I could start this review by reciting a list of Joël Robuchon’s achievements, but I won’t. Suffice to say I was really looking forward to my visit to Joël Robuchon Restaurant, the master’s outpost at Resorts World Sentosa, and his only flag in Southeast Asia. Of all the "celebrity chefs" to arrive at the integrated resorts, Robuchon is without doubt the best-known and most influential, having built a global empire with 26 Michelin stars to its name. His alums have become world-famous chefs in their own right: Gordon Ramsay, Eric Ripert, Eric Briffard...
Robuchon has made no secret of his admiration for Japanese culture and its influence on his cooking and way of thinking about food. So it is only fitting that he has appointed a Japanese, Executive Chef Tomonori Danzaki, to spearhead his operations here in Singapore (a branch of his Atelier franchise, sexy black and red counters serving fine food in a casual environment, is next door). Danzaki has been with the Robuchon family since 1994, winning three stars in the Las Vegas Michelin Guide for his efforts at Joël Robuchon Restaurant at the MGM Grande. Assisting him in this endeavour is a delightfully multinational team including Frenchman maître d' Guillaume Anglade, Japanese baker chef Yoshihiko Tauchi and Peruvian chef pâtissier Antonio Benites.
The plush dining room, conceptualised by the dean of restaurant designers Pierre-Yves Rochon, is draped in beige and purple, with a whimsical scattering of Swarovski crystals loose on the tablecloth. Dramatic in its intent, this is an appropriate setting for Robuchon’s tableside theatre, including the grand gestures of butter (!), breads, mignardises and teas being conveyed to diners by trolley.
But this is a casino and try as one might, one cannot shake off the more irritating aspects of high-roller dining, including a shockingly-priced wine list. Don't get me wrong, it's a very strong list, and well-balanced with some twenty wines by the glass. Of course, it has its share of trophy bottles (DRC, Coche-Dury Corton Charlemagne, Latour, etc.) to sate its wealthy clientele, but S$170++ for Domaine Rapet’s Aloxe-Corton village is enough to make your eyes water. For a comparison, Mr Rapet’s excellent 2009 Corton Grand Cru, one of my favourite burgundies (and a Burghound 93-pointer, incidentally) was retailed locally for just over $85 a bottle.
Robuchon offers three dining options: pure a la carte, a selection of prix fixe menus ranging from S$160++ to S$320++ based on number of courses and with limited choice of dishes, and an 11-course degustation priced at S$565++. I'm pushing the boat out tonight with the full tasting, while Emily went for the five-course prix fixe. (A couple of photos and dishes went walkabout, for which I apologise...)
Amuse-Bouche: White Asparagus blanc-manger with green asparagus and edible flowers
A light and pleasant start, with vivid colours and a nice contrast in textures.
Bread Service: Milk Bread, Bacon-studded pain d’epi
Tauchi’s delicate breads, including a delightful milk bread and crumbly, buttery croissant, owe as much to the Japanese aesthetic as it does to French tradition. That said, I did miss the the crunch and chewiness, the homely, slightly sour flavour of a good sourdough. Maybe it was somewhere in there with the other breads, I don’t know; our patient waiter ran through the fifteen types of bread on offer on the cart (pictured above), but it was all too much for me to remember after a hard day in the office. They do offer to re-heat your bread, though, which is a very welcome gesture.
Danzaki is a perfectionist, and sourcing of the finest seasonal ingredients is almost an obsession in his kitchen. Bordier butter from Brittany is scraped to order from a large cylinder before being sprinkled with sea salt.
As a humourous aside, I later asked one of the waitstaff who and where they got their cheese from. She said "I don't think I can tell you" as in "I know but it's a trade secret". Anglade later explained that the cheeses were sourced from Bernard Antony in Alsace, universally recognised as one of the world's finest affineurs. Interestingly, because Antony only supplies his famous 4-year old comté to restaurants with a proper cheese cellar, Anglade instead stocks a 2-year old gruyère, which he says developed the aged character much faster than an equivalent comté. But that is the degree of attention of detail here, which makes it a "food nerd's" dream, if you will.
Tasting Menu Entrée: Le Caviar - Caviar in three ways
On the left - Alaskan king crab meat covered with a seafood gelée and topped with oscietra caviar. On the right - green asparagus with thin shreds of melissa leaves and topped with more oscietra caviar. The third preparation was a delicious bouillon with asparagus slices.
Quality and preparation of the ingredients was excellent (look at the colour on that asparagus!), but of the four preparations consumed thus far, three of them have contained asparagus (four out of five if you count my wife's a la carte order below). While this isn't a problem in itself, it does create a monotony on the palate which ideally one should be able to escape with a tasting menu.
A La Carte Entrée: Green Asparagus with mimosa salad, melissa leaves, oscietra caviar and wasabi cream
Tasting Menu Amphibian Course: La Grenouille - Frog Leg Fritter with Tempura Watercress and Soja Shoots.
The dish of the night. The time-honoured accompaniments of garlic and parsley are present, but with tempura watercress and soja shoots adding texture. Here is the genius of Danzaki: a puddle of garlic cream is in the centre of the plate, room temperature and pleasant enough. But a little smidgin rests underneath the fried frog leg, and under the frog’s residual heat, blossoms into an explosively gorgeous garlicky mouthful. Brilliant.
A La Carte Soup Course: Le Daikon - Daikon in light mousseline, roasted foie gras in port wine
The daikon soup was excellent, elegant, soothing and mildly sweet. It really did not need the foie gras. Then again, it is a rare French tasting menu in Singapore that does not feature the fattened livers, and it might go some way to justifying the price tag in the mind of the consumer.
Tasting Menu Fish Course 1: Le Homard - Duo of lobster and sea urchin, baby leeks
The Breton homard has a meatier, slightly tougher texture than the flossy Maine lobster, with the flavour to match, and the leeks were properly melty and soft. However, the foamy sauce was inconsequential, and as a double con, its heat affected the texture of the uni, making it a little more mushy than I would have liked.
Tasting Menu Fish Course 2: Le Bar: Five-Spiced Seabass with verjus reduction
A beautifully cooked piece of fish was overwhelmed by the muscadelle verjus reduction. I could see the aim, upping the fish’s umami quotient with a five-spice rub and challenging it to pair with the strong sauce, but despite the verjus’ vibrant acidity, the fruity flavours were too reduced and upfront for my liking.
A La Carte Fish Course: Lobster and Sea Urchin with Rice cooked as a Risotto
Very good - perhaps the first dish that evening devoted to hearty, unadulterated flavour. Again, shades of Danzaki’s Japanese palate emerging, with the use of uni in risotto. The uni is top-class and put me in mind of the one I enjoyed at the late lamented Kunio. The preparation showed it to much better effect in this dish than with the similar plate on the tasting menu.
Tasting Menu Meat Course: Le Veau - Sautéed veal chop with a light teriyaki glaze, slow-roasted garlic and “vegetable taglierini”
Danzaki’s cuisine is in reality a global one, underpinned by textbook French technique and a sensitive palate. How else do you explain this dish, which pays homage to France, Italy, Japan and plain old-fashioned country sensibility? But the influences are used sensibly, and the elements play off each other very coherently. The taglierinis are not pasta, but fine ribbons of of zucchini and cucumber blanched and tossed in pesto so it has the look, aroma and flavour of pasta. Sharp technique and a clever way of conveying the message of pasta without the calories, a great thing at this late stage of the meal.
Tasting Menu Carb Course: Les Racines Maraîchères - vegetables simmered in semolina
“On a classic kaiseki menu, we always have rice and some kind of noodle at the end of dinner”, explains Danzaki. “Vegetables usually play a supporting role in French food, but when I get my hands on a really good vegetable, I like to make it the star of my dish”. But where was my duck, my venison, my beef? Well, it is after you finish the vegetables, with the sweetest, most tender carrot you have ever eaten, the least disgusting brussels sprout you have crossed paths with, a fresh snap here, a crisp crunch there, all bound by an ambrosial vegetable stock, that you realise there is a greater purpose at work. I segue into desserts feeling refreshed and ready for more, not weighed down after consuming a large hunk of dead animal.
Damn, I wish I had gotten more stuck into that bread trolley.
Tasting Menu Dessert 1: Les Parfums des Iles
Benites' desserts are modern, albeit with a very strong classic base. Les Parfums, coconut foam, passionfruit gelee and dark rum granita, is as fresh as a tropical breeze, with nice bright fruit and acidity cleansing your palate. And it looks like a joy also, bright and cheerful with hues of pure white, deep yellow and orange.
Tasting Menu Dessert 2: Le Chocolat
The Sicilian pistachio and Chuao chocolate cylinder was good and complex, providing a decent chocolate hit without being too forceful or vulgar about it, but the baser side of me missed the citrussy, fruity notes of pure Chuao.
Macarons, pralines, financiers, they are here in abundance for you to enjoy if you have not had enough. Again, it's difficult to remember what they've run through, but it's difficult to go wrong here whatever you choose. A generous gesture to the guests, and a nice note on which to finish the meal.
Anglade’s front-of-house team is excellent, and I must give especial credit to our waitress Rebecca, who was friendly, alert and able to share knowledge about the cuisine without being patronising. The only service mistake was, after we had advised them that we would be sharing all the dishes, to allow my wife to order the asparagus, mimosa and caviar a la carte when a very similar dish was already featured on the degustation. One can only eat so much asparagus and caviar, and I think we discovered that limit tonight.
I was surprised by the amount of Japanese influence present in the menu. Perhaps I shouldn’t be, given what I knew of Danzaki’s ancestry and experience, but flavours aside, the philosophical approach and meal progression also belonged to a very Japanese school of thought. Robuchon’s signature mashed potatoes, those of the infamous one-third butter content, were not served as part of the degustation, and I strongly suspect it was dispensed with to ensure a lighter, more ethereal experience for the guest. Sure enough, when I get up to leave, I feel chipper enough to run a marathon, but Anglade stops me in my tracks with a beautifully gift-wrapped lemon cake, a token of appreciation for all guests in the Restaurant. “For tomorrow morning”, he smiles. Intensely lemon-y and only mildly sweet, it proves the perfect pick-me-up with a cup of coffee.
Minor quibbles aside, Joël Robuchon Restaurant is certainly an ornament to Singapore dining, and a very worthy gastronomic spearhead for RWS. And if the casino wars continue to turbo-charge the development of Singapore dining as they have so far, may they long continue.
More photos at http://julianteoh.blogspot.sg/2012/07...
Joël Robuchon Restaurant
8 Sentosa Gateway
Level 1, Hotel Michael
Resorts World Sentosa, Singapore
Tel: +65 6577 7788
Advance reservations essential for dinners Thursday-Saturday