Friday 6 May 2011

Les Amis

** Les Amis was awarded 2 Michelin Stars in 2016

Les Amis is a French restaurant in Singapore, which serves contemporary European cuisine by Austrian Chef Armin Leitgeb.

Before you give it any thought, it is natural to assume that the best French restaurants are found primarily in France. However, with restaurants such as Per Se, The French Laundry, Daniel, Guy Savoy and Le Bernardin in the USA; Le Gavroche, Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, Alain Ducasse and The Waterside in the UK; not to mention the various restaurants that the likes of Pierre Gagnaire and Joël Robuchon have dotted around the globe, you soon fathom that fabulous French food can be found worldwide.

Whilst in Singapore, we dined in three excellent French establishments. Gunther’s Modern French Cuisine, Cocotte and Les Amis. Les Amis is certainly the most celebrated of the bunch. Established in 1994, it has won numerous awards for both its food and for the S$5 million wine collection it houses.

When we made our lunch booking, Les Amis was listed as 78th Best Restaurant in the World in the The S.Pellegrino World's Best Restaurants list. The 2011 list came out the day before our reservation and we eagerly waited to see if there would be any change to its position. Much to our delight, a climb of twenty-three places now ranked the restaurant the world’s 55th best!

“Well, was it the 55th best in the world?” was the first thing that my stepson asked as we met him outside after our meal. As I haven’t (yet) dined in all the top 54, I can’t give a definitive answer. However, I have dined in six of the top 100 (and I am booked into another three next month) as well as a number of Michelin starred restaurants that are not in the list, so I can certainly offer my opinion based on these experiences.

It would be unfair to compare Les Amis to The Fat Duck, WD-50, Momofuku Ko or Ssam Bar, which present enormously different dining encounters. So, for me, I would say Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester is better but Les Amis is on par with Jean Georges in NYC, both of which have three Michelin Stars.

The little touches always enhance a dining experience and add to the feeling of occasion. We were greeted warmly and shown to our table, which was adorned with the finest crisp white linens; French porcelain; elegant glassware and beautiful fresh flowers. My wife loved the stool for her handbag, a thoughtful alternative to the hook. A smoked salmon amuse bouche soon arrived – simple, and you could argue a little unimaginative, yet very delicious. A selection of breads soon followed along with a choice of butters, which is always a bonus. The mustard butter was unexpected and was really quite heavenly.  I have recently started making my own butters and this has certainly inspired me to experiment with and diversify my flavourings. The black olive sourdough was the best olive bread I have ever tasted; the superbly high quality moist and fruity olives packed a delightfully rounded bitter olivey kick. (My dad owns an olive grove in Spain – I know my olives!)

Smoked salmon amuse bouche.
We opted for just the 3 course lunch menu as we knew we had a big meal planned for later in the evening. Although, as it was one of my main reasons for choosing to dine there in the first place, we did also go for the supplementary cheese course.

Marinated swordfish, fruit tomatoes, hearts of palm and lime salt was my choice of starter for the day. The swordfish did not disappoint and the summery flavours which accompanied, made this a perfectly refreshing and summery dish. It was my first time tasting hearts of palm or 'Millionaire's Salad' and the subtle artichoke flavour enhanced the dish. The lime salt was the star of the show for me - I just regret giving too much of it away on the forkful that I prepared for my wife.

Marinated swordfish, fruit tomatoes, hearts of palm and lime salt.
My wife opted for one of Les Amis’ signature dishes, the Lightly smoked eel “tiède” crispy pork crouton, horseradish and Dijon mustard emulsion; a clever dish and beautifully presented. I too love eel and would have chosen this if she hadn’t got in there first (we rarely choose the same) although, on reflection, I was definitely happier with my choice.

Spoiling ourselves was the theme for our mains. My wife opted for another signature dish, the Crispy suckling pig, cabbage “speck” potatoes and caraway (supplement of S$15.00) and I had the, Char – grilled Wagyu rib eye cooked in hay, sunchoke, spinach and sauce Périgourdine (supplement of S$25.00).

You can only imagine the expression on her face when the whole little piggy arrived on a mountain of cabbage. I certainly had my eye on its little crispy ear which looked a treat. The wait staff soon returned with a much more manageable portion and my wife gave me her trotter, which, although not the ear I was hoping for, was still very welcome. 

Crispy skin suckling pig.
My Wagyu was outstanding. The ‘sunchoke’ (Jerusalem artichoke) mash was deliciously velvety and the glossy truffley sauce completed the luxuriousness of the dish. Cooking in hay is an ancient method that is coming back into vogue. Perhaps my palette is not as refined as some – you are supposed to get a ‘grassiness’ from the hay – I could just taste meat, albeit an amazing bit of meat!

Char-grilled Wagyu rib eye cooked in hay.
The Cheese Selection of Maître Affineur Bernard Antony did not disappoint. The plentiful medley of nuts, fruit chutneys and bread, including a fig-heavy, rich fruit bread made for an interesting alternative to the usual condiments.

Cheese selection of Maitre Affineur Bernard Antony.
A great selection of nuts, fruits and breads.
Five Times Chocolate was my choice of dessert. My wife opted for, Milk and figs, chocolate and portwine. Both desserts were presented well and very flavoursome. The Lemon Madeline was the best of the Mignardises and my Green tea was good quality and served at the correct temperature, (something that many restaurants fail to observe.)

Tea and Mignardises.
Service was swift and efficient; our glasses were never empty. This, I’m sure, was helped by the fact that they were not very busy to say the least - there were just three couples in the main dining room and at one point I counted seven members of staff on the floor.

Les Amis is a classy place but pricey place. I’m glad we went but will not rush to return there the next time we are in Singapore.

This is no slur on Les Amis… a wonderful and inviting place with excellent food choices, simply that there are so many restaurants in Singapore that we have yet to try. 

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