It's always beautiful to have dreams. It's even more beautiful when the dream comes true. It's the most beautiful when your dream comes true with your loved one by your side! Executive Chef Stephane Istel (former executive chef of DB Bistro Moderne) and Kori Millar (former GM of Sky on 57) became the envious subject of many when they duet the dream opening of Bar-Roque Grill, a French inspired modern Rotisserie and Bar. Together as co-owners and life partners, they weaved the Baroque era's melody of conviviality, feasting, enjoyment, pleasure on the table and love on the plate into Singapore's Tanjong Pagar area, right at the corner of Amara Hotel.
I had the pleasure to visit the restaurant a few days after its opening in July and was extremely impressed by both the food and ambience. Taking a step into Bar-Roque is not just about a physical entry into a restaurant. Beyond the flamboyant opulence of shimmering theatrical curtains, grand chandeliers, bold crimson walls, whimsical cherub mural and heavy wood-top tables built for mountains of food and raucous banqueting, it is a stage where the dream of having his own restaurant by age of 35 transcended into reality for Chef Stephane, bringing forth a new opus of his mum's cooking with a mix of techniques and experience he had picked up over the years since the age of 15. Woohoo! We're talking about 20 years behind the apron, starting from Alsace, France (where he was born), to the Carribbean, New York, Vancouver and now, Singapore!
Standing in front of the open kitchen which anchors the main dining hall, I watched in awe of the usually hidden behind-the-scene actions as they were revealed uncensored before me. White-clad chefs scuttled around as diners' orders are being prepared, pizzas being shoved into the hot oven, rotating skewers of meat in the rotisserie singing promises of gustatory bliss, the action is never stopping. And of course, the star at the center of it all is Chef Stephane, who will be orchestrating an evening of scrumptious feast for us.
But wait, the rest of the party has yet to arrive so we were first ushered to the outdoor terrace where the tropical chic ambience embraced us with its warm intimacy. Early birds get the worms and we got something even better ~ An overture of Prosecco and Tarte Flambée.
A typical Alastian dish from Chef Stephane's hometown, the tarte flambée is not unlike a thin-crust pizza with savory toppings. I tried the former 2 out of the 4 varieties ~ Classic - Bacon & Onions ($12/$20), Vegetarian - Mushrooms ($12/$20), Sneaky - Snails & Bacon ($14/$24), Cheesy - Bacon & Gyuere ($14/$24) and was very much delighted by the bread dough which was crispy at the edges yet still retaining a slight chewiness in the centre. Served hot out of the oven, it was greatly pleasurable with the blanket of gooey crème fraîche and earthy fragrance of my favorite mushrooms! I almost lost myself in these pieces of deliciousness but was soon whisked off to the magnificent chef's table where the next gastronomic movement awaits.
A bright red cast iron pot made its appearance, personally brought out by Chef Stephane, announcing the arrival of what I would described as a most decadent Homestyle Soup. Very reminiscent of the 'ABC' Chinese soup which my mum will always cook, albeit a more luxurious version. It was deeply steeped in flavors, brimming with pieces of pork knuckle, carrots, potato, leeks, oyster mushrooms, dramatized with generous shavings of black truffles! I enjoyed every single drop of it to the very last.
Touches of Asian influence is much apparent in the Braised Pork Belly Bun ($6/pc), from the way it was served in traditional bamboo steamers, to the soft pillowy buns which we identify our local 'Kong Bak Pau' with. That's where the similarities ends, as the taste takes on another different dimension altogether. This rendition of pork belly is very lightly handled with pineapple marinate, resulting in a delicate taste which was a tad overwhelmed by the sharpness of the pickled cucumber, leeks and Espelette pepper, but still palatable nevertheless.
Salads are always welcome for me who loves my greens. The Spinach Salad ($16) of crisp fresh spinach, creamy goat cheese, dates and crunchy almonds topped with fried shallots may look deceptively simple but enthralled my palate with its layers of contrasting textures and tastes which complemented each other as a whole. Great as an appetizer too is the Char-Grilled Fremantle Octopus ($16), served with a harmonious mix of arugula, sundried tomato, almonds, and tossed in a slightly nutty and peppery Romesco sauce.
Seafood delights are up next, beginning with the NZ Little Neck Clam, available as an appetizer ($22) or main course ($32). Each of the New Zealand shellfish were bursting with sweetness, a perfect match with the heady medley of garlic pork sausage, mushrooms, parsley and white wine! If you do order this dish too, my advice is to waste not the delish gravy, do soak it all up with the crusty grilled sourdough bread. The tomato-based variant competed closely for my favor too and wins marginally for its appetite whetting tangy gravy. Both are must-trys!
Ooh la la I love this Ravioles "Royan" (side $12/pasta $32) tremendously! A hearty serving of pasta smothered in a rich creamy sauce, aged gruyere and aromatic wild mushrooms, it was a dish which might not have glittered in the visual segment, but pirouetted its way into my heart faster than you can say 'delicious'! The warm comforting blend of flavors accentuated with lovely crunchiness toppings of shallot confit captivated me at the very first mouthful. This is what I call carbs most worthy of each count of calorie :D
With hardly an extra breath to stop for any intermezzo, the symphony of gourmet enchantment continues rapturously with a line-up of meat, meat and more meat from the rotisserie! The Roasted Suckling Pig ($380, 3-days advanced booking required) was the first to debut, inducing an automated response from the whole table of food bloggers and photo enthusiastics lol. Yes, we were all clicking our cameras with an utmost zealousness, feasting with our eyes before our mouths lol!
A parade of French Free Range Chicken (half-$20/whole-$38), Challans Duck (whole-$250), Australian Pork Knuckle ($58, serves 2pax) and Prime Ribeye ($198/kg) soon followed. All of them looked so glorious as the spotlight shines on them, their last moments of basking in glory before ending up in our tummies :p
Under the deft knife skills of Chef Stephane, the opulent showcase was swiftly chopped up and reappeared on our table. These are the kind of food I enjoy best, a hedonism of unpretentious primal protein goodness in hearty portions, all roasted to perfection!
My personal favorite cut of the night was the Prime Ribeye, not solely because my heart has always been skewed towards beef, but it really blew me away with its tenderness and vivid full-bodied flavor that shone through brilliantly with just a light seasoning of salt and pepper. I attacked this with much relish, that was no time to be ladylike and shy as I reveled in its marvelous taste :p
In comparison, the (French) Challans Duck was much more heavily handled with the oriental five-spice marinade, reflecting an Asian flavor not unfamiliar with local tastebuds. Each piece of thinly-sliced meat was lean with a seductive pinkish hue, accompanied by a slender layer of fat that all came together so delectably in perfect doneness, garnering nods of approval all around.
While the Pork Knuckle and Suckling Pig titillated me effortlessly with their succulent meat and immaculate crackling skin, the faint porky smell failed to escape the more sensitive of noses. And I wondered where my beloved chicken wings escaped to, as I sank my teeth into the moist flesh of the French Free-Range Chicken. Well, at least I got the drumsticks! TYL for satisfying this gluttonous mouth of mine :D
It is not an overstatement to say that food at Bar-Roque is more than a feast for the body and soul. Chef Stephane's undeniable talent served him well, even foodstuffs such as jus de viande and pickles are made in-house, artisanal-style. His overflowing boisterous gaiety was highly infectious, I can feel his sincere passion for cooking, a rhapsodic one communicated evidently through his food. What we can further expect from him is the special "Nose to Tail Eating" Sunday dinners, which involves the eating of an entire animal including its head and extremities prepared in a variety of techniques. Sounds like a rare treat every epicurean should definitely look out for!
The meal orgasmed to an climactic high as Chef Stephane embraced us once more with his love, manifested in the unadulterated tune of Apple Pie ($12), a homely dessert which follows the traditional recipe of his mom. I was swept away by the warm pieces of soft baked apples which were hugged by a fragrant flaky buttery crust and beautifully kissed with cinnamon crumble. The euphoric sensation is further heightened with the accompanying rum and raisin ice cream, making it an truly unforgettable enjoyment.
Not to be missed too is the Traditional Creme Brulee ($12), a smooth rich custard lightly scented with soft notes of vanilla and contrasted with a thin, brittle top crust of caramelized sugar. This exemplified a simple dessert that is masterfully executed, bringing yet another smile of satisfaction to my face.
Happiness does shorten the passing hours as it was almost midnight when the curtains finally came down on this evening of lavish dinner and mirth in the house. As I sat at the dimly lighted table, I realized what brightened up the darkness was not just the much needed LED illumination to get some decent shots, but the unmeasurable radiant beams of great food and even greater company.
Applause goes to the stellar cast of Chef Stephane, Kori, Sous-chef Alex (all pictured above) and their assiduous team as they played out the restaurant's motto ~ 'Love on the Plate' ~ with much fervor. Their food expresses a grand appetite for life, refined yet hearty, traditional yet innovative. Bar-Roque Grill is definitely an exciting new restaurant set to rock the culinary scene of Singapore!
Many thanks to Andrew, Bing and David for this splendid tasting invitation.
All food photos are taken by PinkyPiggu, credit for additional location and behind the scenes shots goes to Gastro-Sense, Andrew Wong and Alexis Yang.
Address: 165 Tanjong Pagar, #01-00 Amara Hotel, Singapore 088539
Contact: +65 64449672
Opening Hours: Tue-Sat Lunch 12-2.30pm • Dinner 5.30-10.30pm • Bar Menu 2.30pm-late / Sun Rotisserie 12-3pm • Dinner 5.30-1 pm • Bar Menu 2.30-10pm / Mon Closed