One year had passed since my incorporation, and with the annual report out and a fairly healthy-looking balance sheet, it was time to dig a hole in it. Plan A was Italian-Indonesian fusion joint Buko Nero, but getting a reservation there remains impossible and my virtual secretary had pasta coming out her ears anyway, so we opted for Le Tonkin, a recently opened French-Vietnamese place on Mohamed Sultan.
Mohamed Sultan was until recently Singapore‘s cheapest bar district, but it’s now looking somewhat out of sorts, with the crowds packing Clarke Quay instead. Most of the restaurants in the area serve the local Japanese community, and Le Tonkin doesn’t seem to have caught much wind under its sails — the main reason I decided to give it a shot was a glowing review from a French friend.
I’d made reservations for 7 PM, but on this Friday night we found ourselves the only customers inside, although a few other couples filtered in during the next hour, most of whom headed for the outdoor tables in the miniature back garden. Inside, the decor is straight from Moulin Rouge, all scarlet plush, lacquered black wood, crystal chandeliers and gold paint, slightly crossing the line from funky into tastelessness. The kitchen set the tune for the evening with a complimentary amuse-bouche of a crab and cream cheese wonton in raspberry sauce: tasty enough, but not more than the sum of its parts.
We planned to share a Le Tonkin Selection plate of appetizers, but on being warned it was too small, the lady opted for pan-seared foie gras on apple and fig compote. In the event both turned out to be generously sized: the Selection had some fish grilled on sugarcane, nicely flavored with dill (!), another wonton and a fresh sliced-up Vietnamese spring roll, with wholly unnecessary tiny dabs of foie gras and caviar atop each slice to justify the price tag. Her foie gras was generously sized — I’ve seen smaller steaks in Japan — but not well cut (slightly stringy) and seared a bit too fast to my taste, with the inside still raw.
I picked the house speciality of Cha Ca La Vong, the classic Hanoi dish of fish drizzled in sauce and cooked on a hot plate, served on a bed of bee hoon (rice vermicelli) and topped with oodles of fresh dill. Tasty, but the portion was perhaps a little on the small side. The lady opted for a creamy seafood stew, which I thought would be a recipe of disaster (it’s how chefs like to dispose of leftovers), but nope, it was big and generous, with scallops, shrimp, salmon, the same white fish as my CCLV and even a lobster tail for good measure. The only oddity was that there was no starch (rice, potatoes etc) served along with it, just the stew!
And to top it off, we decided to share a vanilla souffle, which came with orange sauce to drizzle over it. It cost a fair bit and took a while to arrive, but it was impressively sufflated and won full marks from the female half of the jury. (Too bland for me.)
The restaurant has a reasonably impressive wine selection, with half a dozen reds by the glass but only a few whites, a bit odd considering that they specialize in seafood. The lady had a New Zealand Chardonnay, I had a Chilean Pinot Grigio, which were both on the fruity side but entirely drinkable.
Overall, it was one of those restaurant experiences where you can’t really find much fault in anything, but end up slightly disappointed just the same. None of the dishes were particularly memorable, the fusion attempts just didn’t work and, at S$180 for two, it wasn’t particularly good value either. I doubt we’ll be back, and given the restaurant’s awkward location, I give it half a year tops before it disappears.