance and ask really nicely. Maybe even reference this post in so doing? 😛 The duck was expertly caramelized with orange and the skin was crisp to the bite whilst the meat was tender and succulent. People sometimes say that our local ducks have more flavour, whereas the French ducks are fattier with more meat. It’s as though we have to choose, you know? Is it too much to ask for both? I have no idea where they got this duck from (I know it’s French, but have no clue which farm or supplier) but it was super. We should take this kind of duck and make siew ack! Hey…that’s an idea 😛 Verdict: 4.5 / 5 
Roasted Pork Belly 
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Another well-executed dish – although I had this on my second visit after Patrick had left. Still, the pork was tasty, succulent, perfectly cooked with crackling. What more can one really ask for? But of course, when it comes to pork, the Cantonese do it best. Verdict: 3.5 / 5
Roasted Ribeye
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Competently executed medium doneness but I wasn’t dying in ecstasy – although it takes quite a bit for me to go gaga over a steak (think Morton’s of Chicago or the Bistecca at Osteria Mozza.
For the most part, I generally do not order beef unless I am really in the mood for it. The reason is simple really – as good as a steak is, there is usually very little variance in preparation and cooking between fine establishments. Assuming that the desired doneness is achieved (which is honestly not difficult) and the outsides seared, the only real distinguishing characteristics of a steak are (a) the quality of the meat used; and (b) the quality of the side dishes served. Obviously the former characteristic is the more important one. The simple fact is that different types / cuts of meat (and here we are talking about different breeds of cows as well as what those cows are fed) lead to different taste profiles. Whilst there has been a recent obsession with the breed of cow from which your steak or roast is cut, I’m usually more interested in what the cow was fed as I feel this has a direct impact on the taste and texture of the steak.
On one end of the spectrum, with an extremely strong taste profile but a less-than-desired texture, you have grass-fed meat. Grass-fed beef usually has the most robust flavour, but the cows themselves suffer from the development of too much muscle leading to a steak which is often riddled with tendon running through the ribeye and an overly tough texture. Texture is usually improved by feeding the cows grain up to 180-200 days before they are slaughtered, but (for me at least) that doesn’t dramatically improve the texture. On the other extreme, you have steaks which are all texture but may not even remotely taste like beef – case in point being Japanese wagyu with insane marbling scores or Kobe beef. It doesn’t taste like a traditional steak at all and the meat often has a “melt in your mouth” texture with an eye-watering price per 100gm to boot. As much as I enjoy Japanese refinement, this is one area where I feel it doesn’t do the cause of beef much justice. Finally, you have what I consider to be the best of both worlds – corn fed beef, specifically USDA Prime! For me, this has the best combination of taste and texture and although not cheap, is hardly anywhere close to the ridiculous price one may pay for Kagoshima (Japanese) / Mayura (Australian) wagyu with marbling / quality grade scores of 8 / 5 or above.

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