See also: Our review of Ren Bai
The house of Agnes B. is growing. Already dominant in the casual French clothing market, they are now also looking to take over the city’s floral, chocolate, and café culture. With three branches already, the latest instalment of Le Pain Grille is by far the most grand.
Located in the east wing of IFC, and overlooking the newly reclaimed harbour below, La Loggia is named after Agnes B.’s (nee Agnès Troublé) grandmother’s holiday home in the south of France. Anyone who’s been to the Cap d’Antibe, which borders the loud, flashy town of Cannes, can appreciate the attractions of the serene ocean side village. While the IFC Le Pain Grillé wouldn’t seem comparable, it similarly has a calm vibe, with diners cocooned in its warm clutches from the brassy city beyond.
In terms of design, think a very modern and consumer-friendly grandmother’s house: elegantly sculpted cornice mouldings; big, lived-in sofas; and old black and white photos of Agnes and her homeland. The dining room is separated by several partitions. First, there’s a welcoming bar with seating inside and out; next, two comfortably-sized dining rooms are divided by a corridor designated as a library; finally, out back, a private room for the business class.
They boast 35 brands of Champagne, 25 of which are available by the glass, including a hard to find Roger Coulon ($180 glass/$945 bottle). They also celebrate female wine makers by listing a number of vineyards run by femmes, including the Chablis-Domain Oudin 2007 ($390).
In fact, the whole place is a celebration of femininity. The décor is soft velvets, muted shades of olive, with plush furnishings. That theme is followed through in its menu. Our salad d'autumn (figs, feta, and Bayonne ham, $168) was a gorgeous blend of sweet and salty. The honey and white balsamic vinegar dressing lightly coated the sweet-sticky figs, while the feta and ham helped salt the mixed greens. One suggestion though: an element of crunch would've helped break up the soft textures.
Next, we ordered the comfort food classic, confit d'agneau, penne with slow cooked lamb shoulder ($185). Licked by the Espelette chilli spice, the confit was the perfect colour of wine, while the seven-hour cooked lamb was shredded to resemble a thick bolognaise. Add to it a bit of garlic slices and voila! Perfect fall dining. We’re coming back for this dish alone.
Now, while chefs are often all too familiar with the a la carte menu they reproduce day-in, day out, it’s in the specials where they are able to have some fun. However, the poisson du jour, a pan-roasted Barramundi ($228), was small in size, and just didn’t do enough to be considered ‘special’. In fact, almost everything served here came in smaller portions than expected, but as my dining companion reminded me, this is the norm for French cuisine. The four-bite hunk of white fish did nothing wrong: it was firm, fleshy, and non-offensive, the cream sauce was fine, and the potato mash smooth. We just wanted more: more flavours, more meat, more satisfaction.
Needing something with taste, we had high hopes for the warm apple tart with caramel ice cream ($85) and the raspberry millefeuille ($78). At first look, the millefeuille looked overly loaded with cream, but in actuality was very light, and naturally sweetened by the raspberry sauce. Next, a pin wheel of Fuji and Golden Delicious apples dusted with cinnamon and other spices sat on a very thin crust – so thin it was disguised beneath the pommes. It was very pretty to look at, but not exactly tasty.
In sum, most dishes here could use a heavier hand in the salt pot. Soft, flirty and subtle might work for her clothes, but when it comes to food, we expect more excitement from Agnes B. Alan Wong
3/F IFC Mall, 8 Finance St, Central, 2805 0798. Daily 11am-11pm.
Salad d'autumn $168
Confit d'agneau $185
Le poisson du jour $228
Warm apple tart with caramel ice cream $85
Raspberry millefeuille $78
Ten per cent service charge $74.40