Where to enjoy unli French food without breaking the bank

By Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Aug 06 2014 05:22 PM | Updated as of Aug 07 2014 01:22 AM

MANILA – French cuisine, particularly in Manila, is usually associated with expensive, fine dining with an emphasis on pricey ingredients like foie gras and truffles.

But one French restaurant is out to change that perception. Brasserie Cicou on Annapolis Street in Greenhills is introducing the concept of the bouchon Lyonnais, a sort of French-style smorgasbord, to Filipino diners, who have of late been spoiled by the numerous buffet restaurants that have sprouted around the metro.

Bouchons are restaurants typically found in Lyon – dubbed by Saveur magazine as “France's gastronomic capital” -- which specialize in the traditional cuisine of the area.

“Good eating in Lyon is by no means necessarily Michelin-starred, a fact vividly illustrated by the city's unique bouchons—the tiny, animated, artless places that keep the basic culinary traditions of Lyon alive,” Saveur wrote of these bistros which serve dishes that are “almost always based on humble ingredients.”

Compared to French haute cuisine, traditional Lyonnais food is “more fatty and heavily oriented around meat,” with dishes like sausages, duck pate or roast pork.

Six salads are served in typical Lyonnais fashion. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com

With its laidback vibe and rustic touches, Brasserie Cicou seems an ideal spot for such hearty food and veteran chef Cyrille Soenen certainly knows his way around eat-all-you-can affairs, as shown in his acclaimed Sunday brunch buffet for Impressions at Maxims Hotel in Resorts World Manila.

Diners can thus expect five-star quality at a lower rate. Cicou’s three-course Le Bouchon Lyonnais is priced at P1,700 net per person. (Add P500 for the extra cheese course.) But customers who don’t have large appetites – or budgets -- can choose unlimited servings of just one course -- either salads and charcuterie, main course or dessert -- for only P650 each.

The bouchon Lyonnais menu is quite extensive and the meal starts off with a bang with six different kinds of salad plus a board of charcuterie and pates served with baguette. If your stomach can accommodate just one course, opt for this one. With two potato salads on offer – one with smoked fish in olive olive, while the other had pork sausage, onions and vinaigrette – one can fill up easily on this.

The charcuterie board includes baguette and pickles. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com

Save the space instead for the wonderful charcuterie, which really captures that French provincial dining experience. The pork head pate, which uses parts of the pig’s head, much like the local sisig, had deep flavors that should easily appeal to Pinoys, while the pate en croute, with its flaky pastry sides, is a must-try if only because it is traditional French staple.

These are served with baguette, which certainly goes well with the pork rillettes, which you can use to make your own French-style pulled pork sandwich, since the tender pork meat had been slow cooked and then shredded.

The charcuterie board also comes with pickles to cut through the richness of some of these meats, although you can also use the other salads as sides – like the beetroot with sour cream or the French green beans with vinaigrette. But the lentil salad with shallots and parsley vinaigrette can be enjoyed on its own; ditto with the red cabbage confit.

Those going for the full dining experience can choose only one main course but enjoy unlimited servings of that dish. The choices again reflect the rustic side of French food with more humble yet excellent choices, ranging from the familiar to the more daring.

(Clockwise from top left) Pork sausage with braised lentils; Boudouille; Fish quennelle; and Le Coq au Vin. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com

If you’re not that adventurous, you can’t go wrong with the classic Le Coq au Vin, marinated and braised chicken in red wine and served with pasta tossed in cream and parsley; or the other chicken dish, Blanquette de Poulet, with a heavy white cream sauce, carrots, mushrooms, potatoes and shallots. The home-made pork sausage with braised lentils is also a pretty safe choice.

The ox tripes (Tablier de Sapeur) has an unusual texture and is more of an acquired taste, while the Fish Quennelle (the only non-meat choice) was interesting in terms of execution as it doesn’t feel like fish on the mouth as it was more creamy like a fishball. This comes with a crab bisque and Gruyere cheese, which was definitely bursting with flavor.

But if you’re looking for a different kind of culinary experience, try the home-made Boudouille, which is a combination of blood sausage and the andouilette, which uses pork and its innards. Of course, this shouldn’t be too much of a shock for those who love dinuguan but again the texture is not that of the usual sausage one is used to.

(Clockwise from top) Praline tarts and choux chantilly; creme caramel and Floating Island. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com

The dessert spread is also something to look forward to, as it includes classic French sweets like praline tarts, choux chantilly (which are like French cream puffs) and crème caramel. The Floating Island is gorgeously presented with delicate scoops of meringue floating on crème Anglaise.

Les Bugnes de Lyons. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com

But the one dessert that suited the character of the entire meal was the Les Bugnes de Lyons, a fried pastry sprinkled with sugar and served with strawberry coulis. It may be a bit heavy compared to the meringue or the choux but this dessert is particular to the Lyonnais region and definitely deserves a space in such a spread.

Brasserie Cicou’s Le Bouchon Lyonnais, which is available for lunch and dinner, will certainly give you a different side of French cuisine that is just as appetizing as the more expensive haute dining.