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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]

In Singapore for business or the F1 or both?

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View of Singapore skyline from the Lantern Bar, Fullerton Bay Hotel

Then follow Chopstix’s guide to Singapore’s CBD and beyond…

The small city state island of Singapore is immaculately clean and lusciously green with gleaming new skyscrapers juxtaposed by colonial era buildings and plenty of glossy shopping malls and restaurants. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find traditional shophouses with shuttered windows and fronted by undercover walk ways in Chinatown and Little India and a melting pot of cuisines in Singapore’s signature hawker centres.

Being practically on the equator The Lion City has two types of weather: hot and wet or hot and wetter. Although the “wet” season is around September to February there is no bad time to visit. Carry an umbrella with you at all times anyway – either to protect from the downpours or the sun.

 

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The Lantern Bar, Fullerton Bay Hotel

If you’re doing business in the CBD you’ll be spoilt for choice for lunch spots after work hang outs in this compact area bordered by the Singapore river and the bay. A perennial favourite is The Lantern Bar, a glamorous pool side terrace on top of the chic Fullerton Bay hotel and overlooking the water.

The art deco-esque Black Swan is great for salads and surf and turf in a sultry but casual while a short hop over the river, Gunther’s in a charming shophouse serves contemporary French fare to the expense account set.

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Odette at the National Gallery Singapore

The city’s Civic District has recently been spruced up with the main gem being the National Gallery, a stunning monolith that’s actually two colonial structures conjoined with some clever modern architecture. Inside holds the largest collection of Southeast Asian art and the F&B outlets are equally impressive including French fine diner, Odette, and National Kitchen by Violet Oons, the doyenne of Singa’s dining scene with her Peranaken cuisine – a hybrid of Chinese and Malay cooking. Smoke & Mirrors on the top floor is a terrace bar that overlooks the Padang, the bay and CBD

Further afield on Orchard Road is Iggy’s. Owner, wine connoisseur and convivial host, Ignatius Chan was at the forefront of bringing fine dining to Singapore. Newer names have come on the scene but Iggy’s still holds its own with a recent refurb and new chef. 

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Iggy’s, Singapore

A short taxi drive away is the glorious Singapore’s Botannic Gardens. This sprawling tropical eden includes lakes, secluded pathways and the famous Orchid enclave. Go early in the morning or late afternoon like the locals do when the heat is less oppressive. 

Uniquely Singaporean are the Hawker Centres – food stalls grouped together in covered settings and complete with health and safety ratings – so essentially street food for softies. The centrally located Lau Pa Sat is the prettiest with its Victorian wrought iron carousel design. If you’re only going to order one thing make it the satays

Stay

The Warehouse Hotel

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Singapore’s most talked about hotel opening of the year is a converted riverside warehouse among the busy eateries of Robertson Quay. The space retains its industrial design flavour with some quirky details thrown in. 

Parkroyal on Pickering

Based on the fringes of both Chinatown and the CBD the hotel has a spectacular, verdant design and includes an infinity pool with city skyline view.

Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Rolls Around Again

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A dish at Narisawa – Asia’s inaugural Best Restaurant

With the fifth incarnation of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants being held on February 21st, Chopstix looks back at the launch of the list in 2013:

On Monday evening [February 25th 2013] the best restaurant in Asia will be announced. Whatever your viewpoint on awards and rankings, the winner is certain to be thrust to international fame and a year of being officially referred to as “Asia’s best restaurant” across the media. At least, such is the precedent of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, the creators of which are behind this launch.

Back in 2002, journalists at the UK industry magazine, Restaurant, came up with the idea of running The World’s 50 Best Restaurants as a feature which they knew would ruffle a few feathers and create publicity in the process. They couldn’t have predicted quite how huge their creation would become though.

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Firm Friends – what is it about Les Amis?

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Cheryl Koh and Sebastien Lepinoy at Les Amis, Singapore

 

[UPDATE: Les Amis was awarded two Michelin stars in the inaugural Singapore guide on July 21st 2016].

With Les Amis in Singapore listed as Asia’s 12th Best Restaurant last night and Cheryl Koh announced as Asia’s Best Pastry Chef 2016, here’s a look at the restaurant’s heritage:

Fans of French fine dining restaurant Cepage in Hong Kong will still be able to enjoy the cooking of head chef Sebastien Lepinoy and pastry chef Cheryl Koh even though the Michelin starred restaurant is now closed. They’ll just have to visit Singapore.

The culinary pair have been lured to the Lion City to head up Cepage’s sister establishment Les Amis. 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.

Read more

Sing for your supper

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Raffles Hotel Singapore, home of the Singapore Sling

Life in Singapore revolves around food. When Singaporeans are eating breakfast they are thinking of lunch, when they have lunch they are thinking about what to eat for dinner. Whether their insatiable appetites have spawned a glut of eateries or the other way around, there is an impressive choice in this city-state 24 hours a day. And nowhere are the options more varied. In Singapore (or Sing as the expats call it) you could start the day with Kaya toast – a “jam” made of coconut milk, egg and sugar – with a soft boiled egg at a corner coffee shop; eat cheap but safe street food for lunch and finish with dinner at a celebrity chef restaurant.

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