Having lived in the western half of Singapore all my life, I’ve not spent much time in the east. It’s not that I think the east is boring – for the most part I’ve simply got everything I need between Clementi and Bugis, except an airport. That said, it’s nice to have an occasional foray into less-familiar places. As these trips involve a significant increase in travelling time, it’s important that they’re worth the while.
One such place deserving of anyone’s time is San Bistro, a restaurant in the unassuming Eastwood Centre that dishes out modern European cuisine. Located close to where Bedok Road and Upper East Coast Road meet, San Bistro is what I count as a neighbourhood gem (although to be fair, you’d need to be pretty wealthy to reside in such a neighbourhood). In some ways, it reminds me of Shelter in the Woods, which is much closer to where I live.
It’s easy to walk past this place and ignorantly dismiss it as a contrived attempt at standing out from the sleepy neighbourhood, but you would do so at your own loss. Operated by a team that lists Raffles Grill, Pollen, and Guy Savoy among the places they’ve worked at before, the food and service are both of a high standard.
We were here to celebrate Mother’s Day, and each of us had a variation of San Bistro’s set lunch menu. With two courses starting at $18 and three courses at $23, having lunch here won’t break the bank.
I started with a French onion soup, which had its flavour boosted by chicken jus. The broth was immensely savoury and reminded me a little of Vegemite, so while I could get used to the taste, some diners might not if they’re opposed to the yeast extract. The melted cheese on the toast was also a little on the pungent side, and I thought it could have used a little more caramelisation on the surface. I would probably try a different starter in future.
The prawn linguine was more conventional in comparison to the onion soup – at least based on the menu’s description. Prepared aglio olio with a little lobster-infused flavours, the result was more of a sauce than olive oil, as one might imagine. That’s by no means a complaint, as it made the dish more robust, with the prawns and sundried tomatoes offering a textural balance overall.
Although I don’t have a sweet tooth, San Bistro’s dark chocolate mousse dessert really impressed me. The rich Valrhona dark chocolate mousse was complemented by a quenelle of sweet mango sorbet and broken shards of sablé Breton cookies. Some lightly salted edible soil sprinkled over the plate gave it an earthy feel and helped to balance the overall sweetness.
For an additional $10 to the lunch set, you can enjoy a starter of pan-seared foie gras with a brown onion compote and port wine reduction. Expertly seared, the delicate and creamy texture was carefully preserved to yield what any fan of well-cooked duck or goose liver has come to expect.
Diners with a healthier bent can also order a salad of avocado and crab, which comes with charred corn, tomato and greens. If it’s any consolation from recent news reports about millennials and avocado toast, you might be glad to know this appetiser does not require a top-up on the set menu’s price.
In addition to our respective courses, we ordered the Mother’s Day special – a pan-roasted chicken galantine stuffed with forcemeat, and served with sticks of asparagus and potato dauphines. It was my first time trying a galantine, and I was surprised by the tenderness of the chicken, no doubt poached before being finished in the oven. I also admired how no effort was made to disguise the use of sweetbreads in creating the savoury jus that went so well over the tender chicken – even if I carefully avoided pouring anything other than the rich liquid over my portions.
As you may have noticed, selected appetisers and mains are available with add-on costs, but even then, they’re still very reasonably priced for the quality of food you’re enjoying.
I really hope neighbourhood gems like San Bistro can have a successful business. Restaurants like this sometimes suffer the misperception of having a pricey menu because they serve modern European cuisine, and may also raise eyebrows about their quality when people discover that it’s in fact a lot more affordable to dine there. To that, I’d just like to add my two cents’ worth of assurance that the prices couldn’t be more reasonable – you get a lot less for a café brunch at some places – and I cannot imagine anyone walking out after a meal here not feeling very satisfied with what they’d ordered.