In the wash of shadows and light in the pre-war building housing French Feast, Jean-Michel Fraisse and Mickael Cornutrait are once again serving the classic, impeccable French cuisine which anchored their previous restaurant, La Vie En Rose.
When a landslide decimated La Vie En Rose’s kitchen (for the second time) in 2015, owner Fraisse decided that he had had enough of that spot. Kuala Lumpur’s bastion of faultless, classic French food, with its inimitable sense of romance, closed its doors.
But you can’t keep two good chefs down, and so it was really only a matter of time – and a quest for the right spot – before they popped up again in a new home. They found the sweet spot on Tengkat Tong Shin, a street steeped in history and drenched in atmosphere, where only the merest spillover of party-goers from the adjunct Changkat Bukit Bintang may be found.
A new home deserved a new name, with Fraisse and head chef Cornutrait steering away from the romance and sentimentality of the La Vie En Rose moniker, and opting for a concept which shifted the focus more squarely onto the menu itself.
At night, French Feast is spun of soft spotlights and softer shade, which cushions the bare brick feature wall. If you’re here at sunset, you’ll see the dwindling light shining through green glass art deco-style panes. It’s a simple set-up, but effectively charming, and a great canvas for the food.
Meals are preceded by baskets of the house bread, which arrive at the table with the requisite fluffy interior, crisp crust and wonderful aroma. Also, an amuse bouche – ours was a tiny slab of chunky, country-style terrine, meaty yet delicate.
The mains section especially may seem quite preoccupied with meat, but don’t discount the entire page of speciality canned fish – mackerel, anchovy or sardine confit, all vintage, or smoked cod liver pate, served with bread and greens. They’re revelatory in flavour, and substantial meals on their own.
We started our dinner with the Poelee d’escargots aux champignons, crème d ail et persil (RM32), escargot in garlic and parsley cream, with mushrooms sliced just so. The sense of just-right balance that pervades the whole menu is apparent here – the escargot had a just-so bouncy spring, the thick sauce the requisite richness, without being overwhelming.
Les oeufs en meurette (RM30) provided a glimpse of one of the restaurant’s cornerstones: richly-flavoured, slow-cooked sauces with depths to their depths. You’ll look at that house-made bread with new eyes when you encounter the sauces here – it’s a treasured ally in soaking every bit up.
In this dish, a poached egg constantly threatening to spill golden yolk was doused in a red wine sauce, with croutons, mushrooms, pearl onions and the lardons that you’ll find in quite a few of the meat dishes – these thick matchsticks of fat are quite magical when it comes to adding flavour.
Our final starter was the Tartare de saumon a l’aneth, salade de fenouil au citron, et crème ciboulettes (RM34), chunks of salmon scented with dill and piled into a tartare tian, atop a salad of crunchy fennel ribbons spiked with lemon. Simple, effective and quite stunning.
The first main was the Joue de boeuf braisee facon bourgouignon, petits legumes glaces, puree de pomme de terre parfumee a la truffe (RM71), braised beef cheek in red wine sauce. Cooked over low heat for six hours, the beef was an homage to long, slow cooking – meltingly tender, almost to the point of spoonability. Served with a silky truffle mash and glazed vegetables on the side, the whole dish is the epitome of elegant French soul food.
Another of French Feast’s hallmarks is its dedication to charcuterie, the transformation of meat (usually pork) into pates, terrines, sausage and ballotine. Consequently, it’s also the only place in town to find offerings like the andouillette, a tripe sausage flown in from France.
The Veritable Andouillette de Troyes rotie, sauce a la moutarde et vin blanc (RM90) has the intestine sausage served in a creamy white wine sauce with the tang of mustard. It’s a polarising dish because of the strong, distinctive aroma of the sausage, which will tell you exactly what you’re eating – it might put first-timers off a bit, but is highly-prized by its disciples.
Then there is the also-imported Boudin noir aux oignons, puree de celeri rave et pomme roties (RM55); the boudin noir, or blood sausage, is one of the oldest French charcuterie preparations.
I have always found something very subtle and sexy about a well-made blood sausage – it’s a smooth, rich, sensuous mouthful, the creamy meatiness of the pork and blood softly rounded out by onions and spice and possibly a splash of Calvados or Cognac. It’s traditionally served with sweetly roasted apples, as it is at French Feast; Cornutrait has also added a glossy, intense reduction of duck jus and a smooth celeriac mash, which has the light sweet floral edge of the vegetable. Definitely one to return for.
A list of specials changes often, and it was there that we found the subsequent two dishes – a final main and the first sweet.
The duck neck stuffed with minced duck meat and chestnuts was first presented at the table whole, then whisked away for slicing. With liberal slicks of a sauce spiked with the sweet richness of Armagnac, the duck and chestnut filling provided a lovely contrast of flavours and textures, and the neck as sausage casing adds even more flavour; this dish is a nod to the beak-to-tail eating that the chefs enjoy.
The fountainebleu is a dessert named after the town in which it was created; at French Feast, it was made with creamy, fresh white cheese and cream, slicked with a smooth, luscious berry sauce. A study in simplicity, it pairs the intensity of raspberries and the tangy sweetness of the cheese with an impossibly light, airy texture. Quite the perfect end to a meaty meal.
Otherwise, the pear and rhubarb crumble with house-made vanilla ice cream (RM24), and classic profiteroles (RM26) are great choices as well – the latter are small globes of choux pastry, served with bourbon vanilla ice cream and slicked with chocolate and caramel.
Ultimately, French Feast is underscored by good, honest cooking, impeccable execution, and a solid understanding and great respect of food and where it comes from – historically, geographically and produce-wise – so it’s hard to make a slip when ordering from the menu of classics. And importantly, it’s fairly wallet-friendly, belying the notion that good French food must empty your wallet.
20, Tengkat Tong Shin
Tel: 03-2110 6283
Open weekdays, 6.30pm to 11.00pm, Saturdays, 10am to 2.30pm and 6.30pm till late, Sundays, 10am to 2.30pm. Closed on Mondays.