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Classic French cuisine with classic ambiance.
Absinthe - a green alcoholic spirit which was more commonly known as the green fairy because of its purported hallucinogenic effects. It also happens to be the name of upmarket French restaurant jointly owned by the folks from OSO, restaurant manager Philippe Pau and chef Francois Mermilliod of Flutes at the Fort fame.
Sitting pretty at the end of a row of shophouses along Bukit Pasoh Road and playing immediate neighbour to OSO, Absinthe's green signboard, which is a nod to the greenish colour of the alcohol, greets you from a distance. The swanky interior boasts low ceilings and parquet flooring coupled with ambient ceiling lighting for a relaxing dining experience.
Complimentary Bread - When the first round of complimentary bread hit us, it was actually quite good. Crusty on the outside while retaining its softness and fluffiness on the inside. The second serving was akin to eating stones so I promptly gave up after a few mouthfuls.
Chilled Ravioli of Lobster with Lime Sabayon, Pink Guava Julienne and Shiso - Very interesting to say the least. This wasn't your typical ravioli. The skin was reminiscent of har gao and there were crunchy strands of guava nestled below it on a bed of fresh Boston lobster. The presence of fish roe gave it a nice salty taste while the lime sabayon was savoury with a hint of tartness. Very nice.
Pan-Fried Foie Gras with Warm Blinis and Wild Hibiscus Flower Compote - I thought that the foie gras was excellent. On par with what I had at Sage, if not better by a notch or two. Very well pan fried to a crisp on the outside yet melt in the mouth quivery on the inside with a hint of saltiness. The hibiscus flower compote provided a nice sourish dimension to the foie gras.
Hokkaido Scallop With Sea Urchin Emulsion and Small Herb Salad - Scallops never fail to entice me and Absinthe's rendition came with sea urchin emulsion, which was a first for me. The scallops were done tataki style, well seared on the outside but soft and relatively rare on the inside, which is a refreshing change from the usual seared scallops. I could make out a hint of fishiness amongst the predominantly salty emulsion. Overall another excellent dish.
Pork Belly - The pork belly was a special of the day and I requested this as my main instead of the lamb/fish option for my degustation and I am glad I did. The skin was very crispy, the fats were sinfully melt in your mouth and the meat fibrous with a generous dose of salt. And being pork belly, the ratio of fats to meat is a lot higher then other parts of the pig. Definitely not for the health conscious or faint hearted.
Crème Brûlée, Absinthe Sorbet - Apparently some of the ice parfaits didn't make it past the QC test that evening so I had a choice of crème brûlée instead. I wasn't too impressed by it though. The caramel layer was a little too overtorched, resulting in a rather burnt layer. On the upside, it was milky smooth with raisins in it. What I thought was interesting was the absinthe sorbet, which I had mistaken as lime sorbet at first sight. The sorbet had a very weak absinthe dosage, coming across more like liqurious with its herbal overtones.
The degustation cost $98++ but because I requested to change my main to the pork belly, it cost me another $6++, bringing the total to $122.41 nett. Sure it isn't cheap, but the excellent quality of food and service more then makes up for it. I will definitely be back, but this time I'm aiming the private dining room for 4pax within the wine cellar.
See all my pictures here.
Looking through the newly opened French restaurants in town, I came across Absinthe, which just opened towards the end of last year and is located below Oso. The restaurant is in fact owned by the head chef Francois Mermilliod, restaurant manager Philippe Pau and the Oso partners. Located within a shop house on Bukit Pasoh road, on a very quiet location, the dining room is dark but cozy and decorated in a very classic style. The staff is very friendly, welcoming and professional, and the place seemed quite busy despite the fact that we visited it during lunchtime on a weekday.
My full review with pictures can be found at: http://foodieah.blogspot.com/2009/04/absinthe.html
I had a look at the lunch menu, priced $38 for 3 courses, which was actually a bit disappointing due to the limited selection (It only had a couple of selections for each course). The fresh oysters ($12 each) came highly recommended, so I ordered a couple of them. They were in fact very fresh, with plenty of their own natural juice.
I decided to try a dish from the regular menu, and I chose the seared scallops with sea urchin emulsion ($24), as it looked most promising. The scallops were cooked and seasoned properly, although the dish overall didn't have anything special to communicate to my palate. In particular, the "sea urchin emulsion" didn't have the slightest flavour of sea urchin. I am a big fan of this ingredient, and I am generally able to detect its sweet and subtle flavour, but in this case I wondered if there was any sea urchin at all.
The rillette was quite nice, served as pictured with a slice of crispy bread, salad and a slice of fig.
The pan seared foie gras was also well prepared, served on top of a brioche and cranberry compote and topped by a thick and savoury sauce. Quite pleasant overall, as foie gras always is, in small amounts. I didn't particularly want to have foie gras, but given the fact that there were only two starters on the lunch menu, I had no choice.
Unfortunately, the main course was not as successful. The lamb was slightly undercooked. The 'demi glace' was almost certainly bought in, as it was too sticky and tasted like plastic. As it was poured all over the meat, it just spoiled the whole dish. This is where the touch of a skilled chef who cooks from fresh ingredients can be tasted, and Absinthe certainly failed the test.
The seared tuna was OK, but then again it was simply OK, not something I would want to order again. I just don't have much to say about this dish. I had better mains than these two at 7atenine, where I had a wider variety of dishes, and cheaper.
The dessert was also OK, not the kind of dessert I would choose, but given the limited selection I had no alternative. I can say that the ice cream was nicer than the cake.
At the end of the meal, and after paying the bill, we were offered 2 biscuits and 2 chocolates. Both biscuits and chocolates were nice and of good standard. The total bill was about $176, including sparkling water, oysters, scallops and set lunch for 2.
Overall, I see no reason to go to Absinthe. I tried signature dishes from the a-la-carte menu as well as the lunch menu, and I wasn't impressed by any of them. As I already mentioned, if you fancy this sort of food then go to 7atenine and get the variety, instead of having to choose between 2 starters and 2 mains. If you are ready to spend and you want to enjoy your food, then this is not the place for you.
I was impressed by the way the dining room was run, as the staff was well trained, professional and attentive, and Mr. Pau seemed to be doing a very good job at running the business. This is something I must acknowledge and I can admit that if you are looking for a French restaurant with a cozy ambiance where you want friendly but professional treatment, then Absinthe might be the place for you. On the other hand, if you are a foodie and you are looking for a cheap but good lunch menu or an expensive and stunningly well prepared a-la-carte selection, then there are plenty of other places where you can splash out your money and come out entirely satisfied of what you ingested and how your money was spent.
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