Cafe Gavroche, Tras St, Tanjong Pagar

Once I asked Chiobu, who had been to almost all the well-known cafes in Singapore, which cafe had the best decor. She said, “They are all very pretty but about the same, copies of each other. I’d like to know that there is a human and heart behind the decor, instead of some interior design firm.” Welcome, Cafe Gavroche.

The moment we stepped into Cafe Gavroche, we instinctually knew its selling point: a perfect Parisian ambience. Almost everything in the cafe is imported from France and almost every piece of furnishing has a story and a signature branding, even the murals. The long and narrow cafe is divided into three sections: (1) the bar, which has a 1920s wooden bar from Normandy; (2) the terrace that looks like an al fresco area of a Parisian cafe, naturally illuminated through a skylight, tiled with cobblestones, furnished with Drucker wicker chairs (each costing 400euros) which you can find lining the pavements of Parisian cafes; and (3) a dining area that pays tribute to owner-chef Frederic Colin‘s grandfather who was also a chef. In the dining area, take note of the gorgeous egg incubator and the 300kg cast-iron antique stove. You put charcoal at the bottom and you make an oven and a stove.

The Streets of Paris Within a Shophouse in Singapore

A Tribute to Chef Colin’s Grandpapa

Cafe Gavroche follows the success of Brasserie Gavroche, opened a year ago. Owner-chef Colin, who used to be Executive Chef at St Regis, wanted a French symbol that people can recognize. What better than to pick a character from Victor Hugo’s novels? Gavroche is the little boy in Les Miserables who finds food for his family, like Chef Colin finding food for us. Hello Gavroche, meet your big sister, Eponine (me: “don’t you fret, Monsieur Marius, I don’t feel anything/ a little fall of rain can hardly hurt me now..”) and Inn Keeper’s Wife (Huccalily, who went to tasting with me). The reason why Brasserie and Cafe are just across the street from each other is because Chef Colin wants to be able to oversee both places.

The food concept of the cafe is brunch on weekends and a bar on weekdays.

Weekend Brunch

The cafe opens for brunch on Sat and Sun from 10.30am-2.30pm only. Chef Colin doesn’t believe in newfangled recipes and sticks to traditional French food: mostly eggs (done in 7 different styles), yogurts, croissants and jams you cannot find elsewhere in Singapore. The eggs can be served with pork sausages and one of the best sauteed potatoes in Singapore. There was nothing fancy about the potatoes, just  sauteed with its skin in olive oil and sprinkled with salt, but it felt very wholesome.

For the brunch menu, Chef Colin recommended the scrambled egg tartine ($14), a simple dish of scrambled eggs sitting on a bed of caramelized onions, sprinkled with chili powder and chives on a long slice of sour dough bread. The tartine reminded us of flavors of indo-mee. We’d prefer the sour dough to be more sour or to be toasted stiff–at the tasting, it was rather hard at the crust but soft at the core–and so we asked if Chef Colin would consider changing the sour dough bread (that appeals to a European sensibility) to something to suit a local palate. He replied that he always takes feedback and sometimes he does adjust but there is always a delicate balance between preserving the traditions of French food and adapting food to local tastebuds. In this instance of the sour dough, he believes that Singaporeans are well-traveled and, with the rise of bakeries in Singapore, are educated to accept sour dough.

Available for both weekday bar and weekend brunch menu, two slices of soft, fluffy thick bread joined together with ham and cheese, top with more melted cheese to give an excellent Croque Monsieur ($16). Highly recommended.

Weekday Bar: Food & Drinks

For bar drinks, there are liqueurs that are split into aperitifs, liqueurs and digestifs, all of them very stiff. From the aperitif, we sampled Lillet ($10), a French wine that is intensely sweet, delicious and grapey, and a pastis, Methepastille (2cl $8, 4cl $14). It is said that pastis was invented during the ban of absinthe due to its hallucinatory effects; pastis is like absinthe, anise-flavored but without the hallucinations. While generally I dislike anise, tasting similar to licorice, Methepastille tasted like liquid Menthos, a drink that both Huccalily and I highly recommend.

From the digestif section, we tried Mandarine napolean ($16), a delicious liqueur flavored with mandarin orange, and Chartreuse, an enchanting clear forest green drink, green due to the herbal chlorophyl. Among the four drinks, it was Chartreuse that required some getting used to. The anise flavor came across so forcefully that Huccalily described it as, “like a shot up the nose, a similar effect as wasabi.” I am almost a teetotaler but I’ve been craving for the drinks ever since the tasting.

The bar menu is dominated by 14 types of tartines, or open-faced French sandwiches. The smoked pork belly and Reblochon cheese ($18, pictured above) came across salty, pungent and dry to us. It would be nice if the textures were more contrasted by making the pork belly more crisp.

Coming to Cafe Gavroche reminded us of what John Updike said. I paraphrase Updike very loosely: “Don’t judge based on what we want to see; but judge on whether they achieve their aims.” Chef Colin wanted to create a Paris in Singapore and, from the limited three months I spent in France with the limited perspective of a poor language exchange student, I thought Chef Colin has achieved his goal commendably.

Cafe Gavroche

69 Tras Street, Singapore 079005
T: 6225 4869

T-F: 2.30pm till late
Sat: 10.30am till late
Sun: 10.30am-2.30pm
Brunch is served on Sat and Sun 10.30am-2.30pm. 
Close on Monday

Rating: 3.334/5 Eiffel Tower

ps: Thanks to Vera, Lorraine and Frederic for inviting and hosting us.

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