When ‘Les Amis’ opened in Singapore in 1994, the fine dining food scene in the city looked very different from what it is today. There were no independent French fine dining restaurants in Singapore at that moment. Today, the competition is strong and many options are available. Throughout its 22 years of history, also ‘Les Amis’ has gone through many transformations. Several chefs with different cooking styles have been helming the kitchen. However, since French chef Sebastien Lepinoy came in charge in 2013, things have clearly changed for the better. Much better.
Lepinoy is born in Angers, a city in the western part of France, near the Loire Valley. He was still a child when his two older brothers were already in culinary school. Every weekend they would cook at home, and little Sebastien would try all their dishes. It was at that time that he started to really love eating, something that would inspire him to eventually also pursue a career in the restaurant industry. While both of his brothers were in service at that time, Lepinoy however decided to become a chef, partly influenced by the fact that his parents told him that he was never smiling and thus should choose for a career back of house.
From the age of fifteen, he combined school with working in ‘Le Chateau de Noirieux’ in Angers. When he turned 18, he wanted to move to Paris. His brothers introduced him to ‘Le Laurent’, a restaurant where both of them had worked before. Three days before he was planned to start there, he was informed that his job was not available anymore. The General Manager of ‘Le Laurent’, who felt responsible, introduced Lepinoy to Joël Robuchon and made it possible for him to start working in ‘Le Jamin’. This was the start of a close working relationship between Lepinoy and Robuchon, which would eventually make him his right hand and protégé. He stayed with Robuchon for 17 years, and worked in France, Ukraine and Hong Kong. In 2010, Chef Lepinoy took the decision to leave Joël Robuchon. He was offered an opportunity to become executive chef of ‘Le Cepage’ in Hong Kong, a restaurant owned by Singaporean stockbroker Desmond Lim. However, ‘Le Cepage’ had only 30 seats and it was impossible to make the restaurant profitable. When Lim decided in 2013 to close ‘Le Cepage’, he offered Chef Lepinoy the opportunity to move to Singapore and to become the chef of Les Amis, the other fine dining restaurant that he owned.
Once Lepinoy arrived in ‘Les Amis’, he decided that he wanted to make some significant changes to the restaurant. First of all, he convinced Lim to invest in a brand new kitchen, which was built with a strong focus on lowering the eco footprint of the restaurant. He also changed the business approach by lowering the prices of the menus while significantly increasing the occupancy of the restaurant. An approach that has worked out very well for ‘Les Amis’. Nowadays, the restaurant is running on full occupancy for most lunch and dinner services. In order to cope with the higher number of couverts, Chef Sebastien is surrounded by a team of 27 staff in the kitchen, who are all local Singaporean cooks. An important role in that team is for pastry chef Cheryl Koh. She is responsible for the great desserts that are served in ‘Les Amis’, and combines that task with the responsibility for a tarts shop that was opened in Singapore by the ‘Les Amis’ group and which is carrying her name.
Today, ‘Les Amis’ is a very traditional French fine dining restaurant. Chef Lepinoy is convinced that his personal strength lies in cooking following the principles of the classical French gastronomy and he applies that philosophy strictly in ‘Les Amis’. Do not expect innovative cooking techniques or show elements in the dishes that are served. Focus is on the products, which are prepared in a very traditional and delicious way. Except the beef that is sourced from Japan, all the products are flown in fresh from France three times per week. Chef Lepinoy does not shy away from using expensive and exclusive ingredients. Caviar and truffle are amongst the Chef’s favourites and as a consequence, they show up in most of the signature dishes.
During the entire dinner experience, you are surrounded by quite a high number of service staff. Also in this aspect of the restaurant, you feel the urge of the Chef to strive for traditionalism. Service is attentive, rather formal and old school. But old school in such a wonderful way and matching so well with the entire concept of ‘Les Amis’. The wine list is very extensive and consists mainly of French labels. In every element of the restaurant, it is quite obvious that Chef Lepinoy had the opportunity to work together for many years with Joel Robuchon, one of the greatest French chefs of our time. This has clearly influenced and groomed him, but while using that experience, Lepinoy clearly has developed his own identity.
If you are looking for traditional French fine dining, there is no better place to go to in Singapore than ‘Les Amis’. Don’t look out of the window, and you might think that you are having lunch or dinner in one of the big houses in France. Top quality French products, cooked to perfection in a traditional way and combined with a very attentive, discrete and courteous service, make this restaurant one not to be missed during your visit to Singapore. Chef Lepinoy is on a continuous mission to strive for further perfection in every aspect of the restaurant, and we are convinced it will only strengthen the position of ‘Les Amis’ in the culinary top of Southeast Asia.
Written by Andy & Johan