In 1994, Les Amis opened in Singapore’s Orchard Road shopping district – one of the few full-service French restaurants in a city famous for its street food. Over the years it developed a reputation as one of the best fine-dining destinations in town. However, when I last visited at the height of the recession, the cooking seemed tired and clichéd, with extravagant dishes that hailed from the mid-90s, drenched in overwhelmingly rich sauces. However, Sebastien Lepinoy took over as head chef a few years ago and oversaw a dramatic change in the kitchen. Lunch menu prices became much more affordable, while the cooking took an ambitious turn. This year, Les Amis was awarded three stars by Michelin, one of only two restaurants in Singapore to receive the Red Guide’s highest accolade.
The main dining room of Les Amis is welcoming and refreshing, with an abundance of natural light. Yet it is still classically appointed. Glittering chandeliers hang from the high ceilings, the carpet is as thick as the ones you find in a Rolls Royce, and the furnishings are made from dark mahogany and teak. This is no Sketch – Lecture Room and Library, with its globe lamps and mercury yellow walls designed for the generation that eats with their phones.
The four-course lunch, which runs on every day of the week, allows one to select from the à la carte menu for tremendously good value. Before the meal began, the waiters brought in a selection of nibbles. Gougères with Comté were delicate with just the right amount of air, while a fish tartare tartlet was good, albeit reminiscent of camping trip canned tuna. The rich matsutake mushroom velouté that followed saved the day, accompanied by the best mini-croissant I’ve eaten east of Suez. The wine list had some gems, if one looks past the DRC and First Growths, and we found an aromatic and fruity Vacqueyras to have with our mains. A variety of bread was offered, all of which were baked in-house. There was cornbread to rival the soul food restaurants in the United States, crunchy mini-baguettes, bacon-infused white bread and even edible sourdough. Most impressively, our waiter took the bread back to be warmed every time a refill was offered.
All the dishes that followed were modern and accomplished. My cold starter was a dish of mussels en mouclade served on a bed of rock salt. Each mussel was sweet and juicy. My only complaint was that the sauce was a tad too rich, overpowering the flavour of the mussels. A slice of roasted foie gras in lentil velouté was more delicious than expected. I thought the lentil soup would be too overwhelming to be paired with foie gras, but it only accentuated the flavours of the liver. The main course was a tête-de-veau, a classic dish of ox tongue wrapped in calf’s head served with 1cm cubes of vegetables arranged in an alchemist’s transfiguration circle. This came with sweet roasted and glazed wild carrots I thought impossible to find in this part of the world – a testament to Les Amis’s impressive ingredient sourcing.
Lepinoy has been hard at work, pushing boundaries with ingredient sourcing and cooking, while maintaining classical French techniques
Dessert could only be described as the best baba au rhum in the world. It was an elaborate performance, not just stale bread with whipped cream doused with Tesco’s own brand rum. First, an array of Martinique rums were wheeled in on a cart. This was not for pouring onto the baba, but for tasting, as the chef wanted to highlight the craft rums made only with freshly squeezed sugar cane juice, instead of molasses. I tried a special white rum from Neisson and a bourbon barrel aged HSE. When the baba arrived, I was surprised at how light and fluffy it was, before it was topped with rich Chantilly cream and doused with HSE rum. If only they sold the rum baba from a stand on the corner of the street, queues would extend round the block and spill onto Orchard Road.
The meal I had at Les Amis thoroughly justified its stars and its reputation. Chef Lepinoy has been hard at work, pushing boundaries with ingredient sourcing and cooking, while maintaining classical French techniques. Even after the dessert, the maître d’ wheeled over a pear tart, the petit fours, and presented us with souvenir coconut cakes to take home. There are many new openings in Singapore’s competitive restaurant scene, with the likes of Bjorn Frantzen, Alain Ducasse and Anne-Sophie Pic all opening outposts here (stay tuned for reviews!), but this local stalwart will continue to reign supreme.
1 Scotts Road
by J Khou