So here’s the thing. We’ve never been to Burgundy. That’s why we can’t step into a Burgundy restaurant and authoritatively say that its escargot de bourgogne are the real McCoy. Neither do we feel right about declaring, “Of course this is an authentic Burgundy restaurant – the manager is wearing a French beret!” But that’s because we can’t verify the authenticity of his beret either – it looks like a page boy cap to us.
So that’s why we have to take Gaston’s word that it’s truly a Burgundy bistro, based on what its menu tells us. Because if not, we would think it’s more like your garden variety wine bar in search of a theme, and created one out of cliches and appropriate head wear.
Cue the wicker furniture for that French outdoor cafe feel, rustic rough stone wall, and the friendly French manager and his requisite cap who swings by occasionally to make sure things are going smoothly. He appears to be the only Frenchman in the restaurant as the head chef is local – an amiable chap who ambles by and readily stops to make recommendations if you ask him.
Since we’ve always been enamoured of gougeres, we can’t resist ordering the ones here (S$8). But instead of light, floaty, cheesy puff balls, we get deflated discs of choux pastry that could use some CPR to breathe some life into them. They’re warm and cheesy initially, but quickly cool down to their original dull, pre-made state. We spy their brethren lying listlessly in a plastic carton in the kitchen when we walk to the restroom, waiting for their turn to be reheated and served.
Go for the Croquettes Bourguignonnes (S$9 for three or S$18 for six) since the chef highly recommends them. If you like hot ham and creamy melted cheese in a tender crumbed coating, get the bigger serving. The Epoisses cheese is just slightly stronger than regular mozzarella and gives it a depth of flavour. Plus anything with melted cheese offers instant comfort.
Jambon Persille (S$14) is also another chef’s recommendation you want to heed. It’s a simple but well put together jellied terrine of ham and lots of chopped parsley and herbs. It’s meaty, bouncy and satisfying – perfect with the accompanying mustard.
From the main courses, grilled barramundi (S$24) shines for its crisp, crackling blackened skin and moist flesh that sings from its clear, tangy basil-tomato broth.
Also promising is the crayfish and chicken fricasee (S$32), although there’s more chicken than crayfish, which come in little marble sized nuggets compared to the larger serving of slightly dry spatchcock in a mild seafood gravy with onions and mushrooms.
Don’t be like us and pick at the meat and seafood separately. We realise too late that you should get a bit of everything – sauce included – in one mouthful so you can hit the sweet spot where the surf and turf flavours come together as one.
You’ll have trouble resisting the addictive smooth cream and butter-laden mashed potatoes, and the perfectly done French fries. And we’ve never been so glad to have a local chef cooking French food because you can ask for Maggi chilli sauce to go with the fries and they serve it to you without batting an eyelid. But of course, we know better than to ask the manager with the beret/cap for it.
Desserts, on the other hand, are a perplexing lot. A straightforward eclair (S$14) is filled with a cassis custard cream which messes up our idea of what an eclair should taste like. The Valhorna chocolate mousse (S$12) is no better, with its swirl of mousse that falls short of attractive presentation, topped with cooked strawberries and damp, mushy gingerbread matchsticks that are a fine example of what gingerbread should never be.
The food may or may not be authentic, but it’s enjoyable in parts. If anything, it should just try to find its own identity instead of forcing itself to be something it isn’t.
25 Keong Saik Road. Tel: 6909 8120
Open Tues to Sat: 12pm to 12am; Mon: 5pm to 12am.
(RELATED: Pairing local produce with burgundy wine)
This article was originally published in The Business Times.
Photo: Gaston Burgundy Bistro & Wine Bar