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Posts from the ‘Restaurants’ Category

A Hotel for a Happy Year of the Rat

In celebration of the Year of the Rat we bring you the University Arms where copies of The Wind in Willows, the tale of Ratty, Mole and Badger written by Kenneth Grahame, are in every guest rooms and a recording of Alan Bennett reading the book is transmitted in the restaurant/bar loos…

University Arms exterior

University Arms, Cambridge, UK

What’s the story?

Cambridge’s oldest hotel, the University Arms which began life as a coaching inn in 1834, has reopened following a four year, £80m refurbishment. The original classical façade overlooking Parker’s Piece (a green space that was the scene of Queen Victoria’s coronation banquet) has been retained but the interiors have been rebuilt and an out of place 1960s extension has gone. In its place the new building is in keeping with the original style.

 

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University Arms, Cambridge lobby

It looks so authentic…

Architect John Simpson has worked on such grand projects as Buckingham and Kensington Palaces and a couple of Cambridge University colleges so knows a thing or two about classical refurbishments. His design for the University Arms includes a striking porte cochere – a columned, covered carriage entrance, for cars rather than horses these days and a grand lobby inside. It’s hard to believe the new addition to the hotel building hasn’t always been here.

What about the interiors?

They’re down to Martin Brudnizki, designer du jour (responsible for the new Annabel’s clubhouse in Mayfair and the refreshed Ivy in Covent Garden). Overall the feel is of a contemporary private members’ club: Farrow and Ball painted walls, reclaimed wooden floors, antique rugs, on trend ottomans and armchairs and sofas that beg to be sat on.

 

University Arms suite

A suite at the University Arms, Cambridge

What about the rooms?

They span cosy (19-22sq ft) to superior plus there are 12 suites named after Cambridge alumni including Charles Darwin, Virginia Woolf and Stephen Hawking. All the bathrooms have black and white tiles, underfloor heating and DR Harris of St James’s products. Twenty six of them have (roll top, claw foot) baths as well as showers.

 

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Parker’s Tavern restaurant, University Arms

What’s the food like?

The hotel has cleverly recruited talented local (by way of London and Mustique) chef Tristan Welch. With the restaurant, Parker’s Tavern, taking inspiration from a college dining hall with stained glass windows and leather bench seating, the menu offers a modern take on traditional British fare using East Anglian produce including smoked trout, potted shrimp, a daily roast trolley and pie of the day. Don’t miss the Cambridge Burnt Cream pudding – a British take on Crème Brulee.

Is there a bar?

As the name suggests, Parker’s Tavern is split between a restaurant and a sizeable lounge bar where the members’ club atmosphere continues. The bar itself is lined with vintage style leather stools plus there are plenty of velvet sofas, a vast spirits list and strictly no beer on tap.

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Parker’s Tavern bar, University Arms

What about my fellow guests?

Visiting academics, students being treated by their parents, tourists from the US and China and tech people (Cambridge is becoming known as the Silicon Valley of the UK).

What is there to do?

The hotel is on the doorstep of the city centre so the historic colleges are a short stroll away – or take one of the hotel’s bicycles in signature light Cambridge blue. Tours as well as punts on the river Cam can be arranged. The hotel will even whip up a picnic for you. If you’re looking for the willow tree celebrated in Xu Zhimo’s poem, Second Farewell to Cambridge, it has recently been removed but a cutting has been planted nearby at the newly opened memorial garden in the poet’s alma mater King’s College.

 

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The Library, University Arms

Anything else I should know?

Playing on the learned location the hotel has made books a feature. Rather than the usual untouched, artful collection the hotel’s guest sitting area, The Library, has a selection intended to actually read curated by the renowned Heywood Hill booksellers in London. Each of the suites includes literature by or about the namesake while the other bedrooms each has a copy of The Wind in the Willows, Porterhouse Blue and Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Verses.

What’s the bottom line?

Prices for rooms start at £205 for cosy rooms and £505 for suites.

The hotel is on Regent Street, Cambridge CB2 1AD Tel +44 1223 606066. http://www.universityarms.com

[A version of this piece was originally published in the South China Morning Post in 2018]

What is it about Les Amis? Now elevated to 3 stars in the Michelin Guide Singapore

For the first time, Singapore gets two Three-MICHELIN-starred restaurants

Les Amis’ Sebastien Lepinoy (left) with Michelin’s Gwendal Poullennec and Julien Royer, Odette

[UPDATE: Les Amis which was awarded two Michelin stars in the inaugural Singapore guide 2016 has tonight been elevated to three stars in the 2019 guide. For the first time Singapore has two three Michelin starred restaurants with Odette also being elevated. Here’s a look at the restaurant with a rich pedigree of talent.]

French born head chef Sebastien Lepinoy and award winning pastry chef Cheryl Koh joined Les Amis in Singapore after sister restaurant Cepage closed in Hong Kong in 2013.  Both restaurants share the same enticing formula of sophisticated food and slick service mixed with an unstuffy atmosphere; a recipe that has made Les Amis as popular with food writers in the region as it is with regular customers.

Lepinoy, who was head chef at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon Hong Kong prior to Cepage, and Koh are the latest in a glittering alumni that includes Ignatius Chan owner of renowned restaurant Iggy’s. Les Amis was at the forefront of the French fine dining scene in Singapore when it opened in 1994.

Award winning sommelier Chan and chef Justin Quek, who’d worked his way around several classical French restaurants in France and the UK, were the brains behind the concept. With Chan’s experience, the restaurant became known for fine wines (it still has one of most extensive wine lists in Asia with some 2000 labels) as well as Quek’s cuisine.

Justin Quek

Justin Quek at Sky on 57

“Ignatius and I drove the operation for 10 years,” says Quek who now runs his own restaurant Sky on 57 at Marina Bay Sands where he cleverly combines classic French cooking with a Chinese influence. “We were the first stand-alone fine dining, French restaurant with a great wine list in Singapore.”

Quek says what he gleaned most from his time at Les Amis was wine knowledge and how to pair wine with food. “I tasted a lot of great wines in those ten years,” he says. “I remember the first new year’s eve menu with truffles, caviar and lobster on the menu paired with Krug champagne, Chevalier Montachet by Domaine Leflaive, Chateau Latour, Chateau Yquem…”

Quek became friends with many of the guests who came to the restaurant, often bringing their own rarefied bottles with them, and still returns to dine there with them.

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Iggy’s

Both Chan and Quek left and sold their shares at the end of 2003. Chan set up the now famous Iggy’s while Quek opened a restaurant in Taipei. Following his departure, Gunther Hubrechsen took over as head chef and continued Les Amis’ reputation for exemplary fine French food. After over five years Hubrechsen too left to set up his own establishment, Gunther’s, in Singapore. Gunther’s is another fine dining experience, this time in a converted shophouse, and much loved by business people, tai tais and romantic couples alike.

Gunther's interior

Asia’s Best Pastry Chef 2013 & 2014, Janice Wong, worked a 6 month stage under Hubrechsen at Les Amis following her training at the Cordon Bleu in Paris. Wong, who now owns the acclaimed 2am Dessert Bar in Singapore, says: “Working with chef Gunther on the line was my most memorable experience of working at Les Amis. From him I learnt about the balance of flavors and right pairings of different ingredients in each dish.

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Janice Wong

“What I’ve taken with me to the 2am Dessert Bar is the importance of team spirit in the kitchen and that a choice of fresh produce and ingredients is key to a good dish.”

Sebastien Lepinoy’s appointment marks the end of an 18 month search since head chef of nearly four years, Armin Leitgeb, left in May 2012. Under Leitgeb (who has since moved back to Austria and is currently working on a new restaurant project), Les Amis joined the exclusive Le Grandes Table Du Monde. The honour is usually reserved for Michelin star winners but since Les Amis has none as the Michelin Guide does not operate in Singapore [it’s due to launch late 2016] the feat is even more impressive.

Pastry chef Daniel Texter, who previously worked at Noma, left a few months after Leitgeb (to helm Adrian Zumbo’s new bakery in Melbourne). So Leproy has brought over Cepage’s Cheryl Koh, a Singaporean who began her career at Raffles Hotel.

Since joining in September [2013] Lepinoy has put his own stamp on the menu introducing Japanese influences. “In Singapore, Japanese cuisine is well received,” he says. “So I decided to use familiar Japanese ingredients and a lot of my dishes are Japanese-inspired.” These include angel hair pasta with lobster, crispy Sakura ebi and a touch of parmesan; pan seared Hokkaido scallops with teriyaki sauce, pan seared foie gras and French River eel accompanied by citrus fruits and dashi broth; and Daikon veloute with black truffle.

The ethos of the restaurant will remain the same though: “Les Amis means “The Friends” so we exist to create a warm and welcoming environment without the pompous façade that the fine dining image commonly portrays,” say Lepinoy.

Raymond Lim, Les Amis’ spokesman puts the restaurant’s longevity and success down to consistency. “The core experience which we want to deliver is the same – food that is tasty and not cerebral with a pared down, friendly approach to service,” he says.

[A version of this article originally ran in November 2013]

Odette, Asia’s Best Restaurant, elevated to three Michelin stars

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Odette’s Julien Royer (between Gwendal Poullennec and the Michelin man)

 

[UPDATE: Odette has been elevated to three Michelin stars in the Singapore Michelin Guide 2019. Earlier this year the restaurant was announced number one on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list 2019.]

Julien Royer, formerly head chef of the acclaimed Jaan, now has his own restaurant in the form of Odette, a bread roll’s throw away from his alma mater, within Singapore’s stunning new National Gallery. Odette is named in homage to Royer’s grandmother. And the family theme continues as the dreamy design is down to artist Dawn Ng – wife of the restaurant’s co owner, Wee Teng Wen of the Lo and Behold group – in conjunction with Universal Design Studio.

 

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Odette restaurant, Singapore

 

With its romantic, cream interiors, Odette is the White Swan to Lo and Behold stablemate, Black Swan nearby in the CBD. But back to the food. Royer is continuing to mix classical French with modern techniques in his new home. Some of his greatest hits from Jaan are on the menu: Mushroom “tea”; 55 mins Onsen Egg; Heirloom Beetroot Variation; and Hay Smoked Pigeon.

In it’s new incarnation though the Pigeon is served two ways: the breast cooked sous vide then grilled and the leg cooked for six hours. And the Onsen Eggs are smoked on a bed of pines – foraged by the chef’s father and sent over from France (another family link).

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Julien Royer of Odette, Asia’s Best Restaurant 2019

Royer has also added some new creations such as the standouts Hokkaido Uni with Apple, Mussel and Caviar and Trout with Miso Glazed Kurobuta Pork. The welcome champagne trolley includes Chartogne-Taillet rose, Henri Giraud for Odette and Krug – said to be Royer’s favourite.

Desserts, by pastry chef Nicolas Vergnole, are also impressive including Confit Victoria Pineapple (below): toasted coconut ice cream, banana cake, passionfruit coulis, tapioca and Kaffir lime.

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This piece was originally published in 2016

Wine Not? What it’s like to stay at Les Sources de Caudalie vinotherapy spa near Bordeaux

 

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Les Source de Caudelie

[UPDATE: From today until September 30th the InterContinental is serving a Grape Antioxidant Afternoon Tea in conjunction with Caudalie. Here’s the story behind the vinotherapy brand.]

The waitress is so shocked she can hardly contain herself: I’m not having wine with my lunch? After a few seconds of stunned silence, she adds with further disbelief: “And I suppose you’re not having pudding either?”

Okay, so I’m in France, where not partaking in the finer things in life is practically sacrilegous, but I am in a health spa. Then again, this is the world’s only vinotherapy centre and it is dedicated to beauty treatments derived from grapes. Denial is definitely not on the agenda here – as well as a cellar of 13,000 wines, there’s a Michelin-starred restaurant and a cigar room. You’re even encouraged to join a wine-tasting session at the nearby chateau.

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Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

 

The name of this unique spa is Les Sources de Caudalie, and beauticians at the centre, 15 minutes’ drive from Bordeaux, believe that as well as imbibing a couple of glasses of wine a day, we should be bathed and massaged in it, too. The theory is that the humble grape pip is highly effective at countering skin damage caused by free radicals (smoking, pollution and sunlight).

Which is why, later that afternoon, I find myself lying on a plastic sheet being slathered with wine and honey. The sheet is wrapped around me, then covered with what looks like a thermal blanket and I’m left to doze in a gloopy cocoon for 20 minutes. Not only is this bacchanalian-sounding process strangely relaxing, it is meant to render me lithe, toned and youthful to boot.

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Les Source de Caudelie hotel

 

First Look at the New Look Raffles Singapore

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Raffles Hotel Singapore

Raffles hotel in Singapore has today reopened following a two and a half year, multi million dollar refurbishment. Here’s what to expect from the revamp by interior designer Champalimaud and architect Aedas.

The grand lobby has a fresher feel and a new, stunning take on a chandelier. Afternoon tea will now be served here rather than being side lined to the Tiffin Room (more on which later). The heavy wooden reception desk with pigeon holes behind has been replaced by a more inviting desk and chairs, more in keeping with luxury 21st century hotels.

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Grand Lobby at Raffles Hotel Singapore

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Reception at Raffles Hotel Singapore

 

Off the lobby, the Grill restaurant has been replaced by a new venture from chef Anne-Sophie Pic whose restaurant in France holds three Michelin stars.

The room is almost unrecognisable from the former Grill with softer tones and furnishings though the white columns and French windows overlooking the Palm Court remain.

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La Dame de Pic at Raffles hotel Singapore

It’s also gratifying to see that the alcove tables in the restaurant still in situ, albeit with a more modern edge. Statement lighting abounds here too.

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La Dame de Pic at Raffles Hotel Singapore

On the other side of the lobby the Tiffin Room, serving Northern Indian cuisine, has re opened. This too has been given a transformation with the addition of open shelving displaying tiffin boxes (naturally) and Chinese porcelain and again, statement light fittings. The new furniture with a nod to colonial style (dark wood and rattan) is said to be inspired by the hotel’s archives.

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Tiffin Room at Raffles Hotel Singapore

Elsewhere in the hotel, a new Alain Ducasse restaurant in the Bar and Billiard room and Yì by Jeremy Leung are due to open in September.

All the suites have been restored and look lighter while retaining a heritage feel. The separate parlour room has been retained in the Stateroom, Promenade, Courtyard, Palm Court and Personality suites – a good choice since it’s so synonymous with guest rooms at Raffles.

Updated technology and bathrooms also figure with Peranakan inspired tiles in the latter – in homage to the Chinese Malay settlers in Singapore.

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Courtyard Suite at Raffles Hotel Singapore

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Courtyard Suite Parlour at Raffles Hotel Singapore

To celebrate the opening Raffles is offering two special rate packages:

Opening Package
From now till 31 October 2019 guests may upgrade their stay for S$120 plus taxes
per night including additional privileges of daily breakfast for two either in their suite, on the verandahs poolside or at Tiffin Room. They will also receive a $100 daily
credit for spending at the Raffles Spa or at one of the restaurants. A commemorative Raffles heritage souvenir and guaranteed late checkout until 3.00pm is also included.
Staycation Package
Available to residents of Singapore, this staycation offers a 50% reduction
on an adjourning suite for families to stay together. The package includes daily semi
buffet breakfast for two adults at Tiffin Room, where children can dine for free (for
two children aged 12 and under), S$50 Raffles Spa Credit per adult per stay, Raffles Children Customised Programme, Complimentary souvenir for children from the Raffles Boutique, guaranteed late check out till 3pm, early check in at noon, subject to availability, 10% off Raffles merchandise at the Raffles Boutique. Adjourning suites are subjected to availability of interconnecting suites.
More details on offers are available at www.rafflessingapore.com and enquiries
or reservations can be made via singapore@raffles.com
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