SINGAPORE — I'm seated inside Maison Marie Bistrot at Rail Mall, on this plush, handsome leather chairs and tables adorned with marble streaking across its surface. The walls are painted a safe pale shade of grey; royal blue acting as an accent colour on a divider and a feature wall to my right.
It’s all very plain, safe, and slightly devoid of character, though I won't even attempt to understand the collection of A1-sized stock photos on the wall that screams stock—I recognise the streets of Paris in its depiction, colours unnecessarily adjusted for maximum contrast. It looks more at home on the hoarding outside than in this beautiful restaurant that, though lacking in personality, doles out plates of food that are dependable and impressively seasoned.
It’s hardly surprising given that next door to the restaurant is Maison Marie Specialty Grocery Store that carries an impressive range of premium produce, sure to tickle the fancy of folks living in this neck of the wood. It’s a smart move, though, this bistro, which serves as a way to parade the best that this provider can offer. Had a great steak at the bistrot? Guess what. You can get that very meat next door.
It starts with a selection of premium oysters (S$4.50-S$7++)—salty and savoury Isigny Sur Mer from France and sweet and creamy Gillardeau. And then on to one of the better Onion Soup (S$15++) I’ve had this year with its overtones of moreish, duly elevated by gruyere on the croutons that stay melted twenty minutes into the service. This is soup that has had the benefit of time and the most impressive umami. Even the bread has a fierce char on it. I feel so thoroughly enlightened.
Of course, I enjoyed the Roasted Tiger Prawns (S$18++), the only seafood I’d lay down life and soul. Here it’s a simple presentation that just works. There’s a pool of parsley and garlic oil on which these prawns rest that is a great combination I never imagined would pass muster, but pass it did. It helps that the prawns are unabashedly fresh, plump and such a delight to eat; I made my dining partner give me all the prawn heads for the pleasure of suckling.
And then there’s the Mediterranean Seabream (S$30++), the star for the night, the “There can be 100 people in a room, and 99 of them don’t believe in you, but all it takes is one, and it just changes your whole life” mains that made me gasp. If I could down these bones, I would because this fish is bravado personified especially when so little has been done to the naturally sweet and creamy Seabream.
It’s simply charcoal grilled to a gorgeous char, butterflied for easy eating, and served with a sauce that has impressive undertones of smokiness. I also appreciated that the house salad, dutifully tossed with a mustard-honey-vinegar dressing, is bright but not obtrusive and, with the addition of dill, lends a stunning aromatic bouquet. Lady Gaga would have been very proud.
Elsewhere, there’s an Octopus Bolognese (S$32++) that serves as a reminder to lower expectations. With a name like that, I would expect at least an entire leg of Octopus resting on a meaty brown sauce, and at that S$32, I don’t think I’m expecting much. Yet, what came was octopus sliced thinly, served with blobs of bone marrow that feels like it's going through an identity crisis. Scant octopus aside, the Gemelli pasta is heroically cooked though it could do with a touch of texture—might I recommend a flavoured crouton?
The tour of impressive produce concludes with a Charolais Beef Ribeye (S$42++) that’s cooked to a beautiful medium-rare (contrary to what the server tells me) and is, of course, great, tender, and flavorful meat. It’s served with a gaggle of fries that I love. It’s similar to the one at Wildfire—double coated so that it remains crispy and potato-ey even after some time. Some would say it’s unnecessarily generous. To those who bear such sentiments, I can gladly say we’re no longer friends. Gur, bye.
And so to dessert, with fingers, legs, and eyes crossed. On the menu, it says Brûlée Lemon Tart (S$6.50++), but after the Octopus Bolognese, I’m obliged to cast aspersions. The question is, did it pass muster? I’ll say this. Lemon tarts by nature are finicky, requiring a deft hand. Today, it’s absent with a lemon curd that has too much personality to play nice with the smoked cream.
And before you ask, “What smoked cream?” it's cooked into the tart, so the smokiness is beyond subtle, which doesn’t exactly help its cause. The brûlée, while unique, feels more like an afterthought, though I loved that it was warm. And these days, with restaurants skimping out on great desserts, I’ll take warm tarts over boring chocolate-anything anytime.
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