Bar-a-Thym, Gemmil Lane: French cuisine worth burning a hole in your pocket

Standing at 18 Gemmil Lane (taking over now-defunct WOLF’s – nose-to-tail dining restaurant) is Bar-A-Thym, a modern French and Mediterranean restaurant serving honest to good food and wine (oh their lovely bottles), worth burning a hole in your pocket.

And no, Bar-A-Thym is not a bar.

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Bar-A-Thym, is a play on the French word baratin [baʀatɛ̃], which means smooth talk or bullshit – a trait the glib-tongued Chef-Owner Francois Mermilliod takes pride in, hence the namesake.

The name Francois Mermilliod might sound kinda familiar to you because …. he’s a prominent figure in the food scene. The chef-owner has won culinary awards and worked at reputable French restaurants in the past, like Au Petit Salut and Absinthe.

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Bar-A-Thym maintains a sleek and modern outlook with dark furniture and structured dividers yet remaining playful and laid back with its quirky floors, industrial bar table, mermaid scale-like ceiling feature. Not forgetting the colourful wall murals.

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Unsurprisingly, Bar-a-thym’s seemingly antagonistic interior concept translates to its food as well. The chef strives to provide serious, quality french fare, with the freshest possible ingredients from sustainable and ethical suppliers, while conveying his free and fun soul through it – playing with flavour and texture.

Despite the food and design’s underlying idiosyncrasy, they fit right – just like a paradox.

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Bacalao Accras (S$15++) roughly translates to salted cod fritters. Bar-A-Thym’s rendition is a deep-fried breaded cured cod, fragrant and crispy.  The Nahm Jhim (Nam Jim/Nam Chim) sauce packs sweet, sour, bitter and spicy but could ease a little on the coriander and garlic, which slightly masks the fried cod.

Their bread, imported from France, was great. Not just because I adore bread but it was really so thoroughly enjoyable that I finished everything, rationing all 4 slices throughout my meal.

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One of Bar-A-Thym’s signature is the Mediterranean Sotong, Homemade Chorizo, Fregola Sarda,  (S$18++) a lovely sharing dish of grilled sotong with chorizo and peppers on top of a bed of fregola pasta balls in a buttery sauce.

The sotong’s texture was just right – soft yet ever so slightly chewy. It tasted naturally saccharine and fresh, seasoned with a dash of red pepper powder and a tad charred or ‘grill-flavoured’. The chorizo added a little spicy edge to the dish. Its texture was of the minced, crumbles-in-your-mouth variety.

Barely visible were small strips of red pepper, packed with deliciously sweet smokey juice. Of course not forgetting the chewy pearls of pasta as your source of carbs. Btw, note the pun pearls, because it kinda resembles bubble tea pearls.

Would I order it again? Yes, I liked it. The only issue was that it wasn’t hot upon serving but that should be pretty easy to manage.

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Chef Mermilliod introduced the Iberico Pork Jowl, Pea Tendrils, Pear Chutney,  (S$18++) as his version of Char Siew (because many of his friends and customers told him about the dishes’ uncanny similarity).  Another one of Bar-A-Thym’s signature.

And yes, it can totally pass off Char Siew’s sibling. The pork was roasted excellently, slightly charred outside but retaining its juice, tenderness and that characteristic pork essence.

The bed of Pea Tendrils were crunchy and bitter, tasting like the vegetables with mushrooms in the oyster sauce we always have at wedding dinners. Tiny chunks of pear chutney added the sweet factor to the dish bringing the entire dish to a balance of salty, bitter and sweet plus that dark smokey roasted flavour.

It could do with some more pear chutney though; they were too sparse. Loved this, I mean c’mon it’s a classy french interpretation of char siew, what’s there not to like?!

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When it comes to the Chilled Boston Lobster Ravioli, Fresh Guava, Lime Sabayon, Ikura,  (S$28) No friggin’ clue where the ravioli is so I assume the little translucent sheet is a representation of a ravioli skin. Odd interpretation aside, this was an appetising entrée that played with multiple light flavours.

The natural sweetness from the lobster meat, slight tartness from crunchy guava strips and a burst of oceanic fish flavour makes this pretty interesting. Very unique and definitely intriguing, it’s something worth the try but not one of my favourite.

So long contemporary ravioli.

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In the Alaskan King-Crab (S$32). juicy King Crab lined this tomato salsa-like Espelette pepper sauce that’s sweet and tangy. Little FYI, espelette peppers are from Basque region of France, from the village Espelette. Apparently, these peppers are like the lighter version of cayenne powder.

Hidden under the king crab are bits of uni. The angel hair pasta was drizzled in a crab stock sauce with ikura scattered about. A Japanese influenced dish that is sweet and briny, offering a taste of the ocean that’s thoroughly got my approval.

Grilled within a desirable window of doneness, the grilled pork had great texture and tenderness. The pork was marinated sufficiently, hence it tasted great even without the sweet wine sauce. Under the pork lies a bed of mashed potatoes that were not overly starchy or heavy.

An easy (to eat) and enjoyable dish, we pretty much wiped this plate clean. I wish I could tell you what exactly this dish is so you could perhaps try it for yourselves and I can go back for it again but…I have no idea what it is. I was just told it’s grilled pork, my apologies.

This being my first time having rabbit meat, I didn’t know what to expect with the Braised Rabbit Leg in Banyuls Wine, Black Figs and Kiplers Potatoes (S$38) so I was honestly a tad bit apprehensive. Thankfully, it didn’t smell or taste gamy and its meat kinda resembles chicken,  just more tender.

Bar-A-Thyme’s braised rabbit had a very light “feathery texture” (quoting my colleague) while the Banyul wine sauce was rich, dark and sweet – its taste contrasting with the lightness of the meat. Served with chunks of goldened kipler potatoes and a slice of black fig.

And of course, at a French place, you can’t leave (/live) without dessert!

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The consistency of the Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Mousse and fresh Mixed Berries (S$8) was more like a brownie than a sponge cake; a bit moist and compact. A layer of praline under the mousse gave the dessert more crunch, making this banal dessert a lil less boring.

Now I know a bit of praline goes a long way. Overall decent but not wow.

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The mousse was light, sweet and creamy. The agar strip tasted like natural raspberries while the sorbet brought tartness. The fresh lychee was a contrasting flavour from this raspberry orgy of a dessert.

Would I come back again? Definitely. I foresee myself coming back for a few of these dishes. Not to mention, they have a good selection of premium wine. Many people actually visit Bar-A-Thym just for the wine.

Also, Chef Mermilliod was warm and hospitable—a definite plus points to his expertise so I would honestly trust his decision to customize dinner. Take my money and have my belly at your mercy.

Expected Damage: $60 – $80 per pax

Bar-A-Thym: 18 Gemmill Lane, Singapore 069255 | Tel: 65572224 | Website