Déliciae Group’s latest concept is Singapore’s very first restaurant dedicated to serving soufflé

SINGAPORE (Sept 9): Before the foams and espumas of molecular cuisine, there was soufflé. A billowing tower of whipped egg whites baked in a ramekin, it is akin to clouds of flavour: Each mouthful rich with creaminess nuanced with the taste imbued by the accent ingredient within; yet it melts into nothingness, leaving no guilt, only pleasure.

It is that which inspired physical chemist Hervé This to delve into the world of culinary sciences, and now, it has inspired Parisian restaurateur Olivier Bendel — owner of Déliciae Hospitality Management, which includes establishments such as Sabio by the Sea and L’Entrecôte — to start a restaurant dedicated to serving this dish. The restaurant does not just serve dessert soufflés either, but a full menu of savoury variations, which are very hard to come by outside of France.

Made from whisked egg whites incorporated into crème pâtissière for sweet varieties or a béchamel base for savoury ones, soufflés rarely feature on the menus of restaurants here — and for practical reasons. It is a temperamental creature that calls for exacting execution and precise temperature control. This writer once watched a group of chefs at an open kitchen remake her order three times, simply because the soufflé would not rise.

It is also a fussy dish that demands immediate attention. In the words of Alice Roosevelt, daughter of the late US president: “You can’t make a soufflé rise twice.” This means that every order must be made à la minute — which calls for patience on the diners’ end, as waiting time traditionally ranges from 20 minutes for a sweet soufflé to 40 minutes for a savoury variant. It also needs service and kitchen crew to work together seamlessly to ensure that every freshly baked soufflé is dispatched immediately, so that diners can appreciate the dish’s magnificent rise and fluffy texture when it is fresh out of the oven.

In short, the soufflé is like a diva who demands this, that and others from all parties involved. And while it can be coaxed to put on a good show, its act is over all too soon.

But do not for a moment take Bendel for a foolhardy soufflé fan or a sucker for pain. The shrewd restaurateur — who might be found in the kitchen at times — has it all figured out, with a bit of help from technology advancement. In the kitchen sits a state-of-the-art industrial oven that is able to cook the soufflés at a higher temperature, and in effect more than halves the cooking time of savoury soufflés, to around 15 minutes. Also, it has the ability to maintain a constant, precise temperature — even with dishes being taken in and out of the oven constantly — so the ones in the process of rising will not collapse from the change in temperature.

Thus, when it was time to reconceptualise the space where popular watering hole Sabio used to stand, Bendel transformed the previously dark, sexy spot into a 48-seat, Parisian-style bistro that is all light and airiness, and started Soufflé, a concept that he had been toying with for years. While the original menu when the restaurant opened in March featured six savoury and eight sweet varieties — the recipes all from Bendel — a recent update sees the clever introduction of main courses (all priced at $32) in the form of bistro classics paired with mini savoury soufflés. It is still possible to have an entire three-course meal comprising just soufflés (from $18 for starters, $32 for a flight of three mini soufflés as a main course and $18 for sweet options) if you so wish. But for those — and we would assume it is most — who prefer a meal more conventional, this is a great option that still allows one to sample the restaurant’s specialties.

A very rich Boeuf Bourguignon is made with beef cheeks slow-cooked for about four hours with red wine and a mix of vegetables. The super unctuous beef cheeks taste like love at first bite — until you scoop into the accompanying Mini Comté Soufflé and get derailed. Made from a hard cow’s milk cheese known for its fruity flavours, it is a very accessible option for those unfamiliar with the idea of savoury soufflés. The fruity, nutty flavours of the Comté comes through very distinctly thanks to the generous incorporation of the cheese, yet the moist, almost creamy dish remains delightfully light on the palate. In Bendel’s opinion, a good soufflé should be very airy and moist, featuring a centre that is not set but creamy. And that is exactly how the dish is.

The pairings are classically French: Think a mini lobster soufflé served with a bouillabaisse chock-full of fresh seafood; a mini truffled mushroom soufflé matched with a Parmentier de Canard — a tender duck confit nestled under a blanket of silky mash potato topped with a sprinkling of butter parsley breadcrumbs; or a grilled entrecôte steak with herbed butter, served alongside a delicate portion of Roquefort soufflé. Given that L’entrecôte is one of the first establishments under the group, it is pretty much a given that the French bistro classics here pass muster — and then some. The accompanying soufflés further introduce a lightness to the meal, which is much appreciated.

One would be remiss to have a meal here without trying the dessert soufflés, though. And the Grand Marnier et Orange Confite ($23) is an impressive sight that rises high above the ramekin when it arrives at the table. It is a fine-textured confection that wins one over with its luscious texture and subtly perfumed flavours, and served with a generous douse of Grand Marnier orange liqueur, it has a kick too.

Soufflé’s updated menu with the main course and mini soufflé pairings widens the appeal of its offerings, yet allows the restaurant to remain true to its original concept. It means that you can bring a “big meats kinda guy” to the place, and he can have an enjoyable meal too. And perhaps — if Bendel gets his way — he might even be converted into a soufflé fan.


Soufflé

5 Duxton Hill

Tel: 6690 7562

www.dhm.com.sg/souffle

Monday to Saturday: Noon to 3pm (lunch);

6pm to 10.30pm (dinner)

Sunday: 11am to 10pm


Koh Yuen Lin is a freelance editorial consultant who maintains that while her peers are overachieving, she is just overeating