Beyond sandwiches and soups, it’s not always easy finding a decent, good-value lunch in the CBD. Full Steam, a spartan restaurant from Parisian owner-chef Julien Finet, has come into the fray with an unusual concept – a wide-ranging menu in which hearty but healthy meals are pressure-steamed to order in under three minutes.
This eatery is part of the popular and award-winning French franchise A Toutes Vapeur (which has a coveted branch opposite the Louvre), and the beauty of it is that the dishes take between 30 seconds and two minutes to make. But if it sounds a bit like airline food, it’s deluxe airline food – elegantly presented in little wooden baskets, the dishes are brushed with one of six naturally flavoured oils, which means they’re mostly tastier than you’d expect.
You won’t find many planes serving, for example, red snapper with pesto ($13.50), in which the fish nestled on silky gnocchi, haricots verts, lemon and sweeter-than-thou slivers of carrot. The fish is a touch rubbery, but this recalls en papillotte fish dishes. The vegetarian pasta ($9.50) features shards of zucchini, sun-dried tomatoes and aubergine in a multi-coloured pasta, which comes together with the help of a few sprigs of rosemary. The pork sausage pasta ($13) comes with thick, fresh slices of cured meat, but is on the salty side.
The lunch sets are a big draw – $12 for egg or soup, steamed risotto and a drink, or you can add $4.50 to any main and get a drink and starter/ dessert thrown in. Steamed egg comes plain, with cream ($4.50), or can be had with bacon or smoked salmon for a little extra. They’re like a cocotte, with runny yolk and creamy white, and are good spread on the rye bread that is offered with the set. For another simple dish, we like the Italian Verrine ($4.50), a clean offering consisting of cherry tomatoes with mozzarella, olive oil and pesto.
The wraps may be cheap, but the Serrano Ham version ($5) features too much radicchio and not enough meat. Opt instead for desserts, such as a Mont Blanc fondant ($5), a buttery pound cake served with a rich imported chestnut cream, orange segments and candied peel.
Nearly as satisfying is the Hazelnut Brioche ($5) – simple slices of bread with whole hazelnuts and a delicious home-made Nutella. All this steamed to perfection; nevertheless, we’d prefer the brioche to be a little crispier. The cooking and service is prompt and efficient, and Finet himself is usually on hand to explain the dishes and the concept. It’s an interesting one, after all – you won’t necessarily be wowed by all the dishes, but it’s not often you get such an interesting mix of creative, healthy and affordable food. Jon Cheng