Le Bistrot du Sommelier has been on my to-eat list for some time now. We were celebrating 2 engagements and 3 birthdays, so we took the opportunity to drive out for an extended languid lunch. The French bistro was rustic, homely and casual, just like its traditional approach to its beef-centric menu. But for the chef's tendency to put parsley in EVERYTHING, the food would have gotten full marks.
Reservations are encouraged, as the restaurant is teeny tiny, and trust me, you don't want to sit humid and mozzie-ridden outdoors.
Service was congenial but found wanting; as usual, I'd asked to hold off any parsley/coriander/cilantro in my steak, but the meat arrived buried in it. I sent it back, but the dish returned with the herb simply scraped off. I could have done that on my own. To exacerbate the issue, by the time I got the steak back, it was tepid. And, it wasn't as if the herb was completely picked off anyway.
That's the thing I grapple with whenever I dine out. As much as I prefer not to fib, I've found that claiming to be allergic to parsley/coriander/cilantro makes the kitchen/staff more vigilant. For the record, I'm not allergic, but I am violently adverse to it. Even if I'm unaware of the herb being present in a dish, I'd hurl after ingesting it. While I claim the allergy more often at hawker centres where service is generally more lacking (that's to be expected because it's not like we pay for service at hawker centres anyway), I refrain from doing so at upscale establishments, simply because I hold the staff, and kitchen, at a higher level of professionalism.
Parking here is a real pain, I myself parked at a $50-lot; so if you can't find parking along the road, or at the adjacent URA carpark, head to Chijmes for parking, and walk over.
A surprising discovery was the Salade de Homade a la Francaise ($40), a mound of cocktail-sauced root vegetable salad dotted with a clear lobster jelly dice, and topped with a plump slice of Boston lobster, fresh dill, parsley, basil and beets. This was clean, light and refreshing.
Another must-try, the Tartare de Boeuf ($32) was a mountain of beef tenderloin, minced and dressed with parsley, pepper and onions. This was clear and delicate, and served with free flow of french fries.
The Joue de Boeuf Braisee au vin Rouge ($32) was a duo of fork-tender beef cheeks braised in an intensely rich red wine, carrots, mushrooms and sided by fluffy parsley mash.
The portioning of this was huge, so share if you're a small eater.
A variation of the foregoing braise, using the beef shoulder, and off the seasonal menu, was blanketed in a buttery puff pastry ($32). This was fattier, so it was softer. Note that the stews are very rich, and tend towards the saccharine.
Save for the parsley fiasco, the must-try Onglet de Boeuf aux echalotes ($30), an expansive hanger steak pan-seared to a perfectly juicy medium, and slathered in a sweet and heady shallots and garlic confit, was exquisite. This was also sided by free-flowing french fries, which had evidently been fried in some tasty fat; making it thoroughly addictive.
For those who aren't fans of beef, there's a Baked Seabream with Ratatouille ($32). The ratatouille was fantastic, sweet and tangy and layered.The fish was moist and flaky, but didn't quite register on the 'wow' scale.
The Potato Gratin ($6.80), another must-order, was gloriously creamy and cheesy. We wiped this out in seconds.
The richness of the French food was complemented by the sumptuous Genoise au Chocolat ($16), a dark chocolate genoa cake crowned with chocolate ganache and set in a pool of chocolate coulis. I liked its nuanced sweetness.
For a cleansing finish, the Trou Normand ou Colonel ($18), a tart green apple sorbet cut with calvados, should not be missed.
The French are well known for their bread, and for good reason. The complimentary crusty bread was simplicity at its finest, accompanied by fine French butter.
Le Bistrot du Sommelier
53 Armenian Street
Tel: 6333 1982
Open Mondays to Saturdays from 12noon to 3pm for lunch; 6pm to 11pm for dinner;
Closed on Sundays