UPDATE: 7atenine is now Southbridge Jazz @7atenine. They no longer do lunch, and open only from 5pm til closing. So there's no more Lunch Unlimited. Their menu and chef are different now too.
Chic hangout 7atenine at Esplanade Mall has only been open since Dec 2008 but is fast becoming a popular chill-out spot. This alfresco bar/restaurant/bistro serves what it terms "Latin Asian" - marrying the tapas concept with fusion Asian cuisine. Chef Florent Gerardin and consultant chef Emmanuel Stroobant have worked out an array of creations from the land, sea, and sky along with sides and "gattsuri taberu" (eat like there's no tomorrow) mains.
If you love variety, value and surprises, you will love their Lunch Unlimited (a steal at S$37++ per person). Chef Florent will pull together a symphony of 20 dishes. You won't know what you're going to get, and some dishes may not even be on the regular menu. Freeflow chilled juices, soft drinks, coffee and tea complete the deal. Available daily from noon to 2.30pm.
Of course, with 20 mystery dishes, there are bound to be some you like, and some you don't. Let me just quickly dive into what we had. The dishes change daily, so what you see here may be different from what you get.
We started with various appetisers. This "Cream of Celery" had a jelly celery base, and a deeply savoury cream soup topped with chili oil. We liked it. Do not be deceived by its small size, it can fill you up more than you expect because it is very rich.
Potato salad - this tasted quite rustic and woodsy.
Pasta salad - the shell is al dente all right, but a little dry. I cannot remember what the filling tasted like, it was rather mild.
The salmon looks like sashimi but is salty and cured. I had the whole plate because this was too fishy for hubby.
Now this tomato tart or something other was hubby's favourite. He liked it all, from the beautifully treated tomatoes to the crumbly biscuit base. I wasn't that impressed. I think the herbs in it reminded me of pizza somehow.
Their mushroom tempura is piping hot and very juicy within. Simple but good. I just made mushroom tempura myself the night before, and mine did not have that much juice inside. Makes me wonder if they soaked the mushrooms before putting them in batter.
Now I have seen photos of this very pretty dish on other blogs, but those were of much thinner beef slices. I think they experimented with thicker slices here but the stone was probably not hot enough. We were not sure what cut of meat this was either as it was very gamey. It tasted almost like liver.
Pan-fried seabass with pumpkin puree. Crispy (and boneless) fried fish is usually fine by me. But this piece was way too fishy for hubby.
Ah, the risotto. Not the seafood or mushroom version, but still very comforting. They got the flavours and texture just right. Tiny bits of garlic added more "mmmmh" factor.
All hail kakuni-style kurobuta pork belly! This is not in a fajita like the version stated on the menu. It's encased in a shell of caramelised sugar that you have to crack through to get to the pork. The pork was tasty enough - I just wished there was enough lean meat (about two-thirds of the cube was pure fat). What was out of place was the applesauce it sat on. Pork and soy, yes. Pork and apple, yes. But pork, soy and apple is a bit too complicated.
The chicken kebabs were a little cold and underdone (still translucent in the center). They replaced it with a more thoroughly cooked version, and that turned out to be way better.
This is how pasta with just vegetables can taste so good. Heartwarming and sweetly rustic. We were quite full by this stage, but still finished this carb-heavy dish.
The beef brisket is delicious. Tender and beautifully braised. I almost regret not going for a second portion.
How fun these look! Garlic infused cod croquettes. On their own, they are a little bland, but taken with the wasabi mayo dip, they are a party in your mouth. Love the painted toothpick skewers.
The organic beef sashimi looks like carpaccio. We are not fond of raw meat, unless it's fish. But I braved my first bite of raw beef. The meat on its own seems oddly flavourless but relies on other ingredients (manchego cheese, salt, chili powder, tomatoes and onions) for body. The thin shavings do melt in your mouth though.
Now for what is probably my favourite and most memorable dish. The signature chili con carne, with wagyu beef and edamame beans (braised for 36 hours apparently). It has a spicy kick to it, and robust flavour. This is the way I've always wanted chili con carne to be. This is excellent.
Be careful when eating this though. The jar and its contents are very hot. Everything is perched rather precariously on the wooden display. I accidentally toppled the jar while fiddling with my camera.
I normally do not have quick reflexes a la Angelina Jolie in Mr & Mrs Smith (catching the falling wine bottle), but I really wanted to save this. I caught the jar and some of its precious cargo with my left hand. The extreme heat forced me to let go. Oh, what a waste! But the staff cleaned up very efficiently and promptly gave me a glass of ice-cold soda to stop the scalding. And a whole new jar to enjoy.
And now we come to desserts. There were four. First up - churros sprinkled with vanilla sugar, and served with a Nutella dip. Rather soft and fluffy for churros but enjoyable nonetheless. What can I say...Nutella = magic.
This was good too. Café triple trifle. Espresso jelly, almond crumble, milk foam and coffee ice cream. So many textures in one. The abundance of foam makes this feel very light though.
Strawberry shortcake with raspberry ice cream. Hubby loved this, so I let him have most of it. The cream was a bit too dense for me.
Yummy. Chocolate fondant with lime sorbet. Yes, the melted chocolate oozed out nicely when you break this open. Rice crispies lent crunch and the tart lime sorbet helped cut through the rich chocolate nicely.
So there you have it. Twenty dishes that took up more than two hours. The presentation is stunning and faultless. They do vegetables and sauces beautifully. The meats for this session were a little hit and miss. The desserts are worth saving room for.
I would like to give a big shout out to Kesh, their "Diva of Decadence" who attended to us with discreet and dignified aplomb. His genuine warmth made us feel very welcome. He also had no problems with my taking photos for my food blog (I'd asked for permission), and even allowed us a table with better lighting. He also gave us a tour of the restaurant's various sections.
Unfortunately, the frosty blonde manager or maître d' (I can't tell from her title) was not as agreeable. She gave Kesh a hard time, and then questioned me about taking photos (even after getting my blog namecard). I had to explain what a food blog was before she reluctantly acquiesced and left us alone. Her attitude marred this lunch experience right from the beginning. Personally, I would have been quite happy not to take photos, if that had been the restaurant policy. It's not my loss.
I'm not sure why some restaurant staff are still so behind in understanding food blogs and how this new media actually drives business to eateries. After all, it was reviews in blogs like MilkMilk (many visits!), Some Like It Haute, and Ladyironchef that made me decide to spend my Saturday at 7atenine.
Well, Lunch Unlimited has been interesting, but if we were to come back, we'd go a la carte so we can zero in on the items we want. And I'll need a laptop to show the blonde some food blogs.
8 Raffles Avenue
#01-10/12 Esplanade Mall
Mondays to Thursdays: noon till 3pm, 5pm till midnight
Fridays: noon till 3pm, 5pm till 2am
Saturdays: noon till 2am
Sundays: noon till midnight