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‘Oui’ to La Mere Poulard

Pamela Cortez

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There is a severe lack of French restaurants in Manila, probably because the word often comes with the suggestion of luxury: prices one cannot afford, in a place that might well be stuffy. But as with all cuisines, the French canon is incredibly diverse, and the conjured-up image of fine dining is not the only thing it offers.

The import from Normandy has gained notoriety for its puff omelettes and butter biscuits, which it has brought to its outpost in SM Aura

The just-over-a-year-old La Mere Poulard in SM Aura is a fine example of this — a classic bistro that is infinitely approachable. The import from Normandy has gained notoriety for its puff omelettes and butter biscuits, which it has brought to their outpost in SM Aura. But the place has much more to offer than this, and it has done so in a setting that is casual and unpretentious.

Duck confit with mushroom sauce and sauteed potatoes.

I will be the first to admit that my first experience in La Mere Poulard was delicious, but sometimes forgettable. The menu was intimidating, with a few pages worth of unexplained dishes that would ward off any one skeptical of how approachable French food could be.

But the La Mere Poulard I visited last week was extremely different from the one I had dined in months ago — it was more confident in its French-ness, with a menu that was tighter, simpler and more delicious.

DULCE de leche religieuse.

It’s always tempting to skip the starters and go straight to mains, but you need to explore this section for plates that are quintessentially French, and were some of my favorites. The concept of terrine might sound odd to a few diners, but think of it as a chunkier, meatier pâté. Their beef bourgignon terrine is appropriately meaty, and has enough acidity from its Xeres vinaigrette to balance the fattiness. Our clear winner was a duck and foie pâté de campagne, which offers more texture than a pâté, with visible knobs of fat and duck throughout the rustic block. It was so heady and delicious, and went so well with the mango chutney beside it.

While the mains are stellar examples of their origins (duck confit that was crispy and surrounded by a decadent sauce, or a lamb navarin whose stew was thick and full of beef flavor), the pastas should be on your list. A crab roe spaghettini was near-perfect, with al dente, threadlike strands enrobed in cream and lemon. The puff omelettes are also better than ever, arriving at your table with a wobble, providing lovely contrast to whatever you pair it with (ratatouille will bring a tomatoey brightness to the airy, slightly-sweet omelette).

Prawn and ratatouille puff omelette (above) and Braised lamb a la navarin with mashed potatoes (left).

Desserts also should not be missed, not just because the French are known for them, but because the ones at La Mere Poulard are awesome meal-enders, because of their subtlety and balance. Nothing is ever too sweet, which people often forget is how desserts should be. Their salted dark chocolate tart tastes deeply of cacao, and their French toast is topped with a frozen lobe of ice cream that brings contrast to the crispy brioche. The religieuse does get a little saccharine but if you like guilty pleasures, then the dulce de leche filling goes extremely well with the tiny cream puffs’ craquelin exterior. Recommending this place comes easy.

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