Saturday, 2 April 2016

Review of Odette, Singapore - A Rose By Any Other Name...

The day after Jaan at Swissotel the Stamford was named Asia's 11th Best Restaurant in 2015, its chef Julien Royer tendered his resignation, with the ambition of opening his own restaurant.  His trusty sous Kirk Westaway took his place on the 70th floor, and shocked everyone with the revelation that the Auvergne, where Jaan's Artisanal Cuisine apparently had its roots, was actually a suburb of Devon, England.  In late 2015, Royer opened Odette (named after his grandmother) at the National Gallery of Singapore in partnership with the Lo and Behold Group.

Courtesy Victoria Milner of www.singaporefoodie.com
To be honest, I wasn't sure as to Royer's motivations for leaving Jaan.  I knew that André Chiang, Royer's predecessor at Jaan, was chafing at the bit at the lack of control over his operation (for example, having to use breads from the hotel's central bakery).  I didn't get any of the same vibes from Royer, but perhaps he is better at hiding his frustrations.  The reason I mention this is that I was very curious as to how, if at all, Royer would evolve his cuisine once he had a free hand away from his cruel hotelier masters.

After five months of continuously being rebuffed by Chope, I finally managed to secure a table at what must be Singapore's hottest new opening.  Along with my too occasional dining companion and favourite Singapore Foodie Victoria, we visited Odette recently to see what was new chez Royer.

Our first impressions of the space are rather mixed. Victoria doesn't like its overwhelming beigeness.  I don't mind it so much, but the vanilla-ness really requires more light to set it off.  With the drapes across the inside of the Gallery's front facade cutting off the natural light, the room looks, I'm sorry to say, dull.

Odette offers two menus at lunchtime, an $88++ four-course menu with three choices for each course, and a six-course menu degustation weighing in at $128++.  These days, I have as little time as I have money so we both opt for the four-course option.

Assorted Canapés


A superb start.  Braised lentils in a oat honey tart crust walk that delicate tightrope of sweetness and tartness, and a cantal cheese "cake" (the cheese hails from Royer's home province of the Auvergne) are definite highlights.  The charcoal pillow looking thing is a crisp pita filled with tomato, which was also very nice, but I can't remember for the life of me what the open faced wafer sandwich thing  (second from right) was.

Amuse-Bouche: Mushroom Tea with Cep Sabayon and Cep Brioche


It is always a pleasure to sip on on Royer's delicious and comforting signature mushroom tea with puffed buckwheat, even if I do prefer the more purist infusion-only version at Aziamendi in Phuket.  The cep brioche on the side is a new addition and breathtakingly good, crispy and earthy in equal measure.  I wonder whether, like Guy Savoy's black truffle and mushroom brioche, they would give you some more if you asked for it? ( I didn't but I should have!)

All good so far, Royer has always had an incredibly strong hand with little, intense-flavoured bites to start off the meal, but I am starting to realise that the menu is basically the same as it was at Jaan.  Maybe I had been to Jaan too often (around four times in 18 months during Royer's tenure), but his signatures (the beetroot declinaison, the rosemary-smoked organic egg, etc.) are all on the lunch menu, so the range of dishes for an old regular wanting something new is rather limited.

Bread Service: Brioche, Dark Rye and Olive Focaccia with Unsalted House-Churned Butter and Homemade Lard


Very good; the brioche is nice and crispy, and I love the denseness of the rye with the lard, which is a stroke of genius as inspired as it is likely to give you a stroke after eating too much of it.  The butter is a bit meh.  Victoria comments that she's not a fan of bread being presented in a basket like this all at once, as she finds it too tempting to fill herself up with the stuff.  Clearly, not everyone is blessed with my stomach capacity.

Entrée: Highland Beef Tartare, Smoked Bone Marrow, Grain Mustard Ice-Cream


Good to very good.  The tartare is hand-chopped as you would expect at this level, giving it a nice texture, and is further enriched with the addition of some bone marrow.  The mustard ice cream adds a little acidity and intrigue against the beef, not to mention some relief against this stupefying heatwave, and the garlic chips add a nice crunch.  The plate-rimming-style of presentation, another Royer calling card, irked me back at Jaan and still does.

Second Entrée: White Rhone Valley Asparagus, Jamon Iberico, Morels and Black Truffle ($15++ supplement)


This is a great dish, and well worth the $15++ supplement.  The white asparagus had been simmered in a very tasty stock and to be honest, make the jamon and morels pale in comparison.  I find April rather late for black truffles and the ones here don't make much of an impression.  The asparagus is the star of the dish and deservedly so.

Main Course: Arctic Char with Bread Crust, Sauce Vin Jaune

Courtesy Victoria Milner of www.singaporefoodie.com
I have gone on the record saying that vin jaune is good for two things: accompanying great aged Comté cheese and cleaning your toilet.  There is no Comté in this dish, which reinforces my prejudice.  The fish is beautifully cooked, delicate, tender and juicy, and the kitchen has pan-seared a thin slice of bread over the fish fillet, crisping the bread and preventing the fish from ever coming into contact with the pan.  I find the dish underseasoned, however, much as with the few flatfish dishes that I had at Jaan.  Victoria adores this dish and remarks that her Sancerre pairs amazingly with this dish.  I don't have a glass of the Sancerre with me so I just burst into tears and sulk in the corner.    

Dessert: Pear Williams Mille-Feuille, Nougatine, Rum Jelly and Salted Caramel Ice-Cream


I am not normally a literalist, but this is more properly a trois-feuille, since the brik-like pastry sheets are not even folded upon themselves multiple times as would be a classic pâte feuilletée .  This is good, not more; the ice-cream is sensationally creamy even though it could do with a bit more salted caramel oomph.  The pastry is crispy and shatters to the touch of my spoon, while the textural contrast of the jelly and nougatine is pleasant.  My only disappointment is that the Williams pear is basically a single poached slice on the side, and does not play a bigger role in the dish generally.  For me, desserts are never the highlight of a Royer menu, and neither would it prove to be here.

Afters: Cannelé de Bordeaux, Lemongrass Marshmallow, Salted Caramel Toffee, Lemon Tart on a Stick


Good.  Cannelés are very good (I am a slut for a good cannelé, what else can I say), and the lemongrass marshmallows are genuinely intriguing - I reckon a bit more toasting of the dessicated coconut in which the marshmallows are rolled, pairing more smoke with the sweet fruit and spice of the lemongrass, would just set the entire thing over the edge.  The toffee gives me the salted caramel hit I was so desperately craving from the earlier ice-cream.

Conclusion

There is a lot to like about Odette, and I like it a lot.  To be honest, I had reflected on this meal a bit more than was healthy, and decided that whatever prejudice I had against its "sameness" with my experiences at Jaan should not be allowed to colour my review.  Victoria, who had never been to Royer's Jaan once (I hesitate to say "only" once), found the combinations and techniques here excellent, which they are, and her reaction is probably a fairer barometer than that of a jaded old regular who was hoping in his heart for something very different, and was, if only in that respect, disappointed.

That aside, I highly recommend a visit to Odette, because Royer is still hitting the high notes and hasn't really missed a beat.  I only hope now that Royer is not encumbered by the expectations of a hotel monolith, that he will find the freedom to develop a more personal and unique blueprint and add to the diversity of French dining in Singapore.
  
I absolutely need to give a special shout-out to our server, whose name I neglected to get.  Which is a shame because she deserves a gold star.  I have lamented time and again the lack of quality service and servers in Singapore.  Victoria shares the same concerns as me, and after a couple of interactions with Miss X, whispered to me as if to say she had never had such good service before in Singapore.  And indeed, Miss X was articulate, composed, bright, enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and beyond that, had a genuine warmth and personability which you just cannot train. 

I will also say this.  I have not been back to Jaan since Royer's departure in June last year and I am due a return visit.  I will be very interested to see if Westaway continues to evolve "his" Artisanal Cuisine along the same roadmap plotted out by Royer, or whether they will both strike out on their own thus far unmarked routes.  

Victoria's take on the lunch is here.

ODETTE
Score: 15/20* 
Chef / Owner: Julien Royer (with the Lo and Behold Group)
How many Michelin Stars I think it should get: *
How many Michelin Stars I think it will get: **

Address: 1 St Andrew's Road
#01-04 National Gallery of Singapore
178957 Singapore
Tel: +65 6385 0498
www.odetterestaurant.com
BYO Policy: 1-for-1 only, BYO not otherwise allowed.  Please click here for a list of Singapore restaurants which allow BYO, and their corkage policies.

*Scores are calculated with an allocation of 12 points for food, 4 points for service, 2 points for ambience and 2 points for a certain X-factor, a certain je ne sais quoi.

2 comments:

  1. I like the new 'how many michelin stars...' bit :)
    Victoria never went to Jaan when Royer was there so I am miles behind the 8 ball in this game. I entirely back up Julian's thoughts on the 'beigeness' and the server two things which, fortunately or unfortunately, are still forefront of my mind. I do love the egg though, and I paid more compliments to the dessert but given my usual lack of enthusiasm for dessert I guess that's no high accolade. I also think $88++ is good 'value' for a lunch of this calibre.

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  2. You know me, Tori, I'm just trying to stir s*** (hey look, there's three stars there already!)

    Don't get me wrong, the egg is a superb dish and I love it to bits. I once called it "a breakfast dish so good I would go back to sleep just so I could wake up and have it again". But a change is as good as a holiday, and without any good reason, I was expecting a bolder evolution. But yes, Odette is a very fine restaurant, and I agree that pricing is also very keen.

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