Updated: Nov 10, 2020
I got to know Chef Nicolas Vergnole earlier this year through good old Instagram - which is such an amazing platform in connecting groups of people with similar interests and passion from all across the world. And my passion is definitely food... whilst his is art - and that's where our paths crossed.
So, when Executive Pastry Chef Nicolas Vergnole started at the revamped Riviera Forlino by the Marina Bay waterfront, I knew I had to experience his creations for myself - and I am not even a dessert person.
My first experience was about a month ago, after whetting our appetite at the nearby Kinki restaurant, our group of three ladies proceeded to Forlino for dessert at 9pm. We had no idea what to expect (except the spectacular view of the waterfront from our table) - and boy, were we blown away. So much so, that I had to bring my husband - who IS a dessert fan, back for more (which is what this blog is based on).
So, Forlino has this very cool 4-COURSE PLATED DESSERT FLIGHT, which is basically, four amazing (full size) plates of dessert that takes you on this journey to the Mediterranean and back. When we went in early November, we were still in Autumn - so all his dishes were autumn inspired, down to shipping of the seasonal fig from his hometown. I cannot tell you how much this sings to me because I think that too many restaurants in Singapore stopped working with the seasons because everything is just so readily available here.
The first dessert plate up is his signature Riviera Vacherin - a delightful light, playful of citrus notes to give the tastebuds a wake-up call. What I really loved about this dish on first impression is not just the visual fest, but the "scent" explosion as well.
Hints of fresh (probably Amalfi) lemon zest that goes up your nose to just make you sit up a little more, whilst taking in every element on that plate - the pistachio gels, the really pretty jackfruit flower (which i found is locally sourced from an urban farm in Singapore)... it is like a garden on a plate - and THAT totally works for the artist in me.
A Vacherin is a dessert consistent of a meringue shell filled with whipped cream (as defined by google) - which can usually be too sickly sweet or too creamy. And THIS Vacherin is neither of that. We actually asked Chef Nicolas how he manages to make his desserts without any of that horrible sugar aftertaste on your tongue - he told us that he avoids using pure sugar or cream but prefers to use natural sweeteners e.g. orange syrup and fresh ingredients to let them speak for themselves. He talked about how fast he has to work with the Ricotta that he ships in from France to ensure that the taste, colour and texture is preserved because once oxidation sets in, the delicate taste of the Ricotta will change to something heavier. My jaw was literally on the floor by now. This is serious Dessert geek stuff.
Next up was the Caraibe 66% Dark Chocolate Cremeux - with Salted Caramel Ice Cream infused with 15 year old Glenfiddich Whisky.
When you read this on the menu, you may get the impression that it is simply a chocolate biscuit with some boozy Salted Caramel Ice Cream ( at least I was) - but the simple smooth silky texture of this ice cream with delightful surprises of cacao nibs in your spoon as you dig into the mound...followed by fun crack of the brittle sitting at the top and slightly more dense chocolate mounds at the bottom... every spoon is a surprise and adventure in taste combinations and texture!
I am definitely a coffee and boozy dessert kinda gal, but have always found most to be too heavy and overpowering in either the coffee or the alcohol. But oh, not this one. This is playful, fun, and surprising - with subtle bits of coffee and velvety dark chocolate that lingers on your tongue afterwards. This is a secret affair with coffee and chocolate on a plate.
By this time, we were both super curious at what's next. The waiter changes our fork and spoon and plate - like a proper fine dining restaurant would with each main course, so I appreciated that for the dessert as well.
The third dish on this amazing value Dessert Flight Menu is the "Les Figues de Provence" (The Figs of Provence"). Chef Nicolas explains that his childhood memory of this time of the year for him is of sitting down and eating fresh figs from his region with ricotta cheese and honey.
His eyes twinkle when he explains this - and this is how I felt what this particular dish did. It twinkled me to the French Riviera, with the slightly cold autumn air and you sink into this comforting yet light envelope of goats milk creamy texture, warm caramelised figs - I could always smell and see the leaves on the ground. Again, the shavings of lime zest adds a refreshing zing and uplifting factor to this blanket of warmth.
What's amazing is the cute and understated looking little fig tartlette that came with it. The filo pastry work underneath those perfectly baked figs (not over, not under - so it perfectly melts in your mouth with a slight bite where the skin is) is sooooo buttery yet so light and delicate. THAT - we decided, is only something a properly trained French chef can do.
If you are still with me by now, you have to be a dessert aficionado - which we asked Chef if he is. He said that he is actually not so much of a sweets kinda person but he is very passionate about challenging himself in bringing his visions of nature onto the plate. And THAT is my speak - except my plate is my canvas (literally speaking).
I am pretty full by this point but the hubby proclaimed he was enjoying this experience so much that he could sit there and eat all night. We asked for our second glass of Prosecco (which goes so perfectly with the desserts) - and braced ourselves for the next dessert - the Orchard Citrus Sphere.
Now, this was my second time experiencing this Dessert Flight Menu, and I continue to be surprised by it. The chef has made some slight changes to the presentation since a month ago and it felt like a whole new dessert!
On first sight, I joked softly that it looked like a cute coronavirus - and if the coronavirus looks like this, I would eat it all the time, baby! Basically, the outside of the "sphere" is this subtly fragrant and mildly sweet and translucent hibiscus gel - with petite little dollops of vanilla (and zingy lime zest), a more intense dark red hibiscus gel, and again, this delightfully tasting little jackfruit flower that is oh-so-slightly bitter - just enough to cut through the intensity of the hibiscus gel.
Dig your spoon in and sphere falls apart to reveal this beautifully arranged grapefruits inside. The swiss hubby marvelled at the daintiness of the grapefruit pieces inside (Chef explained later about how they are very particular in selecting the best produce from all over - and best meaning, they are at the height in the season of the country. So, the simple grapefruit can at different times of the year come from Australia or France or elsewhere...depending on where is best.) All I can say is, "Incrediblé!"
Oh. how can i forget this - as the beautiful sphere is served, the waiter drops spoonfuls of Tequila Granita - like snowflakes on a beautiful orange fragrant ball. I love the play of it! And of course, tequila and lime... hence the hints of lime infused into the dessert - so clever!
I was officially full by now ....and chef dropped another surprise on us. He was giving us a complimentary preview of his latest dessert creation, his "Bergamot Lemon and Quince".
Now, THIS was what I came to Forlino for - because I was so taken by it on his Instagram account, I had to see it and experience it in real life! Everything in this dessert is sublime. This man's touch is so light and delicate and elegant, you can't help but smile like a silly little child which each plate is presented. The pastry, which i would describe as closest to a short bread biscuit, was biscuity and crumbly, full of buttery smoothness but none of the fattiness..i could happily just eat the pastry on its own.
The quince was very subtle and added this depth in taste that makes you want to take another bite just to figure out what that was. The maple leaf - was so beautiful that I almost felt sad to bite into.
At this point, I had to have a decaf-espresso macchiato, just to help push all those goodness down... the husband was in dessert cloud nine. I then spied from the corner of my eye, the waiters coming with another plate of something.... I didn't know whether to be delighted or horrified (because I was so full and it would be rude to not eat anything that was coming out of that magic kitchen!).
The chef explained that these little delights were complimentary from the house - a sweet end to the evening and Dessert Flight.... but this was no crash landing. It was a velvety, smooth and bump-free soft landing from a flight to the moon. The red spheres are his Raspberry tarts - served on again, these bomb of a buttery crumbly biscuity pastry. The inside is a slightly tart but not too sour raspberry cream that instantly cleans your palette and puts a smile on your face.
The white one was, GET THIS - white chocolate and Basil truffle. I initially almost gawked at the chef when he mentioned that combination....to which he said "Why not?" So...I said why not, and curiously bit into the truffle....and...OMG..the first thing struck me was the amazing smoothness of the chocolate filling - easily to the standard of the best swiss chocolate truffles.... and that beautiful grounding taste of the basil coming through.
The green colour on the inside was also such a delight...almost deceiving and confusing to the senses because you would never really put green basil and white chocolate together - but wow, how they go with each other!
I asked chef Nicolas what was the crumbly thing right at the top of the truffle...he said that they always add a crumble texture in their truffles... but he wasn't going to tell me what it was. Whatever it was, it was sweet and caramel-like...almost like toffee...leaving a perfect sweet after-note to the velvety slightly bitter basil. Genius!
Almost relieved that marked the end of our Dessert Flight Menu, we thanked the Chef and walked out feeling so satisfied and inspired by life. My four senses - sight, smell, taste and texture were literally singing and dancing with delight. I wanted to go home and paint because I was so happy and inspired! It is very rare that one has such an experience with desserts and this is one sweet note to remember for sure!
Thank you once again Chef Nicolas Vergnole for reminding me that food is very much about life, and life is about art. The art of living and loving. I have never paid that much attention to dessert creations before and now - my world is that much richer... thank you!
ps. This blog is by no means sponsored - I just truly want to record this down as well as share it with the world!
Located in: One Fullerton
Address: 1 Fullerton Rd, #02-06 One Fullerton, Singapore 049213