Belgium-born Stroobant had been traveling Europe, America and Australia honing his culinary craft when he made a life-changing decision to head to Asia in 1997. His maiden stop was the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, where he met his would-be wife Edina Hong. In 1999, the pair moved to Singapore and opened fine-dining French restaurant Saint Pierre the following year, with Hong managing the operations and front-of-house while Stroobant helmed the kitchen.
Making A Name In Singapore
Saint Pierre was a pioneer in Singapore’s young gastronomic scene at the turn of the century, clinching awards and accolades for its classic French haute cuisine and becoming the only Singapore member of Relais & Châteaux, the prestigious association of the world’s finest hotels and restaurants.
In 2013, Saint Pierre was relocated to Sentosa’s Quayside Isle with a more relaxed concept, doing away with the starched linens and introducing an a la carte menu. “We were going for the masstige trend at that time, like what Pizzeria Mozza and DB Bistro were doing at Marina Bay Sands, making luxury more accessible for the masses,” Hong explains.
The Siren Call Of Fine Dining
Soon though, the couple found that they could not resist the siren call of fine dining. While setting up fine-dining edomae sushi-ya Shoukouwa at One Fullerton, the opportunity came up for them to take up the adjoining restaurant space as well. So, in 2016, Saint Pierre returned to its fine-dining roots and opened at One Fullerton, offering just 30 seats — a stark contrast to its 100-seater restaurant in Sentosa — in an austere but elegant dining room with a glorious panoramic view of the Marina Bay.
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While media outlets and industry pundits were spelling the doom of fine dining, the couple threw themselves back into the niche with the revamped Saint Pierre and Shoukouwa, which went on to receive two Michelin stars in the inaugural edition of the MICHELIN Guide Singapore in 2016.
As a chef, haute cuisine always held a special place in Stroobant’s heart — he preferred to personalise his cooking for smaller groups of people, focusing on the highest quality of ingredients and classic techniques. "I enjoy the entire process from creation to fine tuning and I can only do that with fine dining. Every dish passes through my hands before reaching the customer, and that for me, is a priceless experience," he says. "It also encompasses my yoga practice to be present and mindful, and that's the biggest joy fine dining holds for me."
To Hong, fine dining was about holding the client in the highest esteem, and commanding their respect in return. “With casual dining, you can be reactive, but in fine dining you need to be proactive and anticipate your clients’ needs. Fine dining is about perfection and is something aspirational, so there’s always going to be room for that."
Stroobant’s artful tasting menus, framed by immaculate service and ambience under Hong’s iron fists, earned Saint Pierre its first Michelin star in the MICHELIN Guide Singapore 2017.
Now the couple have exported that same sheen of luxury to their Kuala Lumpur outpost. Set in the brand-new luxury hotel W Kuala Lumpur, soaring ceilings are accentuated by an elegant installation of crystal water droplets suspended overhead, but the restaurant, cocooned in soothing plum furnishings and plush carpet, feels cosy and intimate. Floor-to-ceiling windows afford a glimpse of the sparkling Twin Towers outside.
The city that the couple has returned to is undoubtedly different from the one they left two decades ago. Sandwiched between the foodie haven of Bangkok and glitzy financial centre of Singapore, Malaysia was more well-known for its street-food and hawker scene, but in recent years, KL has come to its own with a new energy unleashed by innovative chefs, trendy cocktail bars and hip cafes.
“It used to be: ‘Why would anyone want to pay RM700 when any of the hawkers lining the street can turn out a great meal for RM7?’” says Hong. “But now, KL is home to some very interesting restaurants like Nadodi and Dewakan. I think people here are really starting to embrace the different aspects of food culture.”
Saint Pierre enters into the fine dining echelon of Kuala Lumpur currently occupied by the likes of French modernist DC Restaurant, contemporary Indian restaurant Nadodi and modern Malaysian establishment Dewakan. “It might have been easier for us to create a different brand of fine dining for the Malaysian market, but Saint Pierre is our iconic flagship that grew us. Maybe a part of it is sentimental, but it felt like it was the right time to bring back to Malaysia what we’ve accomplished in Singapore,” says Hong.
Though twice the size of the flagship at 70 covers as opposed to 32 in Singapore, measures have been put in place to ensure a consistent experience across both restaurants. Half of the Singapore team, including talented 27-year-old chef de cuisine KimKevin De Dood, have been moved over to helm Saint Pierre in KL.
The dishes in the 12-course Adventure menu roll out in exquisite order, fresh and light to start — new harvest Aquitaine Oscietra caviar, then creamy Australian Hass avocado dressed in basil, grapefruit and sansho pepper, and stuffed French Petit Violet artichoke in a pool of turmeric and tamarind sauce. Bright seafood courses followed: a medallion of Hokkaido scallop in a citrusy coconut sauce reminiscent of the Thai tom kha gai and Blue lobster from Britanny with apple cider, chervil and onion.
Rich dishes of foie gras, buttery cod, Ohmi beef and lamb curry build in intensity and bloom into refreshing desserts of Conference pear with a savoury parmesan crumble and strawberries with mascarpone ice cream. Finally, the piece de resistance arrives, a selection of cheese served tableside on a cart, the old-world charm of the gueridon service befitting a grande dame of fine dining.
Coming Full Circle
Since September, the restaurant has been attracting a steady stream of well-heeled diners, curious to experience the luxurious hospitality that it has become known for in Singapore. On the evening we were there, no less than half the tables were celebrating a birthday or a special occasion, the end of their meals marked by a special dessert compliments of the house.
“That’s what I love about fine dining. It’s the whole works, the showmanship. We’re in the business of helping people make memories,” says Hong. “It’s the level we aspired to be when we first started, and now we’re bringing all that expertise across to Malaysia without cutting any corners.”
Stroobant adds: "Malaysia was a turning point in my life 20 years ago, not only because it was where I met my wife, but also because it was my first encounter with Asia and it left amazing memories. Going back now is like coming home after a 20-year-long journey."