Inside Alain Ducasse’s Latest Seasonal Collection of Restaurants in Asia
It’s one month before the turn of the decade and I had unapologetically knocked two of legendary Chef Alain Ducasse’s latest Asian ventures off my ‘to-eat’ list by indulging in aerated warm cheese pillows doused in more cheese sauce at Voyages located in Macau, then digging into a slice of tropézienne filled with sweet orange blossom cream just a week later, at the newly opened BBR in Raffles Hotel Singapore.
To understand the intentions of one of the world’s greatest culinary icons, Alain Ducasse and his motivation to open up the two restaurants requires a lesson in fashion. First, a Mediterranean joint in the swankiest hotels in town, and then a mid-priced bistrot in the heart of Macau that attracts the elegant and hip. To put it simply, if Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée (ranked 16th in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants) is the epitome of haute couture by vogue standards in the epicurean world, then its outposts are seasonal collections of prêt–à–porter. And I am always up for a bargain hunt on the racks.
Deep in the thicks of Macau’s gambling hub, the rich have been known to throw wads of bills on the casino floors, and at celebrity chefs with their Michelin-starred establishments. After dining at a couple of these restaurants, the message is resoundingly clear—the shinier, the better. It’s no wonder that I carried that same presumptuousness of gilded menus and gaudy interiors when I threaded into the dining space at Voyages. Instead, I’m led through a darkened corridor after a rather exhilarating fast elevator ascent with stunning views of the futuristic steel exoskeleton featured in Morpheus hotel. The hostess wore sensible court heels, the quick clack, clack, clatter as feet pattered across the arched hallway springing up anticipation. Quickly the arena opens up to reveal a brightly lit turf painted in vivid tones of coral and dark cyan, the imagery of a well-stocked bar hitting you left, right and centre.
You begin the meal with a pour of Alain Ducasse’s very own Champagne selection. Pourquoi pas? The elegant blend with a nice citrus lilt is perfect alongside dainty twigs of ‘Fernande Allard’ frogs’ legs which I would urge you to suck on with your fingers. The entrée of choice, though, is the Cheese souffle which hits all the right spots with nice fluffy innards cloaked in a 5 cheese sauce. The puffed valedictorian waits for no one, so make sure to have it when it’s hot, that’s when the nuttiness of the Comté really sings.
Bistro dishes are executed with Ducasse perfection and Parisian flair like in the koulibiac—a Russian-inspired fish pie filled with salmon encased in crepe and spinach. A shimmering beurre blanc sauce brightens up the hunky-dory. There are a couple more dishes thrown into the mix, but most of all, I remember the splendid spot of chocolate trouble—the infamous Chocolate Souffle that is bolstered by a disk of Alain Ducasse’s own brand of chocolate and a scatter of cocoa nibs. Its appearance warrants exaggerated gasps as tall cocoa walls hide cloud-like depths with a chance of smouldering chocolate melts. It is no mean feat finishing this dessert and you might even consider returning back to the desserts menu for the passionfruit and coconut vacherin. Do it.
Closer to home lies Alain Ducasse’s latest endeavour—BBR by Alain Ducasse in the historic Raffles Hotel. Occupying what used to be the Bar & Billiard Room, or what I deemed to be the best Sunday brunch place in Singapore prior to its closing, the restaurant has big shoes to fill. Firstly, judging from the similar colour schemes of tangerine and marbled blues, I would not have guessed that the bistro theme had been ditched in favour of a Mediterranean one. A decision that might have been loosely based on its neighbours’ La Dame de Pic’s presence. With such a convivial atmosphere put in place, sharing plates are the order of the day. Naturally, there’s grilled octopus and it’s a wild ride; beautifully charred edges dressed with paprika and olive oil. Elsewhere, the salted cod fritters don’t disintegrate as fast as most of its béchamel-based counterparts. The intensely flavoured innards stand up to the assault of pimento aioli lurking in tiny pots around the table. I like the Lomo a la brasa (BBQ striploin steak), as it demands you to eat it hastily with spoonfuls of sweet bell pepper sauce to elicit Mediterranean tie-ins.
Do what is necessary and make space for the Carabinero shrimp and shellfish stew priced at a hefty $60. They are passionate advocates of the Mediterranean concept, bringing to life flavours such as tomato, saffron and shellfish steeped in a vibrant broth dotted with coriander pesto and then chock full of sea bream, mussels and prawn which irresistible roe you should suck on between pursed lips.
Skip desserts. The tropézienne and its barren landscape of enriched brioche reaffirm the fact that the dessert once lived its golden age should remain in Saint-Tropez. The Tiramisu does nothing to salvage the dessert dry spell. You’re better off finding consolation at the gorgeous bar where Bartender Stuart Danker will fix you a rum negroni with the full works.
While all of Ducasse’s forays are unabashedly French, the exception to the rule is BBR in Raffles Hotel—a call I find hard to apprehend especially since my overall impression was one that was inexorably lukewarm as compared to my earlier experience at Voyages in Macau. Sure, the interiors are visually stunning, sexy as hell even; and the menu puts forth Alain Ducasse’s worldly culinary vision. Unfortunately, I don’t fall into that category of perceptive diners. At this price tag, options are aplenty. In fashion parlance, I’m a little too short for this one-size-fits-all.