With the rise and rise of plant-based cuisine, the French fine dining scene has also embraced the trend. This has elevated the treatment of vegetables such that they are on par with meats, not merely an afterthought or a side.
At the forefront of this trend was chef Alain Passard who removed meats from his menu at Arpège back in 2001, risking the Paris restaurant’s three Michelin star status. Pushing it up a notch is Gauthier Soho’s chef Alexis Gauthier who has recently announced plans for the two Michelin starred London restaurant, which serves French fine cuisine, to become 100 per cent vegan in the next two years.
Saint Pierre’s 30-seater dining room
In Singapore, chef Emmanuel Stroobant of Saint Pierre, who is also vegetarian himself, also thinks the possibilities with vegetables are endless.
“There are only maybe eight types of meat to work with, but there are hundreds of vegetables,” chef Emmanuel quips. He adds that each dish at his restaurant is built upon a base of vegetables, regardless of whether there’s any meat or seafood in it.
French petit violet artichokes
Take for instance the lamb course - because lamb pairs well with artichoke, he begins with tender petit violet artichokes thinly coated in a crisp batter with hearts stuffed full of pine nuts and chopped zucchini. The lamb component is then designed to complement this, and served in a frothy pool of creamy turmeric emulsion.
Being vegetarian myself, I visited the one-Michelin star restaurant to get a taste of the fine dining experience sans meat. Conclusion: Saint Pierre serves up thoughtfully crafted vegetable dishes executed with modern French flair.
Remember, fine dining is all about that royal treatment
Many people aren’t willing to fork out money for vegetables, which are often thought of as a sideshow rather than the main event. Certainly, prices starting at $68++ for a three-course set lunch and $148++ for the classic five-course menu seem a little steep. But first, consider that the hefty fee you pay isn’t just for the elegantly plated food, it’s also for the delivery.
White asparagus with cured egg and black winter truffle
At Saint Pierre, your meal is accompanied by a stunning view across the waterfront through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Smartly dressed service staff swoop in with warm bread (and a dangerously deep dish of butter that sets hearts aflutter), drink and food in a well-choreographed dance, expertly pacing themselves so you’ll never need to so much as lift your wrist before they appear with your next course.
The larger point, though, is that while one or two items like blue lobster and premium meats will cost slightly more, vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes are created equal here. Each is constructed with the same attention to detail.
But all that counts for nothing if the ingredients used are not of the highest quality. Which is why seasonality is so important for the sourcing of fresh produce. Most of the vegetables come from France, beginning with those grown in the southern parts at the start of Spring and moving up north as the weather warms so as to catch others at their peak.
During our visit, white asparagus, tomatoes, peas and mushrooms took front and centrestage. Later in the year, pumpkin, beets and other autumn fruits and vegetables will take their place.
Modern French cooking at its finest, with some Japanese character
Nods to Japanese cuisine are found throughout the meal, such as in the tomato starter. Marinated Japanese cherry tomatoes sit on top of a creamy tomato confit, plump and aglow in a bath of yuzu kosho, fresh tomato water and marigold oil. The combination is otherworldly.
Japanese cherry tomatoes with yuzu cosh and marigold oil
Other dishes stick to tradition - the heady aroma of white truffle oil wafting from the white asparagus with cured egg shavings and black winter truffle gives away its European roots.
Vegetarian paradise, vegans also welcome (with notice)
On the vegetarian menu, roasted Cevennes onion jus is used in place of a typical French sauce made with meat juices, to give the same depth and full-bodied flavour. Poured over summer greens, it is as warm and comforting as any meat-based gravy (but, we argue, much better for you).
Summer greens with onion jus
The one thing stopping chef Emmanuel from becoming vegan? “I like my cheese too much to be vegan,” he confesses with a laugh. We share his sentiments. As the cheese trolley rolled around before our dessert arrived, we couldn’t resist but have a sampling of the extensive selection of sheep, goat and cow cheeses from France.
Behold, the cheese trolley
By the time dessert was served - strawberry foam with fresh strawberries sitting in a meringue boat with a wafer and mascarpone ice cream - it was plain to us that while meat could easily be omitted from the menu, dairy was ever-present.
Vegans are welcome at Saint Pierre, of course. As with the vegetarian menu, simply let the restaurant know about your dietary restrictions when making a reservation. Be sure to give at least two days notice so they can get the right ingredients prepared.
One Fullerton #02-02B