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Aman Tokyo’s Spooky Afternoon Tea returns for Halloween

Aman Tokyo halloween tea

Aman Tokyo has again launched its annual Halloween Afternoon Tea in The Lounge. The savouries and sweets include ghost shaped macaroons, bat and witches hat cookies, spider web candy and a chocolate “bomb” with a surprise inside.

Available from now until October 31st 2019, 11.30am – 5pm.

¥4,600 (plus consumption tax and service charge)

For reservations call +81-3-5224-3339 or click here to reserve a table online

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]

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

 

Raymond Blanc Gardening School launches Japanese Garden Course at Le Manoir

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The Japanese Tea Garden at Le Manoir

When chef Raymond Blanc bought the manor house and grounds in the English countryside which he transformed into Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons two Michelin starred restaurant and luxury hotel, the first thing he did was create a vegetable garden. Having grown up helping his mother grow produce at their family home in France he wanted to recreate the “living larder” of his childhood.

Thirty years on the grounds have flourished and encompass vegetable, salad and herb gardens, apple orchards and a mushroom “valley”. This year [2017] Blanc has responded to requests from guests and opened a gardening school – the first to be set in a hotel.

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Raymond Blanc

The link between the kitchen and garden at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is palpable. On the front of the dining menu, namechecked alongside the chefs is Anne Marie Owens, Head Gardener. “The admiration I have for gardeners is beyond measure,” says Blanc. “The gardens are an essential part of Belmond Le Manoir – you will spend as much time in the garden as you will at the table.”

Looking at the menu itself, whether it’s fresh apple juice at breakfast, herbs and salads in a side dish or vegetables as the star such as the signature Stuffed Courgette Flower or the Beetroot Terrine; as much produce as possible is garnered from the grounds. Head Chef Gary Jones has a walk about every Tuesday and comes up with a “picking list” of produce and at 8am every day the chefs take it in turns to attend the cropping with the gardeners.

Chefs are also encouraged to take some time out in the gardens before service and many can be found in the Japanese Tea Garden. Blanc was inspired to create the garden following a visit to Japan. Working with landscaper and gardener Robert Ketchell, who studied in Japan, he learned that gardens are both an art form and healing space that can help with the stress.

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Produce at the Raymond Blanc Gardening School

Set in a handsome glasshouse in Le Manoir’s grounds, The Raymond Blanc Gardening School offers half day and full day hands on courses including growing your own vegetables, mushrooms, micro herbs and edible flowers as well as classes for children. Instruction is given by Le Manoir’s own gardeners as well as visiting experts and the courses are tailored to the season, in keeping with the hotel’s ethos.

This summer sees the introduction of the Japanese Garden course. Guests will also get the chance to take a walk around the Japanese Tea Garden with Ketchell to find out about the traditions and practices involved with creating a Japanese garden.

 

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A suite at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons

For the ultimate horticultural experience, book one of the hotel’s Garden Suites for your stay – the theme of each room is reflected in the plants and flowers enveloping your private terrace. Paradise.

[UPDATE: The Japanese Garden course at Belmond Le Manoir takes place on 21 August 2018 and costs £235 per person. The day includes tea and coffee on arrival, materials and guidance to create a ‘trayscape’ garden and lunch with accompanying wines, coffee and petit fours.]

https://www.belmond.com/hotels/europe/uk/oxfordshire/belmond-le-manoir-aux-quat-saisons/

A version of this piece was originally published by the Robb Report Singapore

 

 

A Cut Above: a Taste of Chinoiserie on Park Lane

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Cut at 45 Park Lane

[UPDATE: Wolfgang Puck is bringing his signature Asian French fusion dishes from his Santa Monica restaurant Chinois to Cut at 45 Park Lane, London for a pop up celebrating the restaurant’s 35th anniversary. From today until 30th June the menu, featuring Asian flavours fused with French techniques, will include Shanghai lobster with curry sauce and whole sizzling sea bass with ginger and ponzu sauce. As well as an a la carte lunch there’s two tasting dinner menus – six courses priced at £115 per person and eight courses £165 per person including a welcome cocktail.]

Wolfgang Puck, one of the most famous of the world famous chefs, is reflecting on how times have changed for his profession; “When I moved to Los Angeles in the 1970s I used to go to discotheques,” he recalls. “Once I asked a girl to dance, she asked me what I did for a living and I told her ‘I’m a cook’. When the song was over, she left! Nowadays that scenario probably wouldn’t happen.”

He is more than likely right – since then chefs have become celebrities and Puck has become as famous as the stars who flock to his LA restaurants. Though the native Austrian, who learnt to cook from his mother and trained at Michelin starred restaurants in France, is not entirely comfortable with that either.

“I don’t like the name celebrity chef but I think that television has put chefs in the public. Television has really helped elevate our profession. I think it’s great because this has become an important profession, before it wasn’t,” he says. “Fifty years ago, you probably wouldn’t know who the chef was anywhere. Now chefs are like rock n roll stars.”

But for Puck, whose empire includes Cut, Spago and Chinois restaurants around the world, being a great chef still comes down to learning the basics. “The funny thing is, a lot of these television people, they don’t know how to cook,” he says. “I did a programme a few years ago where I asked the six chef contestants to make me an omelette. And you know what? None of them could make me a good omelette. That’s the problem with a lot of younger chefs today – they don’t start with the proper foundation.”

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Wolfgang Puck

“Learning how to cook is like learning how to paint,” he continues in the first of many arty analogies (he has said that he would have liked to have been an artist if he hadn’t been a chef). “When you learn how to paint, you learn how to mix colours. Cooking is the same. If I have ginger, garlic and scallion, a dish would taste more Chinese. If I add basil and remove scallion, it would taste more Italian. When you really boil it down, it’s really not that complex. That comes with experience and, of course, a full understanding of the basics.”

Having mastered the basics, Puck eschews recipe books for his own instincts. “I know a certain flavour I want to have, then I try to get there my way. I don’t want to look at a cookbook to find how the Chinese, Indian or Vietnamese make it, I want to make it my own style,” he says.

“It’s just like writing a song, or painting. If you paint like Picasso nobody cares but if you created your own style, people would say, ‘oh, that’s interesting.’ Or if you’re a singer and you sing Lionel Richie songs all day long, you’re never going to become Lionel Richie – no matter how well you sing it. It’s the same with food – you can use lamb, fish, whatever but you still have to create a dish out of it your way.”

It’s an ethos that Puck encourages from the head chefs across his restaurant empire. “I create two lines here, and I let the chefs operate in between these lines. They have been working with me for many years, so they think like me anyway. But I want them to be creative, I want them to add something of their own to the menu.”

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Steak at Cut

At Spago Singapore, the first in Asia and Puck’s second restaurant at Marina Bay Sands in the city state following Cut, the global fusion elements he describes can be found on the menu alongside American classics. “I opened Spago in Los Angeles in 1982 and then I opened Chinois in 1983 – essentially I opened an Asian restaurant but not in the traditional way. I made it my style,” Puck says.

The global menu at Spago Marina Bay Sands includes versions of two Singapore specialities: kaya toast and laksa. “We take something that’s already popular here and make it our own. And people still like it!” says Puck. As well as the luxurious versions of foie gras kaya toast and lobster laksa available at dinner, there’s a chicken “laksa” spring roll on the lunch and bar bites menus.

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Big Eye Tuna Tartare at Spago

As well as the dinner menu, Spago has several lunch options to choose from depending on your mood and time allowance. Alternatively, a compact selection, still offering signature classics such as the tuna tartare cones and hand cut agnolotti, is available in the terrace lounge and at the al fresco rooftop bar. Perhaps to go with a cocktail or two although Puck prefers champagne. “I drink cocktails but not too much. With champagne, I can drink a whole bottle and still feel fine.”

When it comes to his own tastes Puck says he prefers strong flavours including chilli and spices in his food. “For me, French food is too subtle. One or two French dishes are fine but if I had to eat eight, I’d fall asleep.” While he has often tried chilli crab and fish head curry in Singapore these days he likes to stick to his own restaurants in Marina Bay Sands. “Even in my home country I go out less than I used to,” he says. “Here, if I want to have a really good meal I ask my chefs to cook me something.”

Although, or perhaps because, Wolfgang Puck has a couple of Michelin stars under his belt, he seems unfazed by the launch of the prestigious restaurant guide in Singapore later this year. “We don’t open a restaurant with the aim of earning Michelin stars. I know what I should do if I wanted to get the stars – open a restaurant that serves only 30 people a night and prepare 10 or 12 course meals. But I would only get people who try us once,” he says.

“For me, the stars are our customers,” he continues. “They are the ones who are going to come back, they are the ones who pay me and the rest of the people. So if the Michelin Guide gave me three stars but I have no customers those stars wouldn’t mean anything. I’m not saying Michelin stars are useless, but the most important thing for me is taking care of the customers.”

Great hospitality is a recurring theme for the chef and restaurateur. He sees good service as just as vital as good food. “Like any major city today, Singapore has a lot of great restaurants so to set ourselves apart we don’t just focus on the food. I think it’s important that people get recognised, that people feel like they are at home,” he emphasises.

“Yesterday at Cut, I saw a German family who has been living in Singapore for 40 years. I remember them from last time I was here. They came up to me and said, ‘Oh, it’s so good to see you again. We come here at least twice a month.’ That to me is more important than earning Michelin stars.”

[A version of this story was originally published in 2016]

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