It’s still as convivial as it was in its days as the Bar and Billiard Room (BBR), but with a Mediterranean theme and a whole new contemporary feel, BBR by Alain Ducasse at Raffles Singapore is starting a brand new chapter.
Settled into a sofa at the newly restored Raffles Singapore, chef Alain Ducasse says through an interpreter that the creative process of starting a new restaurant keeps him inspired. “Conceptualising a restaurant involves combining elements such as the location and the casting of the staff. It’s a bit like being an artistic director. I work with the designers to create the right environment and atmosphere to go with the food. The checklists go on and on as we need to find the right balance between at least 12 different parameters.”
Hard work as it may be, his passion sees him building an enterprise that includes more than 30 restaurants across the world, such as three-Michelin-starred Le Louis XV – Alain Ducasse à l’Hôtel de Paris in Monaco and three-Michelin-starred Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée in Paris—which also snagged the World’s Best Pastry Chef award and 16th spot in this year’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Other ventures such as country inns, artisanal chocolate and gourmet coffee add to the mix.
Three years in the making, his latest project—BBR by Alain Ducasse at Raffles Singapore—is ready for lift-off. Flanked by street and garden views, the Mediterranean casual restaurant and bar sits just left of the hotel’s grand entrance. The old BBR had its beginnings as a social club in the colonial era. Colourful stories dot its past, such as the time in 1902 when a runaway circus tiger was found beneath the building, then still a raised structure. In recent times, BBR has been known as one of the best places in town for Sunday champagne brunch. Now as BBR by Alain Ducasse, the space retains a convivial air but has a whole new contemporary feel. Designers Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku, chef Ducasse’s longtime collaborators, call up the Mediterranean with an imposing centrepiece, terrazzo tabletops and tomato red banquettes.
For chef Ducasse, the theme was a natural choice. He had been exploring the taste of the Mediterranean for more than 40 years, from the time he started working with chef Roger Vergé at Moulin de Mougins in 1977, to his days with chef Alain Chapel and back again at chef Vergé’s second restaurant, L’Amandier de Mougins. The light, flavourful tastes of Mediterranean cooking are very much in line with his culinary philosophy of focusing on original flavours, seasonality and health. Such an approach has defined many of his endeavours such as creating an all-vegetable menu at Le Louis XV in Monaco in 1987, and more recently, exploring the wonders of a vegetable-fish-cereal menu at Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée in Paris.
Says chef Ducasse, “When we say Mediterranean, we are really thinking of the Southwestern part of the Mediterranean, so a bit of Italy, Spain and Portugal. Maybe one day we will continue on to the Oriental part. This is probably where the evolution of the restaurant will be. But for the opening menu, we’re focusing on the Southwestern Mediterranean with an innovative menu that makes a striking, strong statement. We see it as a contemporary place that keeps up the social element that the Bar and Billiard Room used to have. It’s very casual, people can come in for a drink, have a snack—essentially it’s a destination restaurant that has been designed to create experiences uniquely for those in Singapore.”
Helping him bring that concept to life is French chef de cuisine Louis Pacquelin, who was last with restaurant AKMÉ in Shanghai and had previously worked for the Ducasse Group. The 70-strong opening team he leads will serve up lunch and dinner sharing or individual plates that let their ingredients shine. Says chef Ducasse, “The produce sourcing of BBR, right now is from Europe and Asia. We’ll see if we need to adjust it every step of the way, as we do for our other restaurants. But the idea of showcasing the original taste of the produce is there. And Mediterranean cuisine uses less fat, no butter, no cream, and lots of olive oil, cereal, fish and vegetables. You can find those very important milestones of the Ducasse philosophy and cuisine in BBR.”
Later at a preview luncheon at the restaurant, our spread bathed in swathes of morning light could have been a table of plenty plucked right out of a scene from the Mediterranean Coast.
We start with tortilla Española or the Spanish omelette, which is well-balanced in taste, texture and bite. Next comes pissaladière, one of chef Ducasse’s favourites and a common snack anywhere along the coast from Nice to Monaco. Each mouthful is a melange of sweetness from the onions, savouriness from the anchovies and just a dash of piquancy from the olives. The tapas bar snack of buñuelos de bacalao or salted cod fritters comes with a light, crisp exterior and a delicate filling that is tasty without being overly savoury. The tender pulpo a la gallega, or Galician-style octopus, is another signature dish of BBR and of the Mediterranean. The green piccata sauce and orangey-red piquillo pepper sauce it comes with add to the riot of colours.
But if there’s one dish that sums up the warm embrace of the Mediterranean, it’s the hearty Cataplana de Marisco, or Carabineros shrimp and shellfish stew. A Portuguese speciality served in a traditional copper cataplana, the rich broth is accompanied by seafood and a crown of luscious, sweet Carabineros prawns. If you’re the sort who zooms in on the meat on the menu, go for the lomo a la Brasa, mojo verde, an Australian grass-fed striploin steak, which goes well with a piquant Canarian mojo verde or green sweet bell peppers sauce.
For dessert, highlights include a rich tiramisu with deliciously bitter notes; the Tropezienne, a Southern France pastry of brioche filled with orange blossom cream; and our favourite, the Tiger Story, a vanilla entremet with passion fruit puree that gives a nod to the BBR’s storied history. Ducasse coffee featuring a signature Laotian, Brazilian and Ethiopian blend completes the meal.
Gourmet coffee counts as another of chef Ducasse’s new and exciting projects launched this year. And very soon in November, he will be opening another new restaurant in Asia at the Palace Hotel, Tokyo. But for now, chef Ducasse revels in launching a restaurant that befits the majesty of the Raffle Hotel grand dame. He says, “We think we have achieved true storytelling with a true DNA that will match with the Raffles DNA for years and centuries to come. We’re proud to be one of ingredients that accompany the transformation of the Raffles. We are very proud to be here.”
Reservations for BBR by Alain Ducasse are now open.
1 Beach Road. Tel: 6337 1886. Menu pricing: $70 per person on average.