One of the most highly-anticipated hotels to open in Singapore this year is the Sofitel Singapore City Centre. The flagship Sofitel property will officially be opening her doors on 02 October 2017 (even though there are paying guests staying in-house already) and alongside this opening will be the introduction of a brand new restaurant, Racines, which is helmed by the award-winning Executive Chef Jean-Charles Dubois.
I was invited down to Racines by the team at the Sofitel Singapore City Centre for a tasting of the restaurant's menu and I had the amazing opportunity of speaking with the man himself. As one of the rare few recipients of the prestigious "Chevalier de l’Ordre du Merite Agricole", Chef Jean-Charles Dubois has a long-standing and established career in the culinary world - he used to helm the Raffles Grill kitchen over at the Raffles Hotel before setting up The French Kitchen. Chef Jean-Charles took the time to explain the inspiration behind Racines. The name of the restaurant literally translates into 'roots' (which is evident in the logo) and it basically the fundamental principle that guides the restaurant in not only the way is prepared but also the way the ingredients are sourced for.
From what I gathered during my conversation with Chef Jean-Charles, Racines strives to use only top-quality ingredients to showcase the best possible version of every single dish they put on the table. The restaurant has two separate kitchens - French and Chinese - and each of them has their very own culinary team. The idea is not about creating fusion dishes but rather to stay true to the root of each cuisine - expect to find sous-vide techniques and the mastery of the wok in French and Chinese dishes respectively. Racines is truly about creating a beautiful space that not only provides diners with quality food but also an impeccable dining experience where locally-sourced and sustainable ingredients are prominent elements in the mix.
The Sofitel Singapore City Centre has her very own herb garden with an integrated watering system - many of the herbs and garnishes used in the kitchen of Racines are freshly-picked from this said garden. In fact, I was also shown a sample of the 'Bee Hotel' which is playfully created as a miniature replica of the Sofitel Singapore City Centre where bees will actually live so that the honey can be harvested for use in-house. Chef Jean-Charles has also shared with me that they are working very closely with local farmers and producers to get as much key ingredients as possible from within the country.
The restaurant itself is beautiful with plenty of natural lighting and beautiful furniture - diners can choose to sit by the window to enjoy the view of the shophouses, look out to the herb garden or sit in front of the show kitchen to see the chef prepare their food right in front of their eyes. Most of the dishes that are photographed in this article are tasting portions and they may not be representative of the actual portion size that you will get at the restaurant. We started off the tasting menu with some freshly-baked breads from the basket - I selected the mini baguette and the black olive roll which were both delicious. Honestly, I am just excited to know that I will now have a new place to hang out in the morning and the afternoon on weekdays since my office is located fairly close by.
First on the menu was a Traditional Lobster Bisque served with Coral Oil, Basil, Emmental Ravioli and Micro Cress. The lobster bisque was everything you would expect from a carefully-prepared soup - it is rich, creamy and smooth but more importantly, the addition of the coral oil (which is apparently extracted from the shells of the lobster alongside various herbs and seasoning ingredients) plays a crucial part in bringing out the intense fragrance of this delicious dish. Needless to say, I will definitely be ordering the full portion of this dish the next time I visit.
The second dish was a Chargrilled Galician Octopus with Avocado, Lime Crème Fraîche and Smoked Sweet Paprika. The lime crème fraîche and the beautifully-seasoned octopus is a match made in heaven - the sour cream and the lime provided enough acidity to cut through paprika and more importantly, to bring out the delicate flavours of the sous-vide octopus. I personally did not care much for the avocado but this dish is definitely one to order when you visit Racines.
As I have mentioned previously, the team over at Racines work very closely with local farmers and sustainable ingredient providers. The Local Kale Salad with Black Olive Cookie, Baby Heirloom Tomatoes, Toasted Pumpkin Seeds and Passion Fruit Vinaigrette is an interesting alternative to a regular salad (which seems to be a CBD staple) - the black olive cookie in particular provides the salad with crunch and texture (something that is generally not found in most salad dishes). While kale has gotten a lot more popular in recent years, it is not commonly found in salads locally as businesses are generally deterred from using them due to higher costs and eventually lower profit margins. That being said, Racines has does a wonderful job at introducing this ingredient with the most delicious passion fruit vinaigrette that is refreshing and packed with flavours.
One of Chef Jean-Charles Dubois's signature dishes is the 48-hour Slow-cooked Wagyu Beef Cheek, Truffled Mashed Potatoes and Seasonal Greens. The Wagyu beef cheek is no doubt the star of this dish - the protein tears away effortlessly with a fork (and I would imagine any cutlery would be able to pull this apart easily) and the flavours are excellent. The contrast in texture from the root vegetables also gave some variety to the tenderness and softness of the beef. The truffled mash potatoes were also done beautifully with the right amount of truffle flavour (yes, there is such a thing as too much truffle). Altogether this was an incredibly-balanced dish that should once again be on everyone's to-order list.
Apart from masterfully-executed French dishes, Racines also focuses on local Chinese dishes. In fact, if you were to grab a table near the show kitchen, you will notice that half of the whole kitchen space has been dedicated to prepare Chinese dishes - there are steamers, woks and even a place for soups here. The Chinese kitchen is staffed by a different team and during my lunch tasting, I sampled the Nyonya-style Stir-fried Calamari which went perfectly with a bowl of rice. I would have loved to see the inclusion of petai (stink bean) in this dish but everything was on point - that sauce itself was just dreamy!
The most impressive dish that came out of the Chinese kitchen in my opinion was the Sweet and Sour Crispy Kurobuta Pork - a staple in both Cantonese as well as local Chinese restaurants. The version over here at Racines is definitely a lot fancier than what you get outside on average but the ingredients do play a big part in bringing out the flavours of this commonly-known dish. Unlike the growing casual dining trend in Singapore where restaurants substitute cheaper ingredients for more expensive ingredients to simply mark up the price of an item (e.g. lobster nasi lemak), the use of Kurobuta Pork in this dish translated into a fatty, tender and juicy surprise underneath each crisp shell. The sweet and sour elements in this dish were also carefully-balanced without overpowering the core component of this course.
While steamed rice is well, just steamed rice, I had to sneak in a photo of this beautiful bowl - rice is absolutely crucial in Chinese cuisine since it is truly a vehicle to carry the flavours from the sauces across different dishes.
The two frog-leg dishes is probably the best way to summarise Racines as a restaurant - the culinary team over at Racines has managed to create two completely different dishes (one French and one Chinese) from the same core ingredient, the frog-leg. The Cuisse de Grenouille, which is essentially Pan-fried Local Boneless Frog Legs with Pink Garlic, Parsley and Wild Mushroom Emulsion, is presented with much French-fair and flavours. The familiar taste of the prized morel mushrooms went incredibly well with the delicate texture and natural sweetness from this seemingly-unusual protein. While most Singaporeans must have eaten frog-legs at some point in their lives, we do not typically associate it with French cuisine as we are generally more familiar with it in a claypot or tossed in a ginger and scallion sauce.
As a direct contrast to what the French kitchen has come up with, the Chinese kitchen of Racines served up Stir-fried Frog Legs in Spicy Szechuan Salt. Coated in a light batter and tossed in dried chillies and Szechuan spices that actually packs a punch (even for local diners!), this dish here is also one to try over at Racines. Just remember to get some water ready if you are not one for spicy dishes.
For the perfect ending to every meal, we sampled three different desserts from the menu - I believe they are actual portions. The Yuzu Tart is served with a Lime Butter Monte, Crumble and Rice Crispies and at the back, the Mousse au Chocolat is made using the famous Valrhona chocolate and served with Chantilly and Crispy Pearls.
My personal favourite dessert however has to be the Sliced Mango, Sticky Rice and Homemade Coconut Ice Cream which is essentially an interpretation of the Mango Sticky Rice. The pistachio flavours coupled with the fresh coconut ice cream as well as seasonal mangoes brought together a combination of flavours that were familiar on one hand but yet, different on the other (since the textures were disparate to what we are typically used to). Also, if you are having trouble with the heat from the Stir-fried Frog Legs in Spicy Szechuan Salt, this dish will almost definitely solve that problem.
Racines is hands-down the best restaurant in an AccorHotels property in Singapore and I cannot wait for the Sofitel Singapore City Centre to officially open on 02 October 2017. Both the French and Chinese dishes from Racines are impeccable (even though the former probably shines a little more) and I am confident that the restaurant will do incredibly well under the guidance and leadership of Chef Jean-Charles Dubois. The interiors of the restaurant (as well as the hotel) look amazing and the dining experience differs in the day and in the evening. More importantly, the commitment towards using not only locally-sourced ingredients but also sustainably-sourced one is definitely the right direction to head in - diners are getting more sophisticated and conscious about where their food is sourced from and I am sure they will be more than satisfied with food journey they are getting over here at Racines.
This was an invited media-tasting session, though all views expressed are my own.