SINGAPORE — Few people would call Palais Renaissance at 390 Orchard Road approachable. Even less can recall ever having visited the building that looms like a dated and jaded dinosaur over this stretch of town where the sun rarely shines. Unless of course, you're there to visit David Gan's Passion salon for a quick touch up of your tresses; or heading over to the ubiquitous PS.Cafe for a quick lunch amongst towering fronds. This place could do with a COS or a Zara, but obviously, exclusivity is still a thing in 2019.
Which makes Merci Marcel's foray into the Orchard Road food and beverage mise en scène such a welcome relief. Taking over the space at a corner of the building, its huge arched wall cutout beckon, streaming light unobstructed into a space that's 'easy, breezy, beautiful, Cover Girl.' Inside, the restaurant succinctly captures the zeitgeist of the interior design signature of 2019.
Think handsome wood panels, seats, and tables in varying shades of Earth; Rattan chair backs, and woven ceiling panels designed by Lim Masaulin of Byo Living; pillows in soft pastel of dusty pink and fern green; soft lighting where it needs to be subdued, brighter when emphasis is demanded.
The in-house music deserves praise too, playing an eclectic mix of French boudoir classics interweaved with exuberant punctuations of 'Bonjour!' by the highly spirited crew. It's all very 'living your best life and watching the world go by' kind of vibe.
As expected of the famed Merci Marcel hospitality, service here is stellar. Today, I'm being attended to by Farid, the shift manager whose outlook on life is impeccably cheery—I almost want to sit him down and grill him on his secret to a happier life. Instead, I order a starter of beetroot carpaccio and wild trout gravlax ($11). It's a bright dish both in describing the flavour and colour. Beetroot the shade of deep maroon is sliced ala carpaccio—thinly—and sits among rolls of trout that is easily mistaken for salmon. There’s a riveting sweetness that comes from passion fruit juice which the beetroot has been marinated in. I lap the entire plate up with nary a hesitation.
For something that’s even more French than your typical croissant (pronounced Kwa-Sawhn, s'il vous plaît), look no further than a plate of roasted leeks with gribiche sauce and Bayonne ham (S$12). Gribiche is a mayonnaise-style cold egg sauce of French origins, finished with chopped pickled cucumbers, capers, parsley, chervil, and tarragon. Like an academically sound dish bound to make culinary teachers tear up with pride, this plate ticks off all boxes of the tripartite of flavour and texture. Crispy Bayonne ham that's air-dried lends a satisfying crunch; eggs are shredded finely such that it's light and fluffy; roasted leeks are heroically seasoned. It's a bit sweet, a bit salty, and all sorts of brilliant.
But perhaps accolades should rightly be reserved for the pièce de résistance of Merci Marcel. It comes in an unassuming bowl skimmed with pale foie gras foam on top, its ingredients below peeking out ever so slightly and just enough to evoke curiosity. This is the ravioles de royans—small nuggets of dumplings stuffed with cheese and herbs served alongside thick cuts of rich and buttery foie gras. One would expect this to be intensely creamy—and it is. But it is also texturally light, exquisitely balanced and hardly overwhelms.
The theme of textures and flavour carry through to the dessert. There's a certain respectability I admire when chefs create desserts that aren't just inventive, but exciting and heroic. A plate of pineapple carpaccio arrives thinly sliced and marinated in lime, honey, and olive oil. It is served alongside dollops of bright passion fruit emulsion which seeks to balance the slight acidity of pineapple. Pert caramel crisps add a nuance of bite to a dessert that might otherwise simply be a beautifully crafted pile of softness. Perhaps I'm just tired of one-note desserts that pretend to be nothing else but a sweetness that belies creativity. But if the pile of softness is this good, honey, I'm not complaining.
Merci Marcel is located at 390 Orchard Road, 01-03/04, Palais Renaissance, 238871
Open daily: 8 am—12 midnight
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