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Bu Pun Su

Les Amis, Singapore

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Les Amis is a name which Singaporean old school fine dining lovers should be familiar with. This legendary institution has been existing for 20 years – a unique feat given how tough gastronomy competition is in the island (Guy Savoy and Kunio Tokuoka could not even last 2-3 years). My first meal here could be traced way back in 2006 when Gunther Hubrechsen was still acting as Chef de Cuisine. Ever since, I’ve been dining here in 3 other separate occasions, 2 of them was a treat from good friends. For my latest visit earlier this month, I felt obliged to (finally) write a review and share some pictures about my meal at Les Amis. Actually, I have not been here for nearly two years. A new but capable chef (Sebastien Lepinoy, a former leading chef of l’atelier Robuchon HK) and ‘cheaper’ tasting menu, especially during the black truffle season, managed to persuade me to re-visit this prominent restaurant, located at the Shaw centre.

The meal began with an offering of several different kinds of bread and butter. My favorite bread was ham & mustard; the rests (orange brioche, mini baguette and sour dough) are ok. I could not recall I was offered more than 5 types of Bordier butter (among them were seaweed, spicy and vanilla ‘flavor’) during my previous visit; I tasted salted and lemon olive oil butter. Les Amis served 3 tasting menu for dinner and I picked Degustation menu – the one in which the dishes having the most Tuber melanosporum on them. In total there were 7 courses; it’s funny that somehow I loved the items served at “even” number – meaning my favorite dishes were the 2nd, 4th and 6th ones. What were they?

2nd: pan seared Hokkaido scallop, prepared until brown on the exterior and slightly raw in the middle, was sweet, tender and delicious. The earthy black truffle brought pleasant aroma and the caviar added some briny element. The “clear sauce” (probably from the scallop’s juice and seaweed butter) below was tasty

4th: onion tart with black truffle and quail egg was Lepinoy’s re-interpretation of his teacher’s famous dish. It did not disappoint at all – the onion with its thin crust was balanced & flavorful; the pungent ‘black diamond’ was very good while the egg white of the quail was creamy and a bit salty. Though not as perfect as the one I had at Robuchon, it’s still a good and interesting dish

6th: Osaka beef cooked medium and perfectly prepared was simply marbled, juicy and pleasantly rich. I could easily ate lots of this tenderloin by itself even without the shaved truffle. On the sides, I quite enjoyed many kinds of vegetables prepared by the kitchen: green+white asparagus, carrot, spinach and daikon.

The rest of the dishes were also fine but not quite at the level of the 3 things I savored above. In fact, some of them could be considered very luxurious. For instance,

1st: salmon tartar with generous serving of Caviar on top from Kaviari Paris (using a little amount of additional salt). The caviar was among the finest quality I’ve ever had in Singapore. The salmon tartar was alright – fresh and not too rich. Again, I had to admit that it was not as versatile as the one I ate at Robuchon (RWS)

3rd: slow cooked Boston lobster covered with thin “pasta” was tender & quite tasty; it went well with the ‘wine sauce’ (Chateau Chalon). A small amout of caviar had little impact but acted nice as a decoration. This dish also came with a few dice of carrot and zucchini.

Before the beef main course, I was served an intermezzo – a silky daikon soup, a Japanese inspired dish that turned out to be decent. The soup looked thick but it tasted light and smooth – it worked well with bread too. It’s a comforting dish especially when the outside temperature was 20 C or below (certainly it’s not happening in Singapore)

Then come the desserts created by a talented and experienced local pastry chef, Ms. Cheryl Koh. Apparently, the sweet of the night was Millefeuille with vanila cream and strawberry sorbet. The sorbet was weak and rather meaningless. The napoleon was actually nice – the most outstanding available in Singapore. But then, it could be better - the fragrant puff pastry was too thick and the pastry cream was too little, so it’s not that balanced. The Robuchon’s version I tried in Macau was better with more generous chantily cream and lighter texture. Please click here for the picture: https://picasaweb.google.com/118237905546308956881/RobuchonAuDomeMacauChina#5882313267400828610

My idea of perfect millefeuille is this (by Alain Passard): http://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/3278004649/in/set-72157613780071045

After that, the kitchen provided ‘chou’ with hazelnut cream. It was big and looked appetizing but not in anyway better than the millefeuille.

I skipped the wine pairing option and went along with 3 glasses of wine. The opening aperitif was a glass of champagne as expected. It’s 2002 Bruno paillard that went well with some caviar items, my favorite alcohol for the meal – fresh, creamy, good texture and harmonious with mineral finish. The 2nd glass was a 2011 Muller-scharzhof riesling – easy to drink but focused; mainly to accompany the onion tart with truffle dish. Lastly, a glass of 2012 Matchbox wine Clare valley syrah for the main course – not too sweet, slightly thick and in medium bodied palate. It would be better to drink this wine 2-3 years later when it’s more matured.

The dining room had a comfortably high ceiling with a bit formal atmosphere by the island standard. Less than half of the seats were filled; there were 2-3 groups of regulars in the evening. I was not too familiar with the staffs – the Japanese sommelier had left, the 2 Chinese big dudes were no longer there. It could be the reason why the waiter was not too attentive to me – I had to waive my hands a few times when I needed something despite a slow night. The waiters liked talking among themselves near the kitchen door. The most decent hospitality delivered by the sommelier. Of course, they’re friendly when they (finally) approached me.

This dinner was the most satisfying one I’ve ever had at this restaurant particularly the food; my meal scored 93/100. In my notes, it’s about the same level as Amber HK and slightly above Jaan under Royer. The recent 4-star award bestowed to Les Amis by Forbes travel guide is well deserving. Please check the following link for the pictures, http://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/sets/72157641127008974/with/12593881444/

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The name Les Amis among foodies in Singapore (and those who’re familiar with the island’s dining scene) is identical with an old and respectable fine dining institution. Desmond Lim, with a few capable friends such as Justin Quek and Ignatius Chan, started it as a ‘lone’ gastronomy restaurant more than 20 years ago – a period when haute cuisine was not common in Singapore. Now, Les Amis group have grown as regional dining empire. Yet, the flagship Les Amis still stands tall, if not stronger than ever.

 

Since the time when Chef Gunther was Les Amis’ executive chef, roughly I have been coming here for lunch or dinner roughly every 2-3 years. The last one took place in Nov ’16; this was also the 2nd time (if not mistaken) I ate in which Chef Sebastien Lepinoy leading the kitchen. Lepinoy was very particular about outsourcing his ingredients; he wanted the best produce (from Europe mostly) and has had a good relationship with elite supplier from his native country, France including the access to Le Ponclet butter. Some of the highlights of my degustation menu that evening were:

 

-Pan seared of Erquy (Brittany) scallop was of high quality, plump and perfectly executed – the chef managed to keep its sublime texture and flavor. It was served with juicy clams, balanced scallion sauce and briny caviar. A very good dish

-I also liked the Roasted Sea bass: tasty, meaty yet rather delicate; served with baby leeks, sweet muscat grapes and versatile sauce. The verjus du perigord sauce was mildly acidic and fruity. It worked well with the fish and its side dishes. A well prepared French cuisine

-Eating a decent game dish in Singapore was a rare opportunity. Firstly, Asians usually were not too keen on the “hunting animal’s” smell, and then AVA was very strict about importing it. I was surprised and pleased when I saw Chef Lepinoy served game pie in the menu.

It was a small one containing (chopped) foie gras, pheasant and served with its jus. The tourte was crisp and buttery with intense flavors of the duck liver and the bird’s meat. It was alright until I ate them together with sipping a red Burgundy (Puligny-Montrachet ‘07); the pairing was excellent. The wine cut through some ‘fat’ and enhanced the dish overall flavor

 

-The main course was a tender and flavorful Aubrac veal tenderloin, served with mashed potatoes and caramelized onion.

-Cheryl Koh was a creative and talented head pastry chef of Les Amis. Her desserts were consistently good and tasty but somehow I’ve never overblown by them. For the evening, I quite enjoyed the poached Williams pear – beautifully arranged. Inside the pear, there were caramel custard and thin biscuits

 

The rests of the dishes (not mentioned here) were also solid and pleasant in general, but not as good as the ones described above. You can see those dishes at the link below. Similar to my meals here in early 2014, I find the food to be well executed, rather conventional, and tasty by using top products. However, I hardly experienced “wow” / memorable dishes that made me long to return here more often. Anyway, consistent with my previous dinner, this meal was at 2 ¼* level. Thus, I think the Michelin 2-star was justified but I’m not sure if it could go to the 3rd one anytime soon – certainly not in my notes

 

I almost forgot to mention that Les Amis underwent major renovation a few years ago, especially a big ‘face lift’ at the kitchen: the customized Charvet island made the kitchen safer and more efficient (a very not-so-elaborate explanation). The dining room could fit in more people, thanks to the additional and bigger private rooms. The main dining room takes advantage of the high ceiling and well-spaced tables arrangement. The service has always been professional and amiable though sometimes mechanical when explaining the dishes especially when done by ‘junior’ staffs

 

Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157680875546676/with/32826562550/

 

 

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