July 14, 2009 / 10:41 AM / 10 years ago

Table Talk: Singapore restaurant brings Swiss wines to Asia

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - The menu is modern French, the chef was poached from a Michelin-starred restaurant in London and the alfresco location in Singapore’s central business district is to die for.

A jury member sniffs a glass of rose wine during the 6th International rose wine competition in Cannes in this April 25, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Sebastien Nogier/Files

But what sets Oenotheque apart from the legions of bistros and restaurants serving European fare in the Asian city state is its vast array of affordable, crisp wines from Switzerland.

Yes, Switzerland.

Few would identify Switzerland as a country that makes luscious wines, and even less in Asia, where wine appreciation is a relatively new art.

But veteran restauranteur and chef Magdalene Tang, who partnered with Swiss vinter Dominique Giroud, owner of renowned wine retailer Wine Universe, believes it’s only a matter of time before people realize just how good — and affordable — Swiss vintages are.

“When I tasted Swiss wines, I was amazed by how good they were, and how cheap,” Tan told Reuters a week after opening Oenotheque.

“They also suit the Asian palate, because they’re fruity and light, which in our weather, and with our spicy food, is perfect. They’re the perfect alternative to a spritzer.”

Oenotheque stocks some 100 varieties of high quality Swiss wines, which start at about S$37 ($25) a bottle, in addition to a collection of whites, reds and champagnes from various traditional Old and New World venues.

Swiss wines are a rare commodity abroad due to limited exports, and the Singapore restaurant, wine bar and cellar rolled into one is the first overseas venture for Wine Universe.

“We’re extremely excited to base our new business here,” Giroud said in a statement. “We believe that our Swiss wines would meet up to expectations.”

While Oenotheque puts a big emphasis on Swiss wine, the menu is not all fondue and raclette — although they are offered.

British chef Paul Longworth, who worked as a sous-chef in London’s one Michelin starred Club Gascon and the acclaimed Racine restaurant, heads the kitchen, offering signature dishes such as buttery terrine of foie gras with Cumberland sauce and seared scallops with crispy pork belly.

Tang, a former foreign exchange trader turned gourmand, is mainly targeting businessmen and financiers in Singapore for now, but has her eyes set on other locations in Asia such as Jakarta, Indonesia and Bangkok, Thailand.

And as for opening a restaurant in the center of the business district in the middle of a recession, Tang says she couldn’t have picked a better time.

“Everything’s cheap now,” she said. “The euro is down, and rents are very low. If I had done this just 2 years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to afford it.”

($1=1.457 Singapore dollar)

Editing by Jerry Norton

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