I first met Remy Lefebvre in 2015, when he was head chef of Mexican restaurant El Mero Mero. Then, the France-born, Ivory Coast-raised chef swept us off our feet with his elevated take on Mexican fare that was as authentic as it could be and deliciously refined.
About two and a half years ago, we connected again at Butcher’s Block (“BB”) in Raffles Hotel where, as Head Chef, Lefebvre was very much carving up a niche for himself as something of a specialist in the ageing of proteins.
In his colourful career spanning some 20 years, Lefebvre has worked his way through multiple countries (Spain, Lebanon, Mexico, Qatar, India, Hong Kong and Singapore) and doled-out an array of cuisines including French, Catalan, fine-dining, modern-European, contemporary steak as well as contemporary Mexican. Coming full circle at the former roost of El Mero Mero in Chijmes, the exact spot where he first made his mark in Singapore, he opened Casa Restaurant (“Casa”) in June this year, a cosy space – much like a home – decked out in blue, ivory and sage.
Meaning home in Spanish, Casa is not just a homecoming of sorts for Lefebvre but an ultimate culmination of the chef’s twenty years of experience where skill set meets passion and cooking philosophy.
Anchored simply on the ethos of being responsible, the restaurant only serves responsibly-sourced fish and seafood, organically-farmed vegetables and fruits as well as traditionally-farmed meats. Whilst mostly focused on seafood and vegetables, Casa presents a meat course – be it beef, chicken or lamb – cooked on the bone daily. To be inclusive to guests with dietary restrictions, the menu also offers mostly gluten-free and dairy-free options.
Lefebvre’s cuisine is best described as “Remy’s story on a plate.” It’s neither French nor Spanish but one centred on his contemporary interpretations of woodfire gastronomy with a global sensibility gleaned from his time working in various continents throughout the world.
Woodfire gastronomy sometimes conjures up tantalizing images of intense charring and deliciously smoky tang. This is not the case with Lefebvre’s cuisine – instead of letting the charring do all the talking, the autodidact chef prefers to let his ingredients and experiences with flavours take centrestage.
From the cryptically worded, ingredients-driven menu, Gambas comes to the fore with an assembly of most assertive flavours that make for a winning combination. Small pieces of gambero rosso are brined, then cold-smoked and matched with tongues of uni for a whiff of sweetness from the sea. Lefebvre adds gambas head oil for savouriness and layers in an intensity of flavour by way of yuzu kosho spiked with wasabi, then calms it down with a mild herbal note courtesy of a drizzle of verbena oil. To give it added textures, he crowns the plate with a deliciously earthy chickpea tulle and finishes with a pour of pine nut milk that brings everything together beautifully.
Keeping things decidedly simple, the Palermo Pepper course puts the spotlight singularly on Sicilian sweet peppers that have been charcoal-roasted until the caramelization brings out the peppers’ intensity. To temper its sweetness, Lefebvre introduces Muhamara sauce of red peppers, walnuts, tahini and lemon juice. Said to be an Armenian hummus, the sauce adds a complementary nutty depth of flavour that gives body to an-otherwise singularly sweet peppers dish.
At Casa, bouchot mussels are not served straight-up in the Blue Mussels dish – instead, the shellfish is used to make a dashi that is added to a dairy-free egg custard infused with coconut cream. Steamed at low heat, the velvety cooked egg custard arrives with a crown of four ingredients – blue mussels, smoked eel, fresh diced peach and Madras jus. It’s an overall tasty dish even if we could barely discern the Madras curry powder. That said, whether intended or not, the peach does make for a jarring bedfellow.
If you like black pepper crabs, you may fall head over heels for the Perfect Egg. Yes, the free-range onsen egg in this course is quite perfect, with wobbly whites encasing a molten egg yolk that flows like a stream. But on its own, the egg is quite handicapped and so Lefebvre empowers the egg with a familiar peppery kick courtesy of a pepper sauce made with both Madagascar and Kampot peppers. And befitting its place in a tasting menu for Casa, Lefebvre serves it with grilled Scottish razor clams and organic sweetcorn stew for textures.
In comparison to the fore courses, the main courses are considerably minimalistic and cleaner in flavour. There’s Rock Bass, 7 days-aged rock bass fish boasting firm rather moist flesh partnered with a refreshing sauce vierge (chopped tomatoes, chives, parsley, lemon juice and olive oil) served alongside a bowl of sofrito-tossed Kampot rice. Also Wagyu Dry Aged, 40 days-aged char-grilled grass-fed Australian beef served with heirloom carrots and a dollop of extra-herby Café De Paris butter prepared with the fat of dry-aged wagyu and herbs. When push comes to shaft, I’d pick fish over the wagyu.
There’s a good selection of desserts too but I shall not dwell on them. Rather, it’s more important that you know how Casa’s menu works. For both lunch and dinner, it offers a 4-course Discovery menu for $118++, a 6-course Experience menu for $198++ and an 8-course Carte Blanche for $258++. Your menu is, in essence, an ingredient list divided into four unnamed categories. For the 6-course menu, which is precisely what I’d recommend, you select two items from column 1, two from column 2 and one each from columns 3 and 4. The small Wine Arrangement pairing ($198++for 4 glasses) is perfect for this unless you’re a big drinker, in which case, you should consider the large option ($258++ for 8 glasses). A Mix Arrangement of alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages is also available (4 glasses for $118++ and 8 glasses for $198++) for those who prefer a more balanced pairing programme.
If you’ve been following Lefebvre’s cuisine from his time at BB or even El Mero Mero, you’d know how accomplished his cooking is. That said, one cannot compare BB to Casa because they are entirely different concepts. But one thing is for sure, the word “safe” does not always exist in Lefebvre’s dictionary and you need only pick Lefebvre’s deceptively unfamiliar Artichoke BBQ snack to understand why.
30 Victoria Street, #01-20 Chijmes, Singapore 187 996; casarestaurant.sg; 9722 8171
© Evelyn Chen 2020
Please note that the reviews published on this blog are sometimes hosted. I am under no obligation to review every restaurant I’ve visited. If I do, the reviews are 100% my own.