Les Amis – 1 Scotts Road, #02-14/16, Shaw Centre, Singapore
In the third and final installment of Fatlittleboy’s Singapore grand finale, I visited Les Amis. The Les Amis group is synonymous with fine food in Singapore and the eatery that started it all has garnered a long list of accolades dating as far back as 1995. More recent achievements include The Miele Guide Asia’s 5th (2009) and 11th (2010) Best Restaurant as well as ranking 60th (2009) and 78th (2010) on the Restaurant Magazine UK’s World’s Top 100 Restaurants.
The service was among the best I’ve experienced with a perfect balance of warmth and professionalism. The wait staff really knows its material, volunteering recommendations and painting an almost poetic picture of your order as it arrives. One waiter blew me away by giving me a brief history of the culinary use of the Maitake mushrooms I asked about. Set lunches come in two forms, a 3-course (1 appetizer, 1 main, 1 dessert) for $60++ and a 4 course (2 appetizer, 1 main, 1 dessert) for $80++. My substituting to include two of the chef’s signatures resulted in my lunch for two amounting to $364.87.
The Wholemeal, White and Sourdough Breads with Bavarian Sweet Mustard Butter and Butter were exceptional. I adored the warm, olive-studded sourdough with unsalted butter as the rich flavour and brininess of the olives remained in perfect focus. What stole the show – however – was the lovely mustard butter. The combination of sugar and butter is crucial to baking but I never thought sugary butter could be so good on its own, especially when balanced by the subtle acidity of mustard.
Scottish Salmon Tarte Flambé was served compliments of the chef. A play on the traditional Alsatian flatbread, it substituted crème fraîche, onions and bacon with the lighter flavours of raw salmon, a sprinkling of salt and a hint of truffle oil. I clean forgot my camera when these treats arrived so here’s stock picture from the Les Amis site.
My starters were both chef signatures and seemed to have a marked Singaporean influence that began with Lightly Smoked Eel Tiede with Crispy Pork Crouton, Horseradish and Dijon Mustard Emulsion. Who knew that the delicate, tender chew of rich smoked eel and a crispy pork-infused wafer could perfectly replicate the mouthfeel and flavour profile of siew yoke, Chinese crisp-roasted fatty pork? Well it does, especially with sinus-clearing horseradish-mustard sauce on the side as I’ve always eaten the stuff with Coleman’s mustard. This dish takes gastronomic deconstruction to a whole new plane, transcending the usual rehashed alternate assembly of the same elements and instead sourcing near-identical flavour from the unlikeliest of sources. Absolute genius.
My second starter was not even on the lunch menu but they obliged – at a supplement of course – and I got to experience my second delicious mind-screw of the day. Shocking but true, the Homemade Pasta with Japanese Shrimp and Black Périgord Truffles ($20) perfectly emulated Hokkien Prawn Noodles. The noodles were cooked soft - beyond the al dente of the other pasta we ordered - to become an occidental doppelganger of yellow noodles. The pool of liquid that the mound of pasta rested in was a potent shrimp stock with that trademark combination of crustacean sweetness and umami found in its Hawker Centre muse. Of course there were a few additional bells and whistles thrown in, like the crunchy tiny shrimp usually encountered in Asian shrimp crackers. However, the black truffles were wasted in my opinion as their flavour was completely overpowered; perhaps sambal belacan instead?
My dining partner opted for Marinated Winter Vegetable Salad with Melba Toast and Fennel Pollen Vinaigrette which was good though not quite as groundbreaking as the other dishes. The mix of crisp fresh vegetables and soft boiled ones made for an interesting mouthfeel while the melba toast-wafer was a pleasant alternative to typical croutons, albeit a little oily.
She continued with a second starter of Homemade Smokey Mushroom Pasta with Japanese Snow Crab and Spring Onion that was a mixture of hits and misses. The sweet if chewy crab leg would have been better if it was not nestled in a fishy foam or espuma of some sort. The combination of mushrooms and a sweet seafood stock was a winner though, slurped up with good al dente noodles.
We opted for another chef signature for our main, at a sizable supplement. Our Baby Monkfish on the Bone with Maitake Mushrooms, Lettuce and Caper-Lime Jus ($170, serves two) was served with much flourish. Brought to our table whole, it was sliced and served before our eyes.
This was my first taste of famed monkfish and I found that the tail flesh indeed lives up to its reputation of having a texture similar to lobster; though I’d say with a suggestion of firm fish like snapper. It had little inherent character though, relying on the caper sauce for oomph.
I was a little underwhelmed until I had my first taste of the toasted Maitake mushroom. The tender folds of flesh had a subtle earthy perfume with near-floral notes, infinitely more refined and delicate than the heady aroma of truffles. The waiter obliged with a little history lesson about its roots as a medicinal agent in ancient china.
Also dissected for us were monkfish cheeks, the choicest portion of the undeniably ugly fish with a texture firmer than the tail flesh. With a leaf of crisp baby romaine, a clove of bittersweet, wonderfully aromatic roast garlic, a chunk of meaty Maitake and caper sauce, it was phenomenal.
Our desserts promised another display of creativity, as evinced in my Pickled Hawaiian Papaya with Frozen Curry, Yogurt, Ginger and Lime; breathtakingly presented and in a manner that made it hard to tell what was what. I deliberated a fair while before nibbling a little white stuff that turned out to be a sugar confection similar to honey comb, tangy with the citrus punch of lime. Emboldened, I ventured into the blocks of gradually melting yellow stuff that revealed itself as turmeric frozen yogurt; good but quite odd. The orange discs of pickled papaya were quite pungent and the dots of yogurt had a beautifully strong ginger heat; not quite designed to be eaten on their own. Finally, after a lot of deft work, I maneuvered all the elements into a single spoon and was rewarded with a veritable explosion of flavour and texture.
My dining partner selected Char-Grilled Ciku with Palm Sugar and Thyme; the embodiment of warm, sweet tropical flavour. The first thing to hit us was the intense aroma from the caramelized ciku; the fruit’s naturally strong perfume gathers still more depth and character when the abundant sugars brown. As though dissatisfied with the beautifully nuanced palm sugar ice cream he created, the chef included chunks of the raw stuff to be sure. Definitely one for those with a sweet tooth.
To finish off, we had petit fours of Lemon Madeleines and Chocolate Fudge. Dainty and elegant, the madeleines were buttery, fluffy and sweet with a subtle lemon fragrance. On the other hand, the pistachio-studded fudge proved robust, it was very dense, very chewy and very, very sweet.