With confit de canard thick on Singapore’s booming bistro grounds, a decent Frenchie diner isn’t hard to pin down these days. But if you’re searching for a great French bistro where the food on the plate is the real draw, options become limited.
Enter Le Bon Marché, which, in a previous incarnation, was a gourmet shop and insignificant bistro in the Tiong Bahru precinct. Now housed in a spacious ground-floor unit along Bukit Timah, the suburban bistro boasts an expanded dine-in space that proudly eschews design flourishes. Indoors, rows of wooden shelves bordering the crimson walls proffer a huge array of European gourmet produce – imported wines, breads, cheeses, sauces, dressings, jams, grains and frozen meats (including rabbit’s legs and sliced foie gras) – that rivals stalwart Culina. Elsewhere, aside from the partial-show kitchen and rattan-framed hanging frosted glass lamps, chef/proprietor Stephane Herve and his wife Shirley have kept their unpretentious bistro decidedly sparse.
Le Bon Marché’s eclectically European reach is anchored on familiar French bistro classics, stacked alongside Italian (think risotto and pasta) and Spanish (paella and tapas) sidekicks. There are two menus: one bound in a hard-cover album and another featuring ‘specials’ scrawled on a chalkboard hung, oddly enough, on a pillar that can only be seen from one side of the hall. Whichever catches your fancy, expect nothing less than top-notch brasserie standards.
To start, fat and succulent Burgundy escargots are served sizzling hot, drenched in an addictive garlic and parsley-flecked herbed butter sauce. The salade landaise with frisée (curly lettuce) and chopped walnuts is tossed with duck prosciutto, sautéed duck gizzards and petite hunks of foie gras terrine in a sublimely delicate dressing. Paper-thin crisps of pizza-like tarts are crowned with savoury bacon morsels, onions and Emmental cheese that crumbles effortlessly against the tongue with umami.
Even the main courses, occasionally monstered in less experienced hands, were stellar. Rib-sticking rack of lamb was served delectably rare on a flawlessly reduced red-wine sauce with a mound of ratatouille on the side, while the meltingly tender confit de canard, resting on a bed of buttery mashed potatoes, had us rapt with its subtly salty and crisp skin. With Herve’s perfectionist touch, the risotto with porcini mushrooms was a parmesan-coated al dente delight – bright, creamy and deliciously savoury. Needless to say, our desserts were equally dazzling – hot soufflé is a case in point, with its light-as-air, smooth custard balanced against a seductive soupçon of Grand Marnier.
Lest you think that this neighbourhood bistro makes the perfect daily dinner spot, let the truth be told that the prices at Le Bon Marché are, by no means, ‘neighbourhood’: be prepared to shell out $80 per head for a three-course meal if you order from the à la carte menu. Having said that, the $15 Le Sud Quest – baguette stuffed with duck terrine, cured French duck breast and shredded lettuce – makes a perfect light lunch that’s easy on the pocket, as does the $12 tomato-, lettuce- and Emmental-filled croque monsieur.
Alternatively, Le Bon Marché’s set lunch, at $30 per person, is first rate and excellent value, offering three equally mouthwatering courses. The robustly flavoured French onion soup, chock-a-block with melt-in-the-mouth sautéed onions, the generous hunk of pan-seared sea bass with spinach and sun-dried tomatoes in a fiery orange piemonte sauce, and the simply stunning crêpe served à la mode (with ice cream) might just elevate this bistro to the most coveted set-lunch table in town. Eve C