french, family and food
i could regurgitate things about chef stephane istel from my buddy dr google and tell you about his career, cuisine, mentors etc. i will not bother and will instead tell you about the culinarian and his cuisine i have come to know.
i’ve worked with stephane for close to a year now and the ride has been amazing. i believe it will continue to be because he has a fire lit within him that’s fuelled by passion and ambition or cumulatively, grit. in our conversations i gather he has plotted a clear path for both his career and life and sticks to achieving milestones, taking stock whenever he reaches one. he aimed to have his first restaurant by the age of 35 and that’s done. whatever’s next is just around around the corner.
stephane started his first kitchen gig when he was 15, around the same age when his mother had him so it’s forgivable to mistake her for being his sister. she’s a culinary master and a clear inspiration for stephane. also clear is bar-roque cuisine’s dna, it is an extension of mama istel and stephane istel’s style. istel cuisine is rustic french, communal and something that’s becoming rarer over time, unpretentious and simply delicious. i say rarer because i find an increasing emphasis from restaurants on produce over method and in some cases i feel they’ve lost the plot. ingredients do not make a cook, a cook makes a dish out of ingredients.
stephane describes bar-roque’s cuisine philosophy best, it is food made with love. i think more specifically, familial love. the menu encourages sharing and communal dining. breaking bread with mama istel’s tarté flambé to start is a well-received ritual at every table. this pizza-like alsatian starter of crème fraiche, smoked german bacon and blanched onions sitting on paper thin dough is delightful.
the charcuterie platter is something i must have at every meal here. it’s a combination platter of country duck pate, foie gras terrine, duck prosciutto, kurobuta white ham, pork and duck rillettes, pork knuckle terrine and served with house-pickled vegetables. this divine platter is made from scratch in-house, including the smoking, and is testament to stephane’s experience and lineage. i have not had better charcuterie.
communal dining doesn’t get more evident than in bar-roque’s star attraction, large cuts of organic dry-aged beef charcoal-grilled and oven-finished to your liking. you can expect a slightly muted cheer whenever a tomahawk lands at the table. beautifully pink meat encrusted in almost blackened char with flavours and bite that only grass-fed beef provide. and then expect a press conference like scenario with the clicking of camera phones.
as the name implies, the restaurant mimics nuances of the baroque era in addition to rustic homely pockets. a bare long wooden communal table on the mezzanine level juxtaposes against tables with white linen at the lower level, an open kitchen covered by a counter made of stone with a wooden top, a large mural depicting what i can only assume is greek god of wine bacchus as a child and an equally large mirror framed in gold makes the setting somewhat eclectic.
it’s like two parts of a manor. the kitchen surrounded by a causal dining area on the mezzanine level and at the lower level, a dining room for guests.
there are many gems in bar-roque’s menu but i’ll leave that for another time. what i have for you to take away from this is how i enjoy bar-roque and especially stephane’s food best, over a slow communal meal with people i love.