When people think “Nicolas Laville“, what comes to mind are sumptuous ball gowns, tailored to perfection and guaranteed to turn heads. These days, however, the Singapore-based French fashion designer is working on a smaller canvas: a dinner plate.
Since late 2019, Nicolas has been quietly serving up authentic French cuisine in his shophouse home in Spottiswoode Park. He took a break from the kitchen when the pandemic hit in 2020, but since social distancing guidelines were relaxed, the Normandy native is back at it.
His private dining concept is called Viking’s Table, named after the Scandinavian pirates who pillaged the north of France in the 9th century. But while his hometown served as inspiration for his home restaurant’s name, it was his grandmother who inspired the dishes – and his passion for cooking.
“I’ve been cooking since I was six years old,” said Nicolas, who has lived in Singapore for the past seven years. “Most of the dishes you will experience at Viking’s Table are dishes taught to me by my grandmother. Whenever I cook, it brings back all my memories of cooking in the kitchen with her.”
Nicolas grew up with his grandparents on a farm, a farm filled with “wheat, corn, cows, sheep and rabbits”, he said. And amid memories of sweating over a woodfire stove, he can still taste one elusive dish that he hasn’t quite been able to recreate: a coffee cake made by his grandmother, who recently celebrated her 92nd birthday.
“It is just so damn delicious,” he said.
Unfortunately, you won’t find the coffee cake at Viking’s Table, but you can still look forward to and taste many more delectable dishes – and not just from Normandy, either. Over the course of the year, Nicolas has plans to introduce dishes from other regions in France to his table.
Here’s my interview with Nicolas. Bon appetit!
How would you describe your food at Viking’s Table?
The food that you’ll find at Viking’s Table is mostly country-familial cuisine as I have mostly been taught by my grandmother. The menu consists of six courses (appetizers, two starters, main, salad/cheese, and dessert).
To me, the flavours are the priority of what I am serving. I can’t say I am considered a fine dining place, but I try my best to make the plate appealing to the eyes, of course. The problem that I often notice with some French food in Singapore is that from one restaurant to another, the dishes are mostly the same. What I am trying to achieve here is to present dishes that you can’t find on the island.
Besides the food, what can diners expect from the experience of dining at your home?
I consider myself lucky to live in the “perfect” house for this experience. Being in a shophouse, I’ve created an ideal ambiance that keeps the space liveable for the rest of the time. The main feature you are facing when entering the house is the bar! (Unfortunately, not for guests’ use, but purely decor). The table is set up with a “country-chic” vibe with a chequered tablecloth, linen mats, napkins, a rustic candle holder, and flowers.
I am collecting art, so you can see different pieces all over the house – including paintings, posters, sculptures, and hand-crafted pieces – which I’m happy to talk to guests about after dinner. Usually, when guests arrive, they can take a walk in the bar/dining area and living room, and even the kitchen.
During dinner, each course is introduced with some detail about where it’s from and its inspiration. The dinner usually lasts about three hours, and at the end, I always sit down with the guests and share a drink with them, and chit-chat for a while. I really want them to feel like they’re having dinner at a friend’s place.
How often does your menu change? What’s next?
The concept of Viking’s Table is to tour the different regions of France through food. I am changing the menu every three months. The current one “Normandy #2” will finish at the end of March. I am thinking “Provence” will likely be the inspiration for the next menu. Often, I’ll return to a region because I feel it is difficult to cover all the good food of one particular area in one meal.
Is it difficult to make a booking? How soon in advance should diners book if they want to come and try your food? Is your place hard to find?
For now, I’ve opened up bookings to Thursdays and Fridays – as of now, the earliest Friday you can get would be end of June, and Thursday it’s around end of April. Cooking classes on Saturday is also around end April. The booking speed is really unpredictable. I have seen empty months being booked up within a few hours only. So the best advice is if you want to come, don’t wait, your slot might be taken quickly after you have thought about it.
Tell us a bit about your passion for cooking and what plans you have for Viking’s Table?
My passion for cooking came really at an early age. Those were the happy moments when I had the chance to spend time with my grandma and cooking with her as she passed on her culinary secrets to me. I have always been cooking ever since, hosting family and friends’ dinners.
I am always looking forward to the holiday dinners, the ones that you only get the chance to cook once a year (Christmas, Easter, CNY, Halloween, etc…) I usually take a few cooking classes in the different countries I travel to and learn about the spices, ingredients, and techniques. Things that I can apply and use later on.
Most of the time, when guests or friends are coming over for dinner and there are leftovers, they always take it home with them. Which is a compliment, of course. Seeing this, I wonder if I should eventually expand to takeaway orders, like a selection of dishes and sauces that you’d be able to order a few days in advance and get delivered to your doorstep.
I am currently working on this, as I’ve had many requests for some dishes as soon as I posted them on social media. On top of that, keeping the guests wanting to come back is a major thing, I really want them to feel welcome, well-fed, and happy. If they’re happy, then that’s my best satisfaction.
If you’re not able to make a booking but would still like to try a Nicolas Laville recipe, here’s his recipe for a traditional French quiche. You can also book cooking classes with him here.
Recipe for Traditional French Quiche
Ingredients: For a 6 pers, 8″ size
250 grs of shortcrust pastry (home-made is always better)
200 grs of bacon bits
200 grs of button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
100 grs of grated Emmental
200 ml of fresh cream
salt and pepper
1/ pre-heat your oven at 200*C, the grid should be in the middle
2/ roll up your pastry and cut it into a circle and lay the pastry onto the baking mold. Poke the bottom of the pastry with a fork. Lay some beans at the bottoms (red beans, dry peas, or even rice. This is to prevent the pastry to fluff up)
3/ Blind-cook the pastry for about 20 minutes (blind-cook is the method used here, meaning baking the pastry with nothing in, except the beans).
4/ Meanwhile, in a heated sauteed pan, throw the bacon bit and let the fat melt. Once the fat has melted, add the mushroom and cook all together until all liquids are evaporated.
5/ In a mixing bowl, mix together the eggs and the cream, add a bit of salt (remember, bacon bits are already salty), and pepper.
6/ Remove the bean from the baked pastry and layer the Emmental at the bottom. Spread the mix mushroom/ bacon and pour the mixed eggs/cream over.
7/ Put in the oven and bake for another 30/40 minutes, depending on the oven. I usually don’t look at the time but more at the colour. When the top is light/medium brown, then it’s ready.
Can be served hot/ or even cold with a green salad.
Want a taste of France with Nicolas? Reserve your seat today at Viking’s Table.
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