Barely a month old, the rather unimaginatively-named Bistro 793 (named for its address – 793 Bukit Timah Road) is yet another joint to pop up in the row of shops unfortunately referred to as the “Corduroy & Finch row”. The chef, Alvin Ng, is apparently from Gourmet Cellar (how many ex-Gourmet Cellar people are there? See KR-50...), where he gained a number of fans with his bistro-style cooking.
Having never been to Gourmet Cellar, I can’t make any comparisons, but dinner here on Friday night was a very pleasant experience. We called about half an hour ahead to make a reservation, and when we got there, the place was almost empty. We jokingly said “Thank goodness we reserved”, but about half an hour later, that actually proved to be true. By about 8.30 pm, the place was full, and since it hasn’t been open for long, I guess some of the clientele must be Chef Ng’s loyal fans.
The atmosphere is friendly and welcoming, as are the waitstaff. There was only 1 waiter and 1 maitre d’ running the floor, and they were doing a very good job getting everyone’s orders out on time.
They have a pretty good set dinner - $48 including a glass of wine, and it comes with an amuse bouche, starter, choice of mains, dessert and coffee. I had the set, and A ordered a main course separately because we wanted to try one of their specialities.
The amuse bouche, which A got even though he didn’t order a set, was some kind of tuna/seafood mayo salad with some salad and tomato. It was quite basic and nothing special – it was essentially tuna mayo.
The smoked salmon salad fared much better. It consisted of a few slices of Scottish smoked salmon, on a bed of mixed greens, and the dressing was in the form of diced cucumber with an avocado cream. A few mounds of salmon roe topped it off. This was very tasty, but most of the flavour was attributed to the smoked salmon and the fish roe, which overwhelmed (in a good way) the more delicate cucumber and avocado. Still, the cucumber added a nice fresh crunch to the salad.
For the set, I had a choice of either Ravioli of Duck Rillette, or Oven-baked White Miso Cod. I read a review that the ravioli was a little brittle, so I decided to go for the cod. It was very good – the fish was flaky, fresh and not overdone, and it was served with gratin potatoes and an incredible gravy.
A’s main was the NZ fillet of beef with Black Glutinous Rice risotto (pulut hitam, heh). An interesting combination, I must admit, and especially when accompanied by caramelised red onions and a red wine jus sauce. However, the whole thing actually came together really well – the risotto was nice and chewy and the sauce, though a tad sweet for my liking, was way up A’s alley. One criticism though, is that the meat was slightly overdone, more of a medium than the medium rare we requested. This wasn’t helped by the blunt knife that was provided. This is one of my pet peeves – if restaurants are going to serve steaks in any form, they are only doing themselves a favour if they provide sharp steak knives to go with them. A sharp knife does wonders for the overall impression of a steak’s tenderness.
Anyway, overall the mains were impressive. I’m now quite curious about the duck ravioli, notwithstanding the review, and another main on the menu called Tempura of Crustacean. Definitely going to come back for some of that.
Dessert was a lime and ginger crème brulee, served with lychee granita and apple compote. The crème brulee was very interesting, with a whole gamut of flavours going on. At first, the ginger hits you quite hard, and after you’ve gotten used to it and it seems like a teh halia, then the lime kicks in, and through all that you still get the smooth creaminess of the custard.
We’ll be back for sure to try their other dishes, and note to selves: jokes aside, reservations are definitely advisable.
Service is superb. Main courses taste much much better than you’d expect. Portion size isn’t big but I think it’s tailored for a 3-course (4 if you count the amuse bouche). Starters are okay, and while the desserts look interesting, I’d prefer popping over to Venezia at Guthrie House.
If I had any complaints, it would be that the place is too brightly lit and wasn’t cold enough. The many lights also attracted those funny small insects (not moths, but those mini flies) that flew in when the door was opened. Also, once the place filled up, I was actually perspiring a bit.
Overall, just because the mains and service are so good, I’d definitely go back.
793 Bukit Timah Road
Tuesday to Sunday: 11.30 am to 2.30pm; 6 pm to 10.30 pm