There's a new French restaurant on the block at Bukit Pasoh and it's helmed by Alain Ducasse's protégé Louis Pacquelin
Tucked away at the end of Bukit Pasoh street on the second floor of a heritage building is the latest exciting addition to Singapore's dining scene, Clos Pasoh. It's quaint and casual, yet boasts refined French fare that reflects co-owner and head chef Louis Pacquelin's take on modern French cuisine.
"New school French" is what the 32-year-old protégé of Alain Ducasse aims to serve; which is also very different from the cuisine he last served as chef de cuisine of the now-shuttered BBR by Alain Ducasse at Raffles Hotel Singapore. What it really means is that one can expect a reinterpretation of classic brasserie dishes that inspired Pacquelin throughout his culinary experience and training in Lyon and Shanghai, defined by their fresh and bright flavours. Seeing as we're not in France and granted the luxury of colder seasons, dishes here do not contain a heavy amount of butter. The aim is to offer a light and balanced gastronomic experience that complement Singapore's tropical climate.
Pacquelin is joined by entrepreneur Jean-Christophe Cadoret, who also owns the much-loved bistro, Gaston, on Keong Saik Road and several other dining ventures. Besides investing in the restaurant, Cadoret is also the curator of Clos Pasoh's impressive wine list, which boasts an extensive 1,500 labels and a 250-strong champagne list.
To say that there's something for everyone would be an understatement. Not only would you be able to find your favourites classic pours, but you also get to choose from a peppering of artisanal bottles and vintages from some of the world's finest producers, the likes of Domaine Armand Rousseau and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti included.
The food is equally impressive yet accessible. The two standout starters are the cervelle de canut and the poireaux vinaigrette, starring entirely different ingredients but sharing a similar tang that help whet the appetite.
The latter features the humble leek, first steamed then grilled over binchotan. It is paired with a champagne vinaigrette made with lemon juice, olive oil, French mustard-based staple Savora, and garnished with lilliput capers, browned butter and black pepper for added depth.
The former is a creamy blend of traditional French cheese (sourced directly from a fromagerie in Lyon) mixed with tarragon, chives, parsley, shallot and walnut oil, that diners are encouraged to enjoy with the accompanying slices of chargrilled sourdough.
The build up to our main course was an exciting affair. In fact, I would return just for these flavour-packed dumplings. First, the lobster bisque coco-homard, brewed using familiar Asian ingredients, such as Thai basil leaves, kaffir lime and coconut milk. Pacquelin first roasts the carapace before adding a dash of cognac and a little white wine to elevate the natural sweetness. Lobster claws are used to make the ravioli filling; mixed with chives, green shallots and confit lemon from the South of France, the sharpness of the dumplings provide a wonderful counterpoint to the richness of the broth.
The second set of dumplings is a surprise addition, served as part of an order of the pot-au-feu. Similar in structure to xiao long baos, these hand-folded dumplings also serve as a nod to Pacquelin's time in Shanghai. They are filled with minced beef that is seasoned like those in a traditional pot-au-feu with mustard and horseradish, along with a variety of vegetables (carrots and cabbage and assorted seasonal greens), and served with a side of seared foie gras.
The showstopper of the meal was the reimagined pot-au-feu itself: a feast of vegetables and three cuts of beef (cheek, short rib and oyster blade), stewed then presented on a cast-iron skillet, served alongside a glass syphon of consommé topped with dehydrated kitchen trimmings. We're talking a heady variety of herbs and spices, including fennel, coriander seeds and chilli padi, to be infused in the heated concoction for about a minute.
Diners should first have the consommé on its own before combining it with the meats. A sip of it feels like a warm hug, one of those you crave for on rainy day. Pair it with the tender and slightly fatty cuts of beef for a whole different experience. To boot, the sweetness of the vegetables cuts through and complements the beef's deep flavours.
Round off your meal with an order of the mousse au chocolat, creamy pot of chocolate mousse that's rich yet not too sweet, served with fragrant biscotti. According to Pacquelin, there is a "secret ingredient" in there that makes this dessert so luscious, but the recipe he admits belongs to his mother who used to make it for him every Sunday. We're just glad such time-honoured recipes are finding new life.