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New Lingo helps to ease crisis

THE quietly growing popularity of this four-month-old bistro speaks to the kitchen's efforts, in addition to the cost-conscious pricing. Although Lingo is the kind of place where you can order simply -- the menu is not particularly extensive - the wonderful interplay of flavors within and among what is on offer makes for a pleasurable dining experience.

The menu is sure to be a crowd-pleaser, with something recognizable for everyone. While dishes are mostly French-styled, some are also infused with slight Asian notes. What results is a meal where you get to sample something new, while not departing too far from what you are familiar with.

For a traditional French appetizer, try the leek tart (30 yuan/US$4.38). The pastry is thin and flaky, a perfect match for the savory, creamy leek sauce wrapped within its layers. According to Lingo's managing director Lionel Baudoux, who hails from Paris, his mother shared her recipe for making the French pastry with the chef when she came for a visit.

More French fusion food is on offer in the mains, such as the tuna steak (98 yuan) which is rolled in Szechuan black pepper before being pan fried and served with a yoghurt wasabi sauce.

The chef skillfully grasps the nuances of excess: the distinctive fiery taste of wasabi hits a peak, but tapers off without burning. The spiciness is powerful enough to enjoy, yet doesn't overpower the senses, making it suitable for both lovers of spicy and non-spicy food.

The most expensive main on the dinner menu is the French style poulard at 105 yuan, but the price is completely justified by the taste. Chicken slices are topped off with creamy foie gras sauce and black truffles, served with rice and fresh salad. The sauce is a delightful amalgamation of flavors, yet surprisingly light. Like the tuna steak, it is a perfect blend of both Eastern and Western flavors and ingredients.

Dessert is a decadent finish to the meal. The chocolate fondant cake (30 yuan) is fluffy and bittersweet, with the warm, oozing chocolate lava inside a perfect complement. A sure bet for satisfaction is the French apple tarte tatin (30 yuan), an upside-down apple tart in which the apple slices are caramelized in butter and sugar before baking. Served with cream, the richness of the apple pastry is balanced out with the light sweet taste of the cream.

The biggest draw of Lingo is its wine. Most labels go for 100 yuan, although if you ask, there are three more brands for 200 yuan, 300 yuan and 400 yuan. Don't let the pocket-friendly price make you doubt the quality of the products though, which come from various parts of the world like France, Australia and Italy. The house wine, Lamany Merlot, only available at Lingo, gets cheaper as you buy more bottles.

Just like the food, the look of the restaurant is on the polished side of homely. The decor, worked on by Japanese designers, has a neutrality that allows diners to enjoy a meal without the feeling of being thrust into a fully Asian or Western restaurant. This is the result of the use of nicely buffed wood, the subtle color palette of grey, green and brown, and the clever use of materials, like stone tiles for the bar counter to create a raw, industrial feel.

In the main dining area, a cluster of incandescent light bulbs hangs over the well spaced tables, while miniature ceiling frames are suspended over other seating areas. The ceiling ornaments appear to have been placed in an almost haphazard manner, but the result is a cohesive and comfortable look.

To complete the theme, the lighting is warm and casts a honeyed glow, maintaining a relaxed, unfussy feel. Here, the sum is certainly greater than all of its parts - the individual elements work to create an ambience where diners can take a breather from frazzled work lives.

Baudoux jokingly calls Lingo "the solution for the crisis" and dining there is certainly affordable and satisfying. Portions are generous, and the high quality of the food is consistent.

What you get then, is fine dining minus the stiff-necked, snobbish ambition and excessive prices to match.


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