French-Chinese cuisine at Racines left me begging for more

A classy restaurant with a lot potential, but leaves much to be desired

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The classy French and Chinese food at Racines left my wife and me begging for more. But it wasn’t because the taste was exquisite – the portions were simply just too meagre.

As we popped morsels of the braised beef cheek (from the French Onion soup), fried cod fish, cordyceps flowers (from the Chinese-style chicken soup) and seven-hour slow-cooked Iberico pork shoulder into our mouths, it was clear that the typical “one appetizer and one main course” deal would not work for our tummies.

Compelled to order another dish to add more colour to our unsated appetites, we decided to go for Chinese instead of French. After some deliberation, we settled on the crab fried rice (we are both on low-carb diets but had to settle on some form of carbs to avoid having a second dinner after the first).

The final bill was promising, just about $100 bucks in total for the whole deal as I was entitled to a 50 per cent discount off the food (instead of the $200) thanks to the fact I was an Accor Plus member. At that discounted price, I was not complaining but without it, I would probably have punched myself in the face for wasting good money on overpriced food.

Located within the Sofitel City Centre hotel, Racines claims to offer “a taste of authentic French cuisine and refined Local Chinese delights.” Its website description adds that “Connoisseurs of gourmet experiences will enjoy a menu of traditional French classics and timeless Chinese dishes all prepared by two distinct culinary brigades at four live cooking stations. French for roots, Racines uses seasonal local produce and organically grown ingredients. Herbs harvested from the hotel’s own herb garden are used at both the restaurant and bar.”

General ambience and service quality

I have been to French restaurants (often pretentious and expensive) before, and I was expecting fine dining service and cuisine. The restaurant ambience is homely, with a very large dining hall and spacious seats all around. The set-up looks like the restaurant could have four chefs cooking at four stations at the same time, with a separate station for desserts.

When we arrived at 630pm, the evening sun shone brightly into the restaurant but thankfully the glare soon disappeared with the setting sun. We were shown to our table by polite and competent staff. No physical menus were available and as usual these days, we had to scan a QR code. The choices in the menu looked slightly different from what is shown on its website, with the Chinese options noticeably absent on the website. The restaurant also looked nothing like the photos and the food stations were empty – only two cooking stations were operating, and there were about 4-5 other dining groups when we arrived on a Friday night (about double of that by the time we left at about 730pm).

Service was acceptable but certainly not close to a classy restaurant. When we sat down, the waiter brought over a carafe of iced water and two glasses. We had to pour our own H2O.

French Onion Soup ($28)
French Onion Soup ($28)

When it was time to order, the waiter simply came over and waited. Only after I asked for recommendations did he engage in conversation. He recommended the Presa Iberico Pork ($48), the chargrilled octopus leg ($42) and the French Onion soup ($28). I went for the pork and the French Onion soup while my wife opted for the Chinese double-boiled black chicken soup (about $28) and the fried cod fish (about $40).

The table setting had no cloth napkins, no tablecloth and it had a bread plate to my left (which is the correct location). For cutlery, we had the usual knife, fork and spoon placed over a paper napkin to our right.

Quality and taste of the food

Double-boiled black chicken soup (about $28)
Double-boiled black chicken soup (about $28)

Both our soups arrived at the same time. I enjoyed the French Onion soup (8/10). The broth was not too heavy and it was mixed with small chunks of braised beef cheeks. The cheesy bready stuff on top complemented well with the mix. The serving was acceptable. I felt it was off to a good start. My wife (who doesn’t like beef) also enjoyed her Chinese chicken soup. I had a spoonful of hers. While it was tasty, it was not in any way superior to a similar dish found at good-class Chinese restaurants islandwide.

Presca Iberico Pork ($48)
Presca Iberico Pork ($48)

Hungry for more, we looked forward to our main courses. Shockingly, mine arrived almost five minutes before my wife’s cod fish. The much-touted Presca Iberico Pork (5/10) was quite a letdown. The meat was tender but was bland in itself – the flavours came from the sauces that accompanied the meat. There were some asparagus stalks and a single cherry tomato that added more colour to the plate than the palate.

Fried cod fish (about $40)
Fried cod fish (about $40)

My wife’s cod fish was a lot more enticing (7.5/10). The fish was perfectly fried – crispy yet not too crispy that you lose the tenderness of the meat. I had a small bite, and we were both satisfied.

After we were done with the main course, we looked at each other and knew we needed more grub. Studying the menu again, we decided Chinese was the better alternative and debated between the crab fried rice and the king-prawns Hokkien noodles. We opted for the crab fried rice (about $25) (8/10) in the end. The serving size was acceptable and the taste was good.

Crab fried rice (about $25)
Crab fried rice (about $25)

The rice grains were firm and dry while the crackers and small shrimps that accompanied it were a good blend. It was a struggle to find the crab meat, we were expecting to get something like the chicken strands you get when you order kai see hor fun (Cantonese for Flat noodles with chicken slices) but it felt more like diving for oysters in the deep blue sea.

Time to go

I often tip $10 (not sure if this is a lot or little) for good service whenever I eat at restaurants but this time, I decided to keep the red bill firmly in my pocket. The service was adequate but not at a high level for what is billed as a classy restaurant serving refined food. I was extremely pleased with the 50 per cent discount and found that it was overall good value for my $100. The restaurant has a lot of potential, I feel – it has plenty of space, a good-looking setup and an interesting-looking menu.

But in the end, the Chinese part of the kitchen outshone the French portion, and that perhaps was the biggest disappointment. Also, it did not feel like there was a fusion of the two cuisines, more like two different kitchens hanging out together with their different chefs.

RACINES
9 Wallich Street, 078885 Singapore
(Enter via Peck Seah Street)
Tel: 6428 5000
Web: sofitel-singapore-citycentre.com/gastronomy/racines

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