béni, Mandarin Gallery.

We celebrated Florian’s birthday about a week earlier since he was going to be away on the day itself. Obviously, I know how much of a travesty it is in German custom to celebrate one’s birthday before the actual day but we had things on the weekend after. Moreover, I reasoned that being in Singapore, he was entitled to celebrating the entire month of February ie his birthday month.

Anyway, I decided on béni at Mandarin Gallery having heard many good things about it. Rather than have dinner, I booked for a Friday lunch since it comprises a more manageable number of courses and is more affordable as well.

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The restaurant is tastefully done, with only a bar table overlooking the open kitchen, not unlike the ones you find in Japan. Only, theirs was brighter and more modern. There was a private dining room to the left if I’m not mistaken. Otherwise, the main dining area where we were seated could only have about 8 guests at a time.

While we were lunching, there was only one other couple, so it was a quiet, serene affair.

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Without much contemplation, we went for the basic degustation lunch menu. I mentioned to Florian that some well established restaurants in Singapore have very affordably lunch set menus during the weekday, and that we should try they lunches first before deciding if their much heftier, more expensive dinner menus are worth trying.

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We found the service at béni to be extremely warm, hospitable yet not intrusive. The maitre’d was well informed about each dish and was sure to explain to use all the different elements that made up each course.

Before lunch commenced proper, we were served a bread ‘bag’ filled with a mix of aromatic, warm bread rolls all kept snug over hot stones.

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They were served with salted butter and salted egg butter. I much preferred the former – old school but most satisfying. The salted egg butter was very mild in flavour. I expected more punch. Still, the bread were good enough to eat on their own. Florian inhaled most of them by the end of lunch.

Our first course was Carabinero Prawns with cream cheese and sweet potato puree, served with a prawn cracker.

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I liked the brininess of the crustacean juxtaposed to the earthy sweetness of the tuber; the crunch of the prawns against the creamy layers; the tartness of the cream cheese lifting the otherwise heaviness of the puree.

The second course was the French black chicken which was served rather like a terrine. It came with a pretty half-sphere of foie gras mousse glazed with a red wine port jelly, quince jam and vegetable crisps. 

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If you’re a fan of foie gras and terrines, you’ll love this. Unfortunately, I’m not. Still, I have to commend how smooth and creamy the mousse was. It was hardly gamey and was complemented well by the fruity tartness of the glaze. I won’t comment too much on the terrine since I’ve not had too many terrines in my life to go by.

Ooh! I must also highlight that I thoroughly enjoyed the dehydrated vegetables – parsnips and kale I believe. They were addictive!

Next was a spin on a mushroom soup. This comprised of shimeiji, enoki, maitake and button mushrooms. Beneath was a layer of black truffle custard. It was drizzled with argan oil to finish.

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I may be entirely biased here, being a huge fan of mushrooms anything so this, I loved! My only gripe was that it was served cold. Like from the chiller cold. It was like expecting steaming, comforting hot chocolate in the middle of a snow storm, only to get cold hot chocolate that failed to wrap its arms around us to keep us warm. Temperature aside, it was extremely flavoursome and restrained in the use of the truffle which won this dish my thumbs up.

Our main was Swordfish with beurre noisette, peppers and capers. Alongside were grilled vegetables.

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The fish was fresh and clean tasting, and the vegetables had a lovely charred smokiness. I could have had a huge bowl full of those vegetables and be satisfied with that.

Dessert was a mix of summer berries with a red wine jelly, berries sorbet, milk ice-cream, a herb foam, and strawberry sauce.

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It was a light, refreshing end to our meal.

We were presented with a generous platter of petit-fours after our meal, to go with an espresso for the birthday man, and their in-house herbal tea for me. Their tea had fresh lemon balm and lemongrass in it and was truly a delight. I shall have to make some at home.

They also presented us a mini berries mousse cake to commemorate Florian’s birthday. It was a thoughtful touch and perfectly portioned after all the food already sitting in our tummies.

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The petit-fours were the fireworks to our meal. The hojicha warabi was not too sweet and had a nice bouncy chew. There were also gooseberries, financiers, white chocolate macarons, and stellar caneles.

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The caneles were perfectly crisp and caramelised on the outside, and almost custardy within. If only they sold these babies. I’d buy them and devour them by the box.

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Altogether, it was a very pleasant meal. Everything was well-executed and service was excellent. Still, I don’t think béni will be a place we will return to so soon. It’s a restaurant worth trying if you haven’t been and want a treat, but I wouldn’t say that there was anything particular mind-blowing to warrant a second visit. Well, apart from the caneles perhaps.

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