Saveur, which has garnered rave reviews since its move to Purvis Street barely two months ago, seems to be on everyone's to-try list these days. I guess affordable French is just impossible to resist! Le Cuisson immediately comes to mind, though there seems to be a pause in their journey for now (I'm quite bummed, to be honest. Let's hope it's not permanent!). Can a restaurant really be cheap and good? What is the catch, you say? The snaking queue, of course. Continue reading for more pictures and tips on the best time to visit for the shortest queue!
Kronenbourg, $9, Hard Roll, $2
The day was unbearably hot, so we started the meal with two bottles of ice-cold beer to reward ourselves for baking in the heat for 30 minutes. Even though M and I managed to make it in time for their first seating, they had run out of soft rolls that day. It might have been a blessing in disguise since the hard rolls were soft beneath the crackly crust and nothing like the images of rocks and stones it conjured in my head. It's good to nibble on but not fantastic so I'd suggest skipping it unless you're really hungry. For just $1.90 more, you could get a portion of their Angel Hair Pasta With Sherry Minced Pork And Sakura Ebi ($3.90), and for another $2.90, their Duck Rilette with Butter Bread ($4.90).
Angel Hair Pasta with Tiger Prawns and Lumpfish Caviar, $7.90
In our case, we went for the Angel Hair Pasta with Tiger Prawns and Lumpfish Caviar ($7.90), just because it sounded fabulous! The portion leaned towards the small end - I could count the number of prawn cubes with my fingers and in the case of the actual number of prawns used, maybe a finger. That said, I absolutely loved the taste. The pasta has been tossed in olive oil flavoured with herbs and spices before it was neatly rolled up and plated. I thought I tasted prawn oil and essence as well, though it doesn't seem as likely with the oil coating the pasta looking so clear. Every strand was delicious even with the lack of ingredients! The lumpfish caviar, being the poor man's sturgeon caviar substitute that it is, added nothing much to the dish. That said, I would strongly recommend trying the pasta for the pasta itself, just for a taste of how good pasta can be tossed in nothing but well-flavoured olive oil.
Foie Gras (70g), $14.90, Duck Confit, $8.90
The Foie Gras and Duck Confit were my two most anticipated dishes. At las, they both fell short. By that, I mean I enjoyed the Tiger Prawn Pasta more than both of these. Blasphemy? Maybe I was just unlucky, but I felt quite affronted when the foie gras served to me was in tatters and seared so haphazardly. I'm pretty sure I belong to the unlucky minority - I googled a couple of decently seared ones like the one here which made me think that mine looked nothing like the larger serving of 70g, on hindsight. The smaller serving of 30g goes for $7.90. It's not so bad if the flaw is invisible (like bland noodles), but when the dish is obviously unpresentable and still served to the table regardless, it seems to send out the message that customers are expected to put up with kitchen mishaps just because they aren't paying good money. For me, it's more about the time I spent queueing only to end up so unlucky and unsatisfied. Le Cuisson fares a lot better in searing their foie gras (though their portion is certainly smaller). Then again, they are no longer in the equation now. Taste-wise, you can imagine it was a lot poorer than it should be because of how carelessly seared it was.
The price point is a crucial part of Saveur's appeal, and you will never be able to find another place selling Duck Confit for $8.90. But duck confit isn't mere duck leg. Specifically, the duck leg has to be salt cured and then what really makes people swoon is the last step of pan-frying it in its own fat until the skin is so crisp it doesn't tear, it shatters. The last step just wasn't done well enough here. I really wasn't expecting anything like Chez Josephine Dumonet's, but I was hoping it would rival La Petite Cuisine. And yes, I would pay double to get that kind of skin. It's precious. That said, even though the meat wasn't very tender, it was tasty. I also enjoyed the mash and whole mushrooms on the side. If you couldn't care less about the skin, this might just be the best deal you'll ever get.
Beef Bourguignon with Root Vegetables, Mixed Greens and Scalloped Potatoes, $13.90
The Beef Bourguignon wasn't the beef chunks in thick, dark sauce that I was expecting but it was so good I didn't mind. The slices of beef, as you can see, are sinfully marbled and tender to the bite. The flavour wasn't as intense as I'd hoped but delicious, nonetheless. It also came with scalloped potatoes, which was a nice change from mash. This dish really made up for the previous two!
The Infamous Queue
As promised, here are some tips on the best time to visit for the shortest queue. Getting stuck in the same queue is probably the next best social lubricant to alcohol. The whole time we were queueing, the conversations we had with people behind and in front of us flowed endlessly. From one of our conversations with a seasoned customer, this is what I gathered: Reach at about 530 pm (the place opens at 6 pm for dinner), and there'll only be about 10 people ahead of you. For lunch, either reach half an hour before 12 noon or arrive at 2 pm, half an hour before their kitchen closes. Clearly, if you belong to the working crowd, you might have to put your visit off until the weekends!
I really do applaud the chefs' generous ideology of making French food affordable to the masses. I can imagine just how difficult it must be to set prices so much lower than the competition. But I have to pull away from the sea of rave reviews at this point and say this, even if I'm setting myself up for popularity suicide. If a place doesn't serve French food the way they are meant to be prepared and served, it risks being nothing more than ambiguous western fare. It would succeed in reaching to the masses, but what they have access to wouldn't be French. Having said that, I do believe that with luck and improvement, there's nothing stopping Saveur from becoming what it wants to be.
Recommendations: Angel Hair Pasta with Tiger Prawns and Lumpfish Caviar, Beef Bourguignon
I'll skip: Bread, Duck Confit
5 Purvis Street,
Tel: +65 6333 3121
Opens daily from 12pm – 2.30pm and 6pm – 9.30pm
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