We are blessed with so many new restaurant openings in Singapore that we don’t necessarily get a chance to return to restaurants that we love. One such venue is Rhubarb Le Restaurant (“Rhubarb”) , a modern French restaurant by British chef, Paul Longworth, and French sommelier, Jerome Desfonds, that opened at Duxton Hill at the height of the neighbourhood’s popularity in 2014. While Michelin has left out some strong contenders in its Singapore guide, I’d say that the red guide hit the nail on the head with its inclusion of Rhubarb in the one-star category.
Unlike the spacious Au Petit Salut Restaurant where Longworth once helmed the kitchen and Desfonds the floor, Rhubarb is, by design, a decidedly boutique restaurant set in a conservation shop house with an open kitchen fronting a 24-seat dining room (seven tables). There is also a private room on level two that takes 12 guests for private events only. From his perch on the kitchen pass, Longworth gets a bird’s eye view of all his guests, who dine at round tables double-dressed in some of the most beautiful grey-on-white table linens you’ll see in Singapore.
When it comes to the menu, Longworth prefers to keep it simple and uncluttered – there is an à la carte menu for day and night, a lunch set menu ($48++) and a six-course Le Menu ($148++) at dinner. That’s it.
Instead of a parade of snacks, you get just one, a pretty substantial one at that, a cornet filled with rhubarb-cured amberjack fish with rhubarb puree topped with lashings of golden-orange flying fish roe.
The same philosophy of simplicity applies to Longworth’s dinner tasting menu – six fairly substantial courses, each plated with just three or four main ingredients so that the diner gets the gist of the plate in one – rather than three – bites. And this approach works remarkably well.
The dinner opens with a ballotine of apricot-marinated foie gras roll studded with crushed almonds. Quite unusually, Longworth tops the foie with a cloud of smoked pine needle foam and flanks the slab with a smidgen of apricot puree and slices of pickled pine needles-marinated apricot. The melange of sweet, slightly acidic and smoky flavours work together exceedingly well with the buttery foie. It helps to know too that, in the spirit of zero-wastage, the pine needles used in flavouring the dishes were harvested from the Christmas tree that adorned the dining room last December.
Instead of a broth, Longworth prefers that you savour a creamy emulsion of earthy-sweet Jerusalem artichokes served with a crunchy contrast of the of sunken treasures of seared broad beans, peas and asparagus. To make its arrival all the more glorious, Longworth serves the emulsion with lashings of Manjimup black truffle floss.
When giant oysters from Japan are in season now (from July to August), Longworth slow poaches the almost palm-sized mollusc to retain the integrity of its creamy flavour and succulent texture, and pairs it with a briny ensemble of samphire, seaweed and wakame pearls with lemon emulsion, toasted buckwheat. Like a shy bride, it arrives “hidden” by a thin film of rice paper veil. While we wouldn’t have missed the absence of the veil, it’s an impressive performance of light briny flavours with a dazzle of umami.
You get a choice of three options for mains. Pick the monkfish and you get a meaty fish wrapped in Parma ham resting on a thick, lime-green emulsion of capers, anchovies and parsley finished with chicken jus, below which rests spinach leaves. To cut its savoriness, Longworth tops the fish with green apple slices and a floret of cauliflower.
While the monkfish is delicious, it is overshadowed by the round of Mayura Station beef onglet flanked by beetroot jelly, a dollop of beetroot relish and a stalk of a zucchini flower swelling with the gloriousness of beetroot jus-marinated quinoa. But what makes the beef course a standout is the blueberry sauce with a hint of beef jus that elevates an otherwise heavy dish to one that is light and decidedly wholesome without weighing in too heavily on fruitiness.
If there’s anything within your sphere of influence that could elevate your experience to the next level, it’s Desfonds’ line-up of wines in the cellar. There are 250 labels in all, of which 99% is French. Have a sip of Desfond’s French-centric wine recommendation and you’ll see what I mean.
3 Duxton Hill, Singapore 089 589; rhubarb.sg