Casual French dining, cheeses and lifestyle products all in one place
The hype: Merci Marcel presents itself as a unique lifestyle concept—one that combines relaxed French social dining with an independent boutique of products. From the people behind O Comptoir and O Batignolles, the cafe-restaurant refreshes the all-day dining experience with retail shelves on both sides of the cafe—stocking gourmet food, fine drinks, art and lifestyle products—as well as a bar as the anchoring fixture.
The vibe: Relaxed, with a dash of calculated elegance. Located right next to Tiong Bahru Bakery, the restaurant interprets the standard shophouse setup in a fresh way that’s more evocative of modern New York cafes than a French bistro. The 1,450-sq ft space is divided primarily into the main indoor dining area and a garden patio, of which the latter, lit by natural sunlight, makes a delightfully cosy sanctuary for intimate catch-ups or casual meals. Inside, a citrus-toned palette, mosaic tiling and lush, leafy greenery fill the room with light; while artwork from local and international artists complete the overall aesthetic—one artsy folk will surely appreciate.
The food: No baguettes here, but you do get fresh bread on the house, best paired with one of their cheese platters, which curates authentic French cheeses sourced by the owners themselves and flown in from France. In the three soft cheeses platter (Truffle Brillat Savarin, Camembert, Morbier extra mature, $26), the truffle cheese emerged a firm favorite amongst all present; you can even buy it home for $17 from the retail cooler next to your table.
Merci Marcel is certainly more popular as a brunch destination, but a tapas-style dinner menu ensures the French social dining concept carries into the night as well. To start proper, get the Duck Rillettes ($18)—a silky paste of duck meat served with melted camembert cheese and marinated pear on bread. Our personal pick though: the Ravioles de Royans ($18), dumpling pasta that’s a French specialty of the Dauphine region in the Rhone Alpes, here mixed with Switzerland Tete de Moine cheese; which essentially translates to a creamy, cheesy bowl of pasta you can’t keep your fork away from.
For mains, the black pepper tuna ($25) with yuzu and soy vinaigrette is a treat to try. Pan-seared tuna steak is wrapped in black pepper, seasoned with olive oil, and garnished with wasabi salt for a flavorful kick to regular tuna. The texture on the black peppered edges could be a little softer, but the intricate seasoning makes up for it.
The pork tenderloin ($24), with caramelized onions and ginger, is nothing to shout about, but decently tender. Both the pork and the tuna taste distinctively Asian, which certainly stands out against the classically French flavors of the starters. It makes for a different, almost fusion-esque presentation of the overall menu.
If you’re here for dinner, you’ll want to leave room for dessert. There’s the moist and rich chocolate cake ($10) that resembles a flourless cake in looks, but tastes like a dense and heavenly top-notch brownie. On the other end of the spectrum is the creme brulee ($9), which updates the classic French dessert with a tart passionfruit top layer. Something sweet and something (pretty damn) sour; perfect for if you’re coming in a group with picky eaters.
The drinks: Perhaps the best part about dining in a place that’s committed to maintaining a retail aspect is the variety of F&B products available—sourced both for in-cafe dining and takeaway. Merci Marcel’s beverage list is truly extensive, ranging from imported French wines, ciders and beers, to exclusive 100% organic iced teas from Parisian brand Uma, to locally roasted coffee by Tiong Hoe Specialty Coffee. The Uma Green Tea ($9) with basil and yuzu is perfect for light sipping throughout your meal—whether it’s the milky cheeses or heavier meat dishes. Or shake things up with a spirit from the cocktail list ($18-$22), curated in collaboration with La Maison du Whisky.
Why you’ll be back: To bring home some more of that French cheese, period. Tiong Bahru’s newest eatery doubles as a charmingly designed French grocer for quick gourmet food runs (there’re also jams and chocolates) that just might entice you to stay for a meal after all.