My gorgeous coast-dwelling friend, Blossom, is heading overseas for a while so we both agreed a last minute catch up was in order. I was a bit at a loss over where to go for this lunch meeting. I've recently decided that restaurants are a lot like clothing. You can have many that you want to try but when there's a specific occasion, nothing seems suitable. I wanted somewhere that had light food for me and Blossom but also some heartier offerings for the boys. I ended up going for Libertine, which wasn't originally on my go-to list of restaurants but seemed to fit the criteria better than any others.
Libertine is a 'Vietnamese plus' restaurant located at The Barracks, top of Caxton Street. When I say 'Vietnamese plus', I mean that it started life as a French Vietnamese restaurant but now has elements of Japanese and Chinese on the menu, so it's just generally a fusion of East and West. I don't usually see that as a promising sign. Restaurants with 'confused' menus are a pet hate of mine and often come end up being tryhard trendy or just plain crap. In my opinion, pan-cuisine belongs in a foodcourt and if any restaurant wants to try it, they need to pull it off well or it's just embarrasing.
I seem to say this every time Marc and I try to find a new restaurant but once again, we got lost and were late. This time, it was extrememly frustrating because we only had a short distance to walk but ended up misdirected to a very pedestrian unfriendly region of Coro drive where there was no way to cross without ending up as meat jam on the road. The only way across was around so we basically did a huge loop to get to where we needed to be.
Blossom and Matt were already seated when we arrived. Apparently they got there not too much earlier (although that could have been said for my benefit to reduce our guilt) and sat at a random table that turned out to be the table that I'd booked.
Libertine has indoor seating and plenty of tables outside too, which is where we sat. I'd seen photos of the interior through their website and Blossom confirmed that their decor was very nice. I didn't step foot inside though (I'd done enough walking for one day to bother to get up) so I couldn't say for myself but the photos online do look stylish.
Our waitress was very talkative and went a long way in explaining their cuisine and recommending dishes. It was a bit too much information for my liking; I'm usually content with reading the menu myself and asking for recommendations when I'm unsure, but I suppose some people like that degree of guidance.
The menu is comprised of share dishes, either small entree-sized or larger, main-sized. There are sides too but we skipped those.
We ended up getting some rice paper rolls and duck crepes to start with and the lamb shanks and pork belly for mains. I was thinking about getting a drink but although the cocktails sounded nice, It was too early in the day for it. Marc contemplated a beer but he passsed because they were exorbitantly priced (he calls it 'Singapore pricing' because restaurant alcohol in Singapore is taxed so much that it really gives you incentive to have predrinks at home).
Libertine fresh rice paper rolls - with cured salmon and mushroom soy ponzu
The salmon rice paper rolls were the first to arrive. Although they look plump and cute, I found them boring. The filling is a whole lotta rice noodle and maybe one sliver of salmon. When I pointed out this critisism to Marc, he sounded surprised so it could just be me. When I DIY rice paper rolls, I leave out the rice noodles because I just find them so pointless.
Honey and 5 spice BBQ duck crepes - with tumeric, coriander and herb salad
We decided to order 2 duck crepes for our table of 4. They were tiny, just enough for 2 bites so it was a couple-bonding activity trying to share these. What the crepes lacked in size, they made up for in flavor. I thought they were delicious! I suppose this is meant to be a Peking duck crepe-inspired dish and although there was no crispy skin (which is the most important feature of Peking duck), they still tasted awesome. Forget couple-bonding. I wanted one to myself.
Lamb shanks - with tumeric ratte potato, baby spinach and cinnamon jus
We waited a bit longer for the mains. Originally, Blossom and I were keen on the confit duck marylands but our waitress was so adament that the lamb shanks were the best that we swayed and ordered those instead. Matt stressed "are they tender? Is the meat falling off the bone?", to which she promised "yes". I thought she just said "yes" to convince us but when we did the spoon test on the meat (does it come away with a spoon), it did indeed fall off the bone. The lamb was a huge serve too, which was great for the boys. I found the meat incredibly tender but with no distinguishable flavor aside from lambiness. I love lamb so that's no issue for me but I guess it's strange when usually lamb is seasoned with something to compliment, be it rosemary or Moroccan spices etc. What really impressed me were the little potato rounds that sat underneathe the meat. They were so smooth and buttery. I want to say they had a soapy consistency but that sounds disgusting so just erase that description from your mind. Marc didn't rate to potatoes no I officially now think he's crazy. He can stick to boring rice noodle filled rolls. More buttery potatoes for me.
Byron Bay pork belly - with coconut and sweet potato caramel
Our other main was the pork belly. In terms of serving size, it was much smaller than the lamb. The pork ticked some boxes: it has crispy skin and the coconut and sweet potato dressing was delicious (I almost didn't try any because the dressing was pooled at the bottom of the dish, but Matt complimented it so I had a spoonful and agreed). The meat itself was on the dry side though and I thought it was more of a salad or entree than a main.
I have mixed feelings about Libertine. I think the restaurant is gorgeous and would be great for a private function (especially at night when utilize the cocktail menu). The food was hit and miss for me and in terms of overall impression, the restaurant didn't wow us. Our waitress was over-friendly to the point of intrusive at times (and at other times, she seemed gruff, throwing cutlery onto our table because we asked for knives to cut our lamb with). It's hard for me to say because some of the dishes were quite nice but nowadays, I'm eating out so much that I ask myself the overriding question of "would I go back" and here, the answer is unfortunately, no.