WAY ahead of the Integrated Resort's opening on Sentosa, restaurateurs are already moving in to take up prime spots on the island.
Among them is Loh Lik Peng, who owns boutique hotels New Majestic and Hotel 1929.
Together with Sebastien Ng, the owner-chef of Ember in Hotel 1929, he opened Braise on March 1 on Palawan Beach near the covered Beach Carpark.
It is not an eatery serving braised dishes, however, but an upmarket contemporary French restaurant. The name is a French word that means 'ember'.
It is located on the second level of a new building that houses another restaurant, Silk Road Of The Sea, on the ground floor, and boasts a stunning view of a rolling beach and calm sea waters.
The building design takes advantage of the view by having the restaurant's sea-facing front covered fully in glass. This also allows sunlight to filter in and light up the restaurant's modern, minimalist interior.
The dining room has two distinct sections, each with its own look.
One side is totally white, with a long trough of water running beside a row of tables. It seems to serve no particular purpose but looks interesting.
The other side is more conventional with a black-and-white theme broken by a wall covered in a brown, fibrous material.
The combination is a stylish look that looks right at home on the cover of a decor magazine.
To enjoy the view however, you must go in the day. At night, all you get is an expanse of pitch darkness.
The flip side is that the restaurant's warm lighting then pitches in to create a glowing luminance.
There's another reason to go for lunch: the more affordably priced set lunch which offers three courses for $38 - with two choices for each course.
If you order a la carte, you'd be looking at a bill of about $100 per person at the least. And the servings are not much bigger either.
It's a high price to pay, but not more so than at other fine-dining restaurants in town. And the cooking's just as good.
At dinner a week ago, I had a starter of baked king prawns ($32) which were lovely. The fresh prawns were cooked just enough for them to be succulent without being hard, which they can so easily become in the hands of a less skilful chef.
They were served on a nest of parpadelle, springy threads of pasta made in the restaurant's kitchen and tossed with a smoked caviar sauce.
My dining companion's tian of crabmeat with avocado ($26) was decent, though I felt it would have been even better if the crab meat were not shredded so finely. As it was, the meat was soaked with light mayo cream that almost masked its sweetness.
But other than that, the crab had a good match in the layer of diced avocado and accompanying gazpacho sauce.
I couldn't find any fault with my main course of oven baked lamb loin in puff pastry ($45). The meat was tender and juicy, and I liked the accompanying ratatouille as well as baked Japanese eggplant and garlic cloves.
And while I have always found sea bass a boring fish, the chef did cook it perfectly for my companion's main course ($38). Pan-roasted to a beautiful, golden crispness on the outside, it made up somewhat for the mealy-textured meat inside.
And the different flavours of sweet corn, bacon bits and crushed hazelnut it sat on was a delight.
Desserts, however, left less of an impression. There seemed a heavy slant towards chocolate creations, and while the financier ($14), fulentine ($14) and lava cake ($15) - all made with chocolate - were fine, they were not original enough to stand out.
Service was another weakness. The waitresses were polite and friendly, but they lacked the polish and finesse that a fine-dining restaurant demanded and which only training and experience could provide.
Another problem that Braise could face is that Palawan Beach is a popular hangout for young sun-worshippers who are more likely to go to the nearby Koufu foodcourt for meals than pay fine-dining prices.
And while Shenton Way is just a short drive away, the Sentosa entry charges may deter the potential executive lunchtime crowd. A carful of four people would probably have to pay $10 just to get on the island.
For Braise to succeed, it would have to pitch itself as a trendy spot to draw the well-heeled diner.
I certainly hope it does. Both in terms of cooking and design, it has a fighting chance to be among the top restaurants here.
60 Palawan Beach
Open: Noon to 3pm (Mondays to Saturdays),
11am to 4pm (Sundays),
6pm to 10.30pm (daily)
Price: Budget about $100 per person for a la carte. Set lunch starts from $38.
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