They were just two regular French blokes, who wanted to debunk the French food myth of small portions and high prices – so Florian Nigen and Arnaud Chappert decided to open their own restaurant.
The friends and business partners met while working in the F&B industry here, so the decision to open their own eatery was a natural progression. They turned a large-ish corner lot in one of Bangsar’s quieter enclaves into Rendez-Vous in 2014. With Nigen – Flo to friends and regulars – taking point in the kitchen, and Chappert’s brand of easy hospitality in the dining room, the restaurant soon became known for its traditional fare and yes, affordable prices.
“We wanted a place to eat French food in KL without paying exorbitant prices for it. Somewhere that people could come to often, and one that served pork so that we could do dishes like the classic wild boar pate,” says Nigen.
The menu was a close reflection of Les Gilles de Bretagne, the restaurant that Nigen’s father has owned and run in Brittany, France, for over 30 years now. But then Nigen decided to turn his focus towards developing Upstage by Rendez-Vous, the first floor lounge of the restaurant that is devoted to performances, from jazz showcases to stand-up... maybe even cabaret in the future (fingers crossed).
“I couldn’t concentrate on Upstage and run the kitchen. So we decided to hire a new chef, someone with a modern style, different from my own more traditional approach,” says Nigen.
That someone turned out to be 23-year-old Benjamin Reilhes, the young chef who has clocked time in the kitchens of Brasserie des Beaux Arts in his native Toulouse, and the three-starred (Michelin, obviously) Le Pre Catelan in Paris – and who has completely revamped the food style at Rendez-Vous.
“Because we have so many regulars, we change the menu every three to four months,” says Chappert. Plus, a list of specials written on the chalkboard.
The restaurant retains its original trappings in terms of decor. Crimson walls put you in mind of dimly-lit assignations. Look out for the small street plaques in French, like the Place des Amis (Friends’ Quarter).
And should you forget for a moment that it is French fare you are here to enjoy, the Eiffel Tower mural should situate you back on the right geographical gastro-track.
Set into the back wall is a window into the bright heart of the restaurant – the kitchen, of course – complete with copper spotlights trained on the plated stars of the show, which briefly debut there, before making their way to your table.
Keep an eye on that window if you want to catch a glimpse of Reilhes, intermittently framed as he puts the finishing touches on his plates.
These are vivid and elaborate, suspended between old-fashioned charm and modern invention. It’s not about affectation; his plates are intricate interplays of many components, which necessitates the complex plating style.
His signature flourishes, to be found on most plates: small, crisp pastry discs and dots and whorls of a deeply emerald sauce. This is basil, on the savoury plates (happily, it is a versatile accompaniment and works well on all), and it was so predominant that I assumed he had created a sweet incarnation for the dessert – but no, that was a mint coulis.
We started our menu trek – which would turn out to be extensive – with a tiny spoonful of salsify cream laced with truffle oil. An amuse bouche, different every day.
Then, the Soupe de Poissons (RM24). That actually translates simply to “fish soup”, but there is little that is simple about it. A heap of confit vegetable cubes and Avruga caviar is surrounded by a ring of vivid dots of basil sauce and rouille, with a spoonful of lobster foam on the side; the whole thing slowly dissolves into a kaleidoscope of colours, flavours and textures as the thick fish broth is poured over at the table. It’s immensely likeable, and very robust – which is probably why it has been on the menu since day one, now updated with Reilhes’ modern touch.
Artfully studding a platter, small pieces of candied fresh tuna, mounds of pickled julienne cabbage, cauliflower cream and aioli and a savoury green lick of basil sauce forms the Thon Confit (RM25). Cooked sous vide for 25 minutes with tarragon oil, the fish itself is a burst of briny freshness, combining with the other elements to form a multi-layered mouthful.
That complexity is definitely a hallmark, of both Reilhes and Rendez-Vous.
A plateful of foie gras terrine (RM48) has the smooth duck liver balanced with a sweet Port jelly, fragrant reductions – shallots-wine-truffles, basil, balsamic – tiny, springy pieces of candied chicken gizzard and spiced duck breast smoked in-house, pickled mushroom slices and a salt-rich chicken jus.
A tender, gently-cooked fillet of sea bream (Fillet de Daurade En Croûte, RM62) is brightly-striped with strips of yellow and green breadcrumbs (laced with citrus peel or parsley, depending on the colour), then served on a potato and truffle “risotto”, with watercress puree and an intense bouillabaise reduction.
And with the Poulet Façon Cocotte (RM36), Reilhes turns a down-to-earth chicken roulade into something extraordinary by cooking it in stock at 72.5°C for two hours, till it is meltingly tender and amazingly moist. Then serving it with a buttery, smooth mashed potato that is all a mash should be.
But the piece de resistance, and deservedly one of the most popular dishes, is the Poitrine de Pork Fondante (RM49) – you’ll be glad this particular little piggy went to market. Succulent and crisp on the outside, the slab of slow-cooked pork belly is something to be deeply savoured; but no less appealing are the two little cigars on the side, one flaky and crisp and filled with minced pork feet and tangy, herbed Gribiche sauce, and the other a pasta roll stuffed with creamy mushrooms.
The meal ends with two sweets. The first is a Tarte au Citron Meringue (RM17), a pretty mound of soft, fluffy meringue studded with crisp mini-meringues – the best of both worlds, really. Thin slices of green apple emerge from the meringue, feather-like. A curving trail of the aforementioned mint coulis and drops of caramel separate it from a quenelle of gorgeously fresh lemon sorbet, which demands its own starring role.
Then there is the Délice au Chocolat et Caramel (RM22). It’s explained simply as a “sinful chocolate and caramel dessert” on the menu – sounds about right. It’s a circle of mousse-y chocolate, topped with more chocolate crunch and fruits, plus house-made caramel ice cream, which hides – creamily, sneakily – almond and peanut praline.
A fine French meal is ideally accompanied by a good wine, and Chappert has taken pains to ensure a good selection is available. But if cocktails are more your style, the off-menu Beyond Asia is a good bet, albeit a departure from your French taste trek.
Concocted by barman Rob (real name: Kwang Htet) for a recent cocktail competition, it features chillies from his home province, Shan State in Myanmar. These are small and pungent, but with a subtle fragrance and combined with dark rum, caramelised tamarind, passionfruit and grapefruit and Monin Lemon and Lemongrass syrups. Like everything else at Rendez-Vous, it is appealingly complex and well-balanced.
100 Lorong Maarof
Tel: 03-2202 0206
Open daily, noon to 3pm, 6pm to midnight
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