I grew up in Manhattan in the 1970s and early 1980s (the second half of that decade was sadly spent in Washington DC). Back then, for my family and for many our our peers, the ultimate up-market dining experience was a visit to one of New York’s top French restaurants. While we, as a family, did eat out fairly frequently, dining in a restaurant along the likes of Le Perigord or La Cote Basque was something really special, and for us kids, we would have had to have done something truly extraordinary to have warranted such an expensive treat. Visiting one of these restaurants also meant dressing up. It was made expressly clear that in order to set foot into such restaurants my brother and I had to look proper and behave even better, or that visit would be our last. As a kid, I dreamed of dining at such legendary establishments as The Quilted Giraffe (and never did) and Lutece (finally did, just once, to celebrate the 21st birthday of one of my best friends in college). Because of this, classic French gastronomy has a special place in my very greedy heart. Couple wonderful food with a great room and elegant service, and I feel like a kid again… a kid being given that super rare and super special treat.


The only restaurant in Singapore that makes me feel this way is Les Amis — partly because I was a kid (or really a yong punk) the first few times I did eat there. Les Amis is 24 years old, would would have made me an obnoxious 22 year old when Justin Quek, Ignatius Chan and their partners first opened this now iconic French restaurant. Today, with Chef Sebastien Lepinoy and Chef Cheryl Koh overseeing the savoury and sweet kitchens respectively, I can honestly say that in my opinion the food is the best it has ever been (since the days of Justin). The exquisite food is complimented smartly by one of the best front of house crews on the island. The service at Les Amis is simply perfect, combining warmth, elegance, charm and passion.


I’ve been a fan of Chef Lepinoy for many years. I first ate his food when he was running the kitchens at L’Atelier de Robuchon in Hong Kong. He left Robuchon to run Cepage, Les Amis’ Hong Kong sister restaurant. When he finally moved here, I was thrilled. This year marks the fifth anniversary of Chefs Lepinoy and Koh at Les Amis. And in that time, Sebastien has demonstrated that there is still very much a place in the gastronomic world for classic French technique. And maybe because I’ve aged considerably (and also had the great fortune of eating widely throughout my life), but these days I find that I enjoy this almost old-fashioned cuisine much more than trendier, more modern, often deconstructed, philosophy-imbued alternatives. I mean, sometimes you want to tell a young chef to stop trying to impress customers through the number of microgreens s/he can tweeze onto a plate and instead just cook something simple, identifiable and delicious.


The wife and I haven’t really eaten out that much since we had T3, who is now 6 months old. When Su-Lyn does go out at night, it’s most often for work. So, we were really excited to take a night off from family life and enjoy a luxurious and pampered evening at Les Amis recently. Chef had designed a seven course menu, with two additional and rather substantial amuses, plus a tasty little pre-dessert. The first was a really incredible tomato tart (two pictures up), followed by a gorgeous cepe veloute, covered in white Alba truffle shavings, served with the yummiest little bacon croissant (seriously, I would be happy to have a half a dozen of those every morning for breakfast for the rest of my life). The white truffle (three pictures up) which was shaved had been deviously placed on our table the whole evening. It was the ultimate, decadent temptation cum table decoration for foodies such as my wife and me.


The first proper dish was simply astounding. Chef Lepinoy is quite obsessed with showcasing only the very best seasonal French produce. This dish of slow roasted Erquy scallops, served in a sauce made Autumn herbs and other aromatics, simply reminded me of two things: one, just how good seasonal seafood should be, and two, why I hold classic French sauce-making in such high regard.


Loctudy langoustine, just barely cooked and wrapped in courgette, was up next. This was sauced with an emulsion of Provencal olive oil and topped with some beautifully subtle golden caviar from Kaviari (which our server had let us taste separately before the dish was served). Again, I was blown away. Let me put it this way. I consider myself a decent cook. I don’t think I could ever, in my lifetime, come close to producing a dish as amazing as this langoustine (or the scallops before it). The dish looks rather simple but, man, you need some serious skills to be able to serve up something so beautiful.



This next dish was an enormous indulgence: roasted foie gras from Vendee, served with a medley of Autumn fruits. I was very worried this would be too rich, but it was gorgeously delicate. Chef Lepinoy also plated it with a bright, acidic and savoury sauce that balanced out the richness of the roasted liver.


Up next were more truffles! The dish was actually quite simple, a bowl of expertly seared potato gnocchi. Over this, our very genial server shaved a generous blanket of truffle. The aromas of this dish were simply intoxicating.


Fish was next. Chef prepared a gorgeous tranche of line-caught sea bass from Saint Gilles-Croix-De-Vie. This is a meaty, tasty sea bass, which was served with sauce made with a red wine verjus and seasonal Muscat grapes. The fish was very flavourful (borderline “fishy” my wife commented), which I really liked, and worked gorgeously with the acidic sauce and the very sweet grapes.


The meat course was Challans duck. It’s funny because both Su-Lyn and I have different memories associated with Challans duck. Top of mind for her is learning about this meat from Chef Justin Quek, whose cookbook she authored. For me, I remember another chef (whose book I worked on). He had complained bitterly to me that Singaporeans didn’t understand why the French love Challans duck and whenever he served it, customers would complain that it was too chewy. “Singaporeans don’t like to chew!” I remember him yelling. Curiously, and in contrast, Chef Lepinoy’s Challans duck breast was actually very tender. It was served slow-roasted and paired with turnips, roasted pear, and some gorgeous buttered carrots (not pictured; they were in a separate dish).


The cheese trolley was up next, which I actually skipped out on. I wanted to save room for dessert. My wife, however, refused to let all of Assistant Manager Manoj Sharma’s hard work go to waste. He’s in charge of the fromage… which I guess makes him their Cheese Master, not that I would call Manoj that to his face… I still want to be let back into the restaurant :p All of the cheeses are, as you might expect, French. And almost all made by very small artisanal houses. I can attest they are very good because, while eating them, Su-Lyn kept making pleasurable little grunts, an indication of deliciousness that she’s amusingly been guilty of as long as I’ve known her.


Dessert is Cheryl Koh’s domain, and anyone who has ever had one of her beautiful desserts or tarts knows she’s one of the best in the business. Our pre-dessert was a cute coffee Religieuse, which is essentially two cream-filled choux puffs, one larger than the other, stacked together like a snowman. The name actually means “nun” and is supposed to look like old-style papal headgear. But enough random culinary trivia.

To cap off an outstanding meal, Cheryl prepared hazelnut souffles paired with dark chocolate sorbet. It takes a confident chef to fashion different aspects of any dish that might not be palatable separately but when tasted together, achieve brilliance. I felt this way when I tasted Cheryl’s sorbet. While Su-Lyn liked it, I found it very bitter and rich. But then I added it into the souffle and tasted it again, with the souffle itself. It was perfect… just the right balance of bitter and sweet, and hot and cold. What I also loved was that this was a real dessert. It wasn’t a bunch of funny little bits and bobs thrown together on a plate and called a deconstructed thingamabob. For me, it was the kind of dessert that evoked memories of childhood indulgences while also impressing me with it’s maker’s skill and palate.

I know I’m gushing. And if this post is too saccharine for you, I do apologise. But we really did have a pretty phenomenal meal (and as I mentioned up top, we don’t actually get out that often). For me, Les Amis is unique, a bit of a unicorn in the current gastronomic landscape. Instead of trying to create and patent hokey new culinary philosophies, Chef is simply sourcing the best produce he can find, and using proven techniques to make what he believes are the most beautiful and delicious presentations of these ingredients possible. He’s not using his food to make statements on society nor is he over-indulging any obsessions with one specific technique. He has his customer top of mind at all times. And I appreciate that so very much. I appreciate that I can taste the complexity and care in every single sauce. I really appreciate that I taste these sauces and go, “damn, I wish I could do that”. I appreciate that every single bite of every dish is delicious and that I don’t need anyone to tell me what anything is. I appreciate that the food is in the centre of the plate and not all pushed to one side nor resting on the lip of a bowl. I appreciate that showmanship is kept to classic tropes: trolleys, synchronised opening of cloches, shaving of truffles, and saucing at the table. I appreciate that food that is supposed to be served warm, actually is.

And I absolutely love that the whole experience feels, for lack of a better word, grown-up.

Les Amis is also quite special to Su-Lyn and me. On our first date, I cooked for her. On our second, she chose a now-closed Hainanese-Western coffee shop for us to visit. While we had fun there, I insisted we go somewhere else for dessert, and I wouldn’t tell her where until we had arrived. I took her to Les Amis for souffles.

Les Amis is, let’s be very honest, an indulgence. And an expensive one at that. But it’s one that I think is very much worth saving up for.

Les Amis
1 Scotts Road
#01-16, Shaw Centre
Singapore 228208
+65 6733 2225

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his three kids!

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15 October 2018

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