Monday, September 15, 2008

La Petite Cuisine

In an earlier post I had mentioned Evans Lodge, my erstwhile doss house/concentration camp. It is located in the Botanical Garden area, which is otherwise home to some of the priciest real estate in Singapore. You don't get too many hawker centres in these parts, not surprisingly. But by way of compensation you encounter numerous eateries of the more upscale types. Relatively upscale, that is. While some, like Sushi bars, are expensive by any standards, the rest are places an impoverished student can visit now and then. And since well-heeled expats form a large segment of the area's population, you get a glorious variety of food in this price-band - specialty restaurants, niche cuisine outlets (like Curry Wok), sidewalk cafes, pubs, coffee-and-cake-shops, even gourmet hamburger joints.

La Petite Cuisine is located in the Serene Centre complex next to the Farrer Road flyover - coincidentally, just round the corner from the French Embassy at Cluny Road. Coincidentally because it is modelled directly on the French bistro concept. Tables placed outside in the passages; checked tablecloths; a chef replete with thick grey handlebar moustache and equally thick accent (for good measure he's called Bernard) - clichés even by TV sit-com standards. I was very apprehensive the first time I went there.

As soon as you sit down they place before you a hard roll, warm and moist from the oven, together with a blister-pack of excellent French butter. A charming practice. Cynics might claim, though, it's a palliative-in-advance, given the tiny portions they serve.

The first time I went there I ordered something-Mediterranean-or-the-other I can't recall the name of. It turned out to be three sausages doused in vinaigrette dressing on a large pita bread, and covered with roquette and other salad leaves. Described so baldly it does not sound particularly appetising, but it actually made for a rather tasty meal.

The sausages were of good quality, plump, and fried just the right amount. While the pita was unremarkable, the roquette was fresh and juicy. And the vinaigrette possibly the best I've ever had - balanced, not too tart, and well blended. All in all, not a very filling meal, especially not for ten Dollars, but still satisfying.

I went there again a few days later, this time with Ananth, friend and then-roommate. I ordered steak with potatoes au gratin, which was a mighty disappointment. I mean, I had not expected the portions to be big exactly, but that scrap of meat they gave me would have barely covered a playing card.

I was so surprised I forgot to take pictures, and remembered only when I had finished half of it. The accompanying photo was taken at this point. From the half-steak it does show, it is easy to figure out how big the other half was.

Ananth fared much better with his grilled fish and rice. They gave him a respectable portion of dory, plus an equally decent helping of rice sautéed in butter with bits of onion and all. Of course, I got all sorts of extras with my steak - potatoes au gratin, some more of those roquette leaves, even a dab of excellent mustard.

The cooking was impeccable. They made my steak medium-rare, just the way I had wanted it. Juicy, tender, flavourful, with the rare (read uncooked) flavour emerging only occasionally. The potatoes were well done too, evenly cooked and with loads of cheese.

Ananth enjoyed his fish too. It was firm and flaked beautifully at the touch of the fork, soft, delicately flavoured. Not overdone, the way some people cook fish and kill its flavour, and yet free of the unpleasant odour of undercooked fish.

This is not to say the cooking has uniformly been above par. Recently a friend went there and tried pork chop with spaghetti. The chop was too hard for their steak knives, even; she ended up eating only half of it. My personal experience, though, has always been pleasant. I got my food within reasonable time, the service was both prompt and attentive, and the atmosphere of the place was delightful. Now ah, if only, only they could do something about the size of their portions!


Prithviraj said...

Well, you were forewarned by the restaurant's name. Or, did you guess that the length of chef's moustache was somehow positively correlated with the size of the steak he grills? :)

Papiya said...

Somebody said...I eat merely to put food out of my mind. You brother don't belong to that school of eating your ruminations find its way into your blogs enlighting naive souls like meself.

Manohar said...

Wa Abhik one day we should eat together.