What do I say about the new Bacchanalia that has not already been said?
Quite a bit.
I went for dinner last night with a sense of trepidation, half expecting an experience right of the books of the late Joel Robuchon (“JR”).
I got that feeling of déjà vu when I entered Bacchanalia, mostly because what greeted me was non other than the black-and-white checkered tiles that have so clearly decked the walls of many a JR kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, while that sense of familiarity breeds a feeling of uneasiness in some, I thought it looked ravishing, even comforting.
And as I walked down the narrow aisle with round tables blanketed in black, I was lured by the dazzle of a glistening private room behind sliding glass doors at the rear of the shop house. Best described as “bejewelled”, the white linen-blanketed tables had plates with gilded rims and light-weight glasses that flirted with pencil-slim stems. I was seated there, right next to a pair of industry friends at the next table.
When the single course of amuse bouche arrived, it confirmed my greatest fear – that stamp of JR loud and clear in a velvety – if unctuous – bed of foie gras cream cooked in port wine layered with a savoury blanket of duck jelly. On it, an army of parsley-nippled corn puree beckoned for attention and, for some, criticism. Hey, but a chef is allowed to pay homage to his teacher of many years, a legendary one at that.
But that rousing sense of suspicion soon turned to affection in that triangle of artichoke and foie gras “mille-feuille” glazed with yellow wine and, following that, a tartlet of French porcini layered against what was described as “spicy” eggplant caviar (although I could barely taste the spice) served with an intoxicating cup of mushroom consomme strewed with wisps of ginger.
At times, the dish evoked a sense of curiousity, when Shanghai hairy crab made an appearance – complete with visible nuggets of dry-tasting roe – with ribbons of tagliatelle in a cream-based sauce that did little to cut the richness of the crustacean. It was a unique attempt that fell flat on me but it found an avid audience with my dining companion.
A serving of grilled Omi rib eye steak with Sarawak black pepper, red wine sauce and potato confit was as classical as it got and really, there’s no better way to eat that slab of meat.
At the meal’s conclusion, to realize – to my surprise – that new-to-Bacchanalia chef, Vianney Massot is all of 27 years old, with nine years of JR experience under his belt, you can’t help but try to suppress that growing sense of adoration, even respect, tinged with a glow of hope that this young French chef will one day win over the hardest of JR skeptics that, indeed, graduates of JR school of hard knocks can eventually develop their own unique style. Even if the Shanghai hairy crab did not rock my boat, it did show that Massot is not resting on his laurels.
Last night, I surprised myself when I told my husband that I enjoyed the contemporary French dining at Bacchanalia from start to finish. While the elevated French fare by Massot is key, the alcoholic choices curated by sommelier Roberto Duran cannot be under-estimated.