A chef in need of a better setting

Beef tartare Asian style features fresh meat lightly seasoned with a touch of sesame oil, topped with a savoury beurre blanc ice cream.
PHOTO: The Business Times


DSTLLRY par Christophe Lerouy

21 Media Circle

#01-01 Infinite Studios

Tel: 6334-4816

Open for lunch and dinner Wed to Fri: 12pm to 2.30pm; 6pm to 11pm.

Dinner only on Mon, Tues and Sat. Closed on Sun.

So it's been a long time since we've been on the singles' scene and our repertoire of cheesy pickup lines dates back to way before the pre-millennial era, but when we see Christophe Lerouy behind the counter at DSTLLRY, it's all we can do to not say, "What's a chef like you doing in a place like this?"

This place is a blink-and-you- miss-it featureless eatery beside a Subway sandwich shop in technopark surroundings - the kind of industrial commune where working drones wearing identity tags eat, drink and pick up their laundry in a convenient one-stop location to save the hassle of going to town.

It's a place for sustenance, not joy, and can hardly qualify as a dining destination when it lacks both greenery and charm.

But if you remember Christophe Lerouy as the original chef at Restaurant Alma before it attained its first Michelin star, then you may need to lock in the directions to this cement suburb of Mediapolis into your GPS and get down there.

His cooking was what gave Alma some grounding, even if its surroundings did not. But now that he's struck out on his own, he again has to make do with less-than-ideal ambience in this bar-turned-counter-dining set up.

Pushing your way through large glass doors, you step into an all-black soundstage-like space, with harsh spotlights trained on an open kitchen, where Chef Lerouy and his team of young local chefs quietly assemble the night's meal.

If nothing else, fine dining is cheaper in this neck of the concrete jungle - the omakase-only menus are priced at S$95 for two tapas and six courses, and S$120 for the eight- course option.

A single loaf of bread sits forlornly in a rather small see-through oven, so we know our names are on it. And so it is when its crusty, spongy self appears sliced and hot in a little cloth bag to keep it warm.

Before long, three kinds of tapas arrive - a fish cracker (keropok) is topped with chopped raw and whole shrimp; a crispy skinned cold potato covered with smoked eel and tart creme fraiche; and lamb belly sitting on crispy pork crackling.

Three kinds of tapasPhoto: The Business Times

It doesn't justify our drive out from town at that moment, but a meal here is not a wham-bam performance of showmanship, but rather a steadily evolving meal that gets better and more intricate with each course.

Chef Lerouy's Alsace roots makes its presence felt in the menu but in a light, modern manner that is inventive and honest.

There's nothing flashy about it, but it displays good technique and creativity.

Beef tartare Asian-style features fresh meat lightly seasoned with a touch of sesame oil, topped with a savoury beurre blanc ice cream with a cold richness that plays off the silken meat very well.

You also get to play with the condiments he's added - pickled cucumber, ginger puree and daikon puree cooked with soy which is almost a dead ringer for miso.

Foie gras is served two ways - cooked in red wine for a slight alcoholic punch, and a whipped, aerated version, unexpectedly paired with coffee jelly and sour passion fruit jelly to balance off the richness.

We're ambivalent about this but totally impressed with what is served next.

If you were a cabbage, you'd want to be in Chef Lerouy's shopping basket because he treats his vegetables the way chefs treat their prized wagyu.

Salt baked cabbage Photo: The Business Times

Why he takes so much trouble is an example of his philosophy that you don't need expensive ingredients to create fine cuisine.

Here, he cooks the cabbage in a salt dough crust. It's brought to you still in its bread-like case, sliced open to reveal tender leaves which are immediately covered with thin slices of lardo and torched to create a layer of richness.

The cabbage is plated and parsley sauce drizzled around it, decorated with dots of sour lemon conserve and egg yolk cream for extra depth.

It's a lot of trouble for a humble vegetable, but the result is worth it.

Next up is lobster poached till tender in garlic oil and chilli paste, adorned with roasted garlic and sweet black garlic puree.

Lobster poached till tender in garlic oil and chilli paste, adorned with roasted garlic and sweet black garlic puree. Photo: The Business Times

The chilli oil that is fused with lobster juices is made for dipping bread into.

Chef Lerouy's imagination goes on non-stop with a winning tete-a-tete between escargot and tiny calamari, over a thin layer of squid ink pasta, parmesan cream and a pool of parsley beurre blanc.

Melting-soft sous vide salmon in tomato bearnaise sauce and tenderloin flavoured with salty sopressado sitting on a brown jus spiced with paprika are examples of familiarity and controlled experimentation.

Melting-soft sous vide salmon in tomato bearnaise sauce.Photo: The Business Times

We are not so hot on the confit ox tongue with the salmon or the potato fondant with the beef, but we'll give points to the chef for keeping our interest till the end.

A deconstructed montblanc dessert ends off the meal on a comfortable note.

One thing that's clear throughout the meal is that eating on a high stool in stark, cold surroundings does not do justice to the chef's cooking.

Food like this deserves proper tables and a classie, more intimate ambience.

There's a lot of sincerity in the food, even if not everything hits a high note.

If only he had the right stage, his would be a performance to watch.


Rating: 7


10: The ultimate dining experience

9-9.5: Sublime

8-8.5: Excellent

7-7.5: Good to very good

6-6.5: Promising

5-5.5: Average

Our review policy: BT pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.

This article was first published on Feb 24, 2017. Get The Business Times for more stories.