Sunday, 29 July 2012

TGV Lunch at Guy Savoy Singapore - A Review

Hot on the heels of my Robuchon post, I thought I should check out the competition over at Marina Bay Sands, where Guy Savoy reigns as the high-end French cuisine option.  

Guy Savoy
And “competition” is certainly the right word.  Both Robuchon and Savoy opened branches in Vegas in 2006 as the MGM Grand and Caesars Palace tried to outdo each other in star-spangled firepower.  Both Robuchon and Savoy branches, under the respective stewardships of chefs Tomonori Danzaki and Eric Bost, made a tilt for the stars in the Vegas Michelin Guide, with Robuchon winning three and Savoy two.  

So it was only fitting that when Robuchon and Savoy opened up in Singapore, both Danzaki and Bost would be given the chance to renew their rivalry (if only on paper) on this little island.  On a warm and sunny Saturday, we went on a ride with Bost’s TGV menu, which offers four courses for S$150++, two choices for each course.  The menu is named after France's express train as they can serve it to you within 90 minutes if you wish, but we ended up having more of a regular SNCF, 3.5-hour kind of afternoon.  We brought along our friend M, who was enjoying a brief stint back in the realms of bachelorhood.

Amuses: Foie Gras on Mini Toasts (below left), Fennel Brunoise in Fennel Soup with Fennel Royale, Waffle with Parmesan and Black Pepper (below right)

The tone for the meal is set from the start.  Our server stabs the toasts and livers at the table, handing them to you as one would a lollipop.  The fennel soup comes in a “Siamese twin”  cup, with the second cup inverted to hide a fennel royale, surprisingly firm to the bite.  The waffle is finger food given a high-end makeover.  All are delicious, and equally fun to eat.

Bread and Butter

Butter is Echiré, both salted and unsalted.  You are first served with a tomato fougasse cut up and placed on a single plate at the table, again reinforcing the idea of the guests enjoying and sharing the food together.  A further four bread options are presented later, of which I recall a cereal roll, a ficelle and baguette.

Hors d’ oeuvres: Jamon Iberico from Joselito ($50++ per plate)

It’s jamon iberico.  If you have had it before, I have nothing new to tell you.  But isn’t it such sheer joy each and every time to have that pure white fat just melting in your mouth, releasing such a barrage of flavour?  The house champagne was poured, a NV blancs de blancs from R&L Legras of Chouilly – a character-laden grand cru champagne and a great coupling with the ham.

First Entrée:  Heirloom Tomato Salad, Oysters “two” ways

I haven’t gone down the Thomas Keller route of putting things in speech marks at every opportunity, but the truth is that each of these ingredients were actually presented three ways.  First service of the oyster consisted of a Breton oyster covered in nage gelée (above left), and salad vegetables anointed with oyster purée (above right).

Oyster the Third Way
After we were done with that, another oyster was presented on a sweet onion royale, over which our server poured a very aromatic dashi broth.  Oyster was just set by the heat of the broth, allowing you to attack it with utensils.  The dashi added a very nice dimension of umami.  

My recollection of the tomato course is vague (I didn’t have it) – I recall a salad (above left).  Underneath the “false bottom”  of the plate lurked heirloom tomato slices with basil (above right) which were later topped with tomato water ice), and a warm heirloom tomato tartare.  Emily enjoyed them a lot, and my taste of the tomato tartare was very good, showing the quality of ripe, in-season produce.  The wine of choice was a 2007 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Morgeot from Vincent Girardin – citrusy and restrained at the start, but little notes of mocha and roasted nuts started creeping in after a couple of hours.

Surprise Course: Potato Stones, Caviar, Smoked Egg Sabayon, Vanilla Sponge, Potato “Tagliatelle”, Nasturtium Leaf (comped; otherwise available only as part of the Menu Prestige at dinner)

Spanking.  Bost came over with a dish of eggs and broke them over our potatoes, releasing the sabayon.  The flavours of the potato and caviar are clean, savoury and pure, with the sponge adding a deep but subtle sweetness.  The tagliatelle were simply fried super-thin shavings / ribbons of potato, gorgeously crisp and not at all greasy.  As Bost (who reminds me of a less flamboyant, more thoughtful version of Keith Urban) explained, he is trying to emphasise “earth” as a theme by presenting the tubers as stones, and also “birth”, with both the eggs and caviar playing a strong supporting role.  I can see how some might regard this dish as underseasoned, but for me, it was just perfect.

Second Entrée: Lobster Etuvée with Coral Jelly, Girolles, Peach Foam and Peach Brunoise; Artichoke and Black Truffle Soup with Mushroom Brioche.

I can’t comment on the lobster dish, except from my taste of the claw, it was an excellent specimen and very well-cooked.  Emily refused to indulge my girolle addiction, but they looked mighty good.  

The signature soup is nice enough without being earth-shattering – at this time of year, black truffles are not in season so I suspect tinned specimens were used, but the brioche is buttery, flaky and 100% decadent.  To match, a 2006 Chateau le Puy, from Bordeaux's Cotes de Francs.  Quite earthy and woody, which worked very well with the truffle and mushroom.  I later learned that the 2003 vintage was revealed as the "Ninth Apostle" in the ridiculously popular wine manga, The Drops of God a.k.a. Kami no Shizuku a.k.a. Les Gouttes de Dieu.  Apparently many Japanese were prepared to give their left testicle for a bottle, especially after the Chateau's owner refused to release any more bottles into the international market to feed the post-Drops craze.  I mean, it was fine, but I won't be sacrificing any parts of my anatomy for another glass.  Or even a case, for that matter.

Main Course: Crispy Scales-On Seabass with Swiss Chard and a Sauce of Ginger and Vanilla (below left); Duck Breast in a cognac-infused sauce with eggplant gianduja and eggplant chip (below right)

For me, the dish of the day along with the potato stones.  The seabass is cooked so that the scales are little crispy bubbles of pleasure, and the flesh is moist and yielding.  The chard adds a nice crunch and reins the dish in from being too “wet”.  On the side are three vertical bars of mixed spice, shaped to resemble the Guy Savoy logo, which you are meant to "push" into the sauce.  Another homerun; if a criticism had to be made, I found the sauce a little over-salted.  Again, I cannot comment on the duck, but Emily said it was her dish of the day, so I’m guessing it wasn't too bad.

Afters: Cheese Trolley (below left); Strawberry Textures (below right)

Another trolley of Bernard Antony cheeses (Kraft should watch its back – Antony seems to be borderline overexposed in Singapore these days).  I chose a beautifully pungent Pont l’ Eveque, oozy brie de Meaux, orange-hued mimolette, two-year old comté and one of my personal favourites, fourme d’ Ambert.  The cheeses are in good condition (as good as the local climate would allow but obviously not as ripe as you would get them in France).  They are accompanied by slices of walnut raisin bread and two conserves: apricot/rosemary and raspberry/cassis.  I sat back and patiently worked through the lot - what a way to spend a lazy weekend afternoon!  With this course, a 1999 vin jaune whose oxidative character worked very well with the assertive cheese.

Surprise Dessert: Chocolate Orb (comped)

A sphere of dark chocolate melts under a tableside cascade of warm mango purée to reveal its treasures within: a passionfruit sorbet, mango brunoise and aloe vera.  Awesome stuff; if you can’t appreciate the fun and arty aspects of this (check out the yellow paint melting downward in the same direction as the mango purée), please see your doctor.

Coffee / Tea and Mignardises

My cafe latte was merely OK, but then again, M had recently brought me some amazing Ethiopian coffee from his trip to Addis Ababa, so I was right spoilt coffee-wise and probably will be for some time.  Guy Savoy does NOT present the dessert trolley at lunchtime.  Instead, a perfect little selection of five mignardises is presented: poached egg white with a dab of strawberry coulis, lemon and yuzu macaron, praline of raspberry and coconut, apricot caramel bonbon and mascarpone coated with dark chocolate and almonds.  Playing on childhood memories of marshmallows, wrapped sweets and lollipops, the sense of fun and whimsy is kept to the end – a nice note on which to finish proceedings.

Surprise Sorbet: Earl Grey Tea Sorbet with Black Pepper Sauce Anglaise (comped)

Or so we thought.  One final gesture – a nice sorbet, with gently palate-cleansing tannin and the elusive perfume of bergamot.


Back to my theme at the start: competition.  Well, how does one compare apples and oranges?  About the only thing Robuchon and Savoy's Singapore restaurants have in common are brutal wine prices, a function of them being housed in casinos.

I find Robuchon’s cooking has a more disciplined, focused approach - there is more emphasis on seasonality (admittedly it is Savoy’s signature dish, but I don’t think Robuchon or Danzaki would be serving a black truffle soup in July), and arguably more attention is paid to accoutrements such as the bread and butter, as well as the design of the restaurant.  I know what I say isn’t going to change anything, but the primary-coloured rims about Savoy's speciality plates (made exclusively for Savoy by Bernardaud, no less) are sooooooo 1980s.  
Conversely, there is more fun and fancy here at Savoy, and more robust flavours in the cooking.  And if you have a relatively limited budget, the TGV lunch is a great way to go as it offers you the chance to a few of Savoy's signature dishes (oyster, soup, seabass) at less than half the price of the dinner tasting menu.
Just a word on the service here: while it is supremely professional, knowledgeable and competent, it is very correct and almost belies the trickery and surprises that constantly assail your table (even disregarding the comped courses).  A little more personality and sense of fun and occasion would not go astray, and I think would accord far better with what the diner is experiencing food-wise.
Horses for courses, is my reluctant final verdict.  If you want more of a "party on your plate", I would lean towards Savoy.  If you are dining with a bunch of food nerds (I don’t mean this as an insult – I regard myself as one!), you may find more of interest at Robuchon.  What I can say with much certainty is that Singapore is very lucky to have both Bost and Danzaki plying their trade for our pleasure.

UPDATE (10 August 2013) - With the advent of a prolonged weekend (Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Singapore National Day falling on Thursday and Friday, I took the opportunity to return to Guy Savoy.

It is always interesting to have a look at the changes since one's last visit.   On matters of form, the TGV menu is now a two- or three-course 60-minute quickie (S$55 or S$80), and the S$150 4-course lunch menu reviewed above is now called the "Déjeuner Club".  But the changes as to substance are infinitely more significant and just as welcome.  The artichoke and truffle soup is now adorned with Manjimup truffle (August being the peak season in Australia for tuber melanosporum), giving it a fresher and more potent truffle kick than I remember.  Service, which I noted above as competent but overly serious, is given more charisma with the arrival of jovial maître d' Cedric Kerhir from db Bistro Moderne.  

There are so many creations, both new or otherwise, worthy of a mention.   From the TGV menu, an escalope of seared foie gras, with a superlative sear and caramelisation yet maintaining the semi-melty integrity of the middle, is the best seared foie I have ever had, period.  A "Myriad of Young Peas", a seasonal composition marking the late spring / summer period, showcases the sweetness and texture of English peas as jelly, purée and blanched peas, with a barely set quail egg setting off this verdant abundance.  In the "Land and Sea" lamb main, the dish is presented in two services.  On the first, light pillows of potato gnocchi are billowy, browned and seasoned to perfection.  On the second service, slow-cooked shoulder wrapped in a ribbon of potato and resting on a bed of fresh herbs is so rustic, so primal in its appeal that I feel like howling at the moon (except that it's 2pm).  On the cheese trolley, a three-year old comté and three-year old mimolette from Bernard Antony make me swoon and giggle like a lovestruck teenager.

My friends know that I am a great fan of Bost's food.  If anything, I find him cooking with a more laser-like focus on the details, and the results are plain to taste on the plate.  My visit today merely reconfirmed my earlier suspicions: Bost is very possibly the most underrated cook in Singapore.

10 Bayfront Avenue
#02-01, Casino Level 2
Marina Bay Sands
BYO Policy: BYO not allowed.  Please click here for a list of Singapore restaurants which allow BYO, and their corkage policies.
Tel: +65 6688 8513

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