French dining is in its golden age in Singapore. French restaurants dominated the 2017 edition of the Michelin Guide and it was mainly French restaurants that again clinched us spots on last year Asia's 50 Best Restaurants list. While decorated fine-dining establishment may get most of the limelight, Singapore has also been steadily building up a broad portfolio that traverses price points and culinary regions. We survey the landscape to spotlight the best French establishments worthy of your money.
Cheese and dessert trolleys are par for the course, but at Gunther's, the highlight of the experience is the produce trolley. Resembling a still life tableau, the enormous tray is heaving with palm-size scallops, heirloom pumpkins, spiny sea urchins and more. Gunther's is among the old guards of Singapore's French fine-dining scene but the eponymous Gunther Hubrechsen – who made famous the angel hair pasta with Oscietra caviar – is no purist. Gunther is particularly fond of seafood and vegetables from Japan and he also references his homeland frequently, such as working artisanal mustards and lambic beers from Belgium into his marinades and sauces.
TRY Alskan king crabs with comte 'bons bons'. It's a study in contrasts, the pristine sweetness of the lightly smoked Alaskan king crab legs juxtaposed with the earthy depth of the comte-stuffed pasta parcels.
Les Amis has two Michelin stars to its name and it's easy to see why. Here, ego takes a back seat to let the superlative ingredients – sourced almost entirely from France – take centrestage. Among chef Sebastien Lepinoy's pride and joy: Hand-churned Le Ponclet butter that is so distinguished only 20 or so restaurants around the world are privileged to serve it, and sturgeon caviar the Kaviari house customised exclusively for Les Amis. Lepinoy's food is delicate, elegant, lively – and holds its own without resorting to flourishes; the Les Amis hospitality parallels that ethos with impeccable and genial service.
TRY Though the menu generally changes with the season (from $215 for a five-course degustation), the Boeuf Japonais makes an appearance often. There's no faulting the carefully pan-roasted omi tenderloin or those light-as-air potato souffles, but it's the deconstructed bearnaise that's testament to Lepinoy's finesse – buttery yet so, so vivacious.
There's a palpable gregarious vibe at Bistro du Vin. Maybe it's the quirkiness of the interiors. Maybe it's the upbeat friendliness of the staff. Maybe it's the laidback plating and generous portions. Whatever it is, Bistro du Vin is the sort of restaurant you'll want to hit up when initiating someone to the wonders of French cuisine. Heck, it's the sort of restaurant that'll put you right at ease when you're on a first date. And make no mistake. Though Bistro du Vin is more accessibly priced (the 2-course 'express' lunch starts at $28) than its upscale sibling, the bistro staples here are just as technically on point as the cloched plates at Les Amis.
TRY Joue de Boeuf braisee Grand-Mere ($35). When it's comfort you seek, there's no better choice. The slow-cooked beef cheeks are fork-tender, and that luscious, red wine-saturated sauce calls for throwing caution to the wind, diet be damned.
There are few creperies that are truly good, and this Brittany-style creperie along Seah Street is as authentic as it gets. Entre-Nous serves both those lemon-hued pancakes commonly adorned with sweet toppings, as well as the russet-coloured savoury crepes (alternatively known as galettes de sarrasin) made of buckwheat flour. The classic toppings – ham and emmental cheese, roasted potatoes with Reblochon cheese and bacon bits, among others – are all present and the crepes are cooked lacy and crisp, just like tradition dictates. The drinks too hark of Brittany: ciders, artisanal apple juice, and even the Kir Breton aperitif.
TRY Entre-Nous ($9.90), just sweet crepes lashed with homemade salted butter caramel sauce. It's deceptively simple, and the crepe – though excellent – is really just a vehicle for relishing every bit of the salty and caramel-ly complexity of the sauce.
Think of Daniel Boulud's Marina Bay Sands spin-off as a cross between a New York-style seafood bar and a French bistro, mixing the best elements from both. It's upbeat and a boisterous like the former, with towering triple-tiered platters of jumbo shrimp cocktails, oysters, Maine lobsters and more. But the bistro side of the menu is also every bit as hearty and robust as in a countryside kitchen. Round up the troops because executive chef Jonathan Kinsella's food is meant for sharing. And we trust that you'll somehow manage to muster space for chef Mandy Pan's excellent sweets.
Try: French onion soup ($22). It's the platonic ideal of French onion soups, full of beefy gusto and the sweetness of caramelised onions. Even more noteworthy: It's comforting yet simultaneously light on the palate.
Don't be misled by the ostentatious baroque-inspired furnishings and lush fabrics. Chef-owner Stephen Istel dug into his Alsace roots to put together a menu of everyday favourites. It's the stuff that his grandma made, and Istel's cooking has a similar heartfelt cosiness. Tarte flambee (crispy flatbread) and pate-en-croute (terrine baked in puff pastry) are signatures from his Alsatian memories, and there are also familiar bistro fare such as rotisserie chicken, duck confit, hand-chopped beef tartare and coq au vin.
TRY Alsatian tarte flambee ($16). There are several options for toppings, but the tried-and-true combination of cheese, bacon bits and diced onions is a classic for a reason.
An open-secret among bistro fare devotees, Le Bistro du Sommelier is the sort of place that commands a loyal following but is strategically not talked about – understandably so, since tables are limited as it is. The food here is unabashedly rustic. The menu for the ground floor restaurant is filled out by the likes of baked escargots, beef cheeks braised in red wine, and sauteed frog legs. The rillette bar, tucked into the upper deck of the shophouse, has what looks like Singapore's most extensive selection of house-made charcuterie. Rabbit rillette, pig's head terrine, wild boar-and-hazelnut sausage, blood sausage… the list goes on.
TRY Wild boar and hazelnut sausage ($18 per 100g). It's really not as gamey as it might sound, with the flavour of a well-seasoned beef tartare and an almost creamy consistency reminiscent of pate. Crunchy hazelnuts just add to the fun.
A nondescript, seven-table venue in the sleepier stretch of Duxton Hill, Rhubarb Le Restaurant preferred to maintain a relatively low profile even after bagging a Michelin star in 2016. After all, Au Petit Salut alumnus Paul Longworth's motivation for branching out with his business partners was to keep the experience intimate and engaging. Not that it has stopped determined diners from clamouring for a taste of Longworth's cuisine. Here, the British chef-partner stays close to classical French roots, thoughtfully updating hallmark elements such as foie gras, pigeon and ballotine with a contemporary outlook.
TRY Pigeon ($64), cooked confit to a perfect pink, and brightened up with rhubarb-and-rose puree and seedless grapes glazed with caramel and nuts.
Odette is stunning. The light-filled restaurant is clad in a soft, pastel palette to match the carefully composed aesthetics of Julien Royer's dainty morsels. It’s Royer's first project as chef-owner, through partnership with the Lo & Behold Group and the restaurant quickly rose to prominence with two Michelin stars just months into its opening. Like other fine-dining restaurants of its class, seasonality, terroir and artisanal produce are emphasised at Odette. Long-term fans of Royer will also be pleased to find familiar signatures from his days at Jaan.
TRY Royer's 55-minute egg, because you'll never tire of the visual novelty of poached eggs shrouded in a cloud of smoke. In a nod to new beginnings, Royer has tweaked the version at Odette, using pine needles to perfume the eggs. Tasting menus start from $128 for four courses.
A lauded veteran in the city's fine-dining history, Saint Pierre is still very much relevant in today's arena. In spite of the old-fashioned veneer of the formal dining room (albeit with a splendid view of the Marina Bay), chef-owner Emmanuel Stroobant has been advocating a progressive approach that's not shy about experimenting with Asian accents. Japanese ingredients – ponzu, miso and the like – show up often, but Stroobant, now a naturalised Singaporean, also frequently takes cues from the Straits to dream up new flavour combinations such as buah keluak and foie gras, and artichoke with turmeric.
TRY The Adventure menu ($238). To truly grasp Stroobant's vision and playfulness, embark on this unconventional experience that will take you through a journey of 26 miniature dishes – one for each letter of the alphabet.