Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Countryside Experience

We took so long to get round to eating there that the place changed its name in the meantime. In making the reservation for the long overdue lunch, I discovered that the restaurant was now Bistro Petit Salut, no longer Au Petit Salut, the latter having moved on to swankier premises in the Dempsey cluster, leaving behind a new junior sibling and, I assume, taking with it the chef that built its reputation. Oh well, whoever took my reservation assured me that the menu was quite the same, give or take a few small exceptions, and the set lunches were still available, so I went ahead and booked us a table for five.

Our intention was to sample the set lunches which we had heard were reasonably priced. Indeed there were two set menus offered, one at $22 and one (the executive set lunch) at $35, both of which seemed perfectly reasonable for a three-course meal. For an additional $6, one could also opt for the main from the executive set lunch. These prices included regular tea or coffee.

The range of options were fair enough, suitably reflective of the French countryside cuisine that the Petit Salut restaurants are well known for. Since there were five of us, we could make a fair stab at the choices on offer.

KKN's vine-ripened tomato salad

my half dozen escargots (snails, for the uninitiated)

MM's beetroot salad with goat cheese

ES' mixed green salad with fresh herbs

HM's soup du jour, cream of lentil

Good sized portions, well balanced flavours - the appetizers got us off to a good start, but the highlights of the meal were yet to come. Incidentally, for those who prefer their escargots served with a vicious kick of garlic, these will disappoint. They were buttery and "herbally", somewhat subtle for a countryside cuisine perhaps.

ES' and KKN's oven roasted "forty onions" chicken leg with mashed potato

braised lamb shank (available for an additional $6)

seared pork chop provencal style (from the executive set lunch menu, also for an additional $6)

HM's catch of the day, seared threadfin

It was in the mains that the Petit Salut French countryside style shone through most clearly. The chicken was suitably robust, with an excellent potato mash. The fish too was perched on a very tasty mash (we're not sure what kind - cauliflower?). The lamb shank was a big hit, so tender it practically fell off the bone, and so smooth. The star of the show though was the pork chop which was juicy to say the least. The sauce was pronounced to be "very Provencal", with its full-flavoured mixture of ripe tomatoes, olives and olive oil. The only thing was the frites were a little disappointing. They should have been more flavourful perhaps, more crispy on the outside.

my blanc manger with fresh watermelon (left) and KKN's “petit pot au chocolat” 72% dark chocolate ganache with whipped cream (right)

HM's creme brulee with vanilla

MM's nougat glace with red berry coulis

ES' choux buns filled with vanilla ice cream in warm chocolate sauce and sliced almonds

The desserts were not to be sniffed at either. MM's nougat glace - a frozen dessert made with whipped cream and candied fruit - was a revelation. It reminded us of ice cream in texture and taste. I liked my blanc manger (milk pudding) too - it was delicate and light - although at first taste, we all exclaimed "almond jelly" or "tau huey". KKN was similarly impressed with her "little pot of chocolate", offering it to one and all at our table.

So the food was excellent and the price was right ($177.50 for five people, including some sparkling water and a glass of wine). The space was pleasant too, informal enough for a cosy lunch.

The only blot on the experience was the unexpectedly awful service. KKN asked if she could change her main course and was told "yes", only to be served her original order. Over and over again, we were served each other's orders. Worse, we were repeatedly brought food and drinks destined for other tables. This might have had something to do with the fact that a number of the waitstaff appeared not to have a working grasp of the English language. But we were in excellent spirits, thanks to the good food. Otherwise the service could have been excruciating. We surmised that the problem had something to do with the turnover in staff resulting from the revamp. A more senior elf, when asked by MM in a classic MM move to explain the diference between the old Au Petit Salut and the new Bistro Petit Salut, blurted out that the food and setting, post-makeover, was more "country" (I believe she was looking for the word, "rustic") and that the service was more "rough". Touche - we couldn't have put it better.

P.S. A HM quip: "When they call it 'Food Court Petit Salut', we'll know what to expect."



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