Sunday, 14 July 2013

A Review of Galvin Lim's Les Amis 2012-3: An Extended Interregnum

(Please note that Sebastien Lepinoy has now taken over as Resident Chef at Les Amis, with Galvin Lim returning to his previous role as Group Executive Chef.  My recent report on Lepinoy's Les Amis is here).

I recently walked back into Les Amis for the first time in over 12 months.  Not that I had anything against caretaker chef Galvin Lim, who, in his real life, is the Group Executive Chef of the Les Amis Group of Restaurants.  Former chef de cuisine Armin Leitgeb and Chef Patissier Daniel Texter departed in the middle of 2012, and in the interests of due process, I was waiting for a new chef to be appointed and settled in before I visited again for a review. 


No mean cook himself, Lim was appointed caretaker while Les Amis sought a local chef to step up permanently to one of Singapore dining's hottest plates.  Of course, the prestige of leading the Les Amis kitchen is extraordinary, but having worked through through three chefs (Gunther Hubrechsen, Thomas Mayr and Leitgeb) in the 8.5 years since Justin Quek's departure, so is the pressure.  But with delay after delay, Lim found himself racking up 12 months at the stoves.  The new appointment will be confirmed shortly, although I have been asked to keep his/her/their identity under wraps until an official announcement is made.

Changes are also afoot everywhere else.  99% of the floor staff with whom I mucked in back in 2011 are gone, replaced with a bevy of unfamiliar faces.  "Uncle" Royston Soo has been promoted to oversee service across the Les Amis Group restaurants, popping in every now and again when a VIP guest is in town.  The only friendly faces are Farhan, now promoted to Assistant Manager, and busboy Maran.  It is, at once, so familiar yet so foreign.

As things happen, my brother-in-law and his freshly-minted wife were in town last Saturday, so I took them to Les Amis for a lunch treat.  We arranged a bespoke menu for the occasion (S$108++), which I highly recommend doing.  Apart from putting the kitchen on notice that you are serious about your food, you often get the chance to taste some of the kitchen's specialities at an excellent price.

Amuse-Bouches: Bonito Flan, Avruga Caviar

Decent.  With the flan enhanced with bonito stock and topped with very subtle shavings of yuzu, I suspect the inspiration was more chawanmushi than flan.  I am not a fan of Avruga caviar, and while it adds a welcome savoury burst in this instance, it also has an unattractive oiliness and aroma, much like canned sardines.

First Entrée: Alaskan King Crab, Caviar, Radish, Seaweed Oil

Superb.  The king crab meat is remarkably sweet, while the vibrant caviar (oscietra from Israel) and a see-through blanket of gently umami bonito gelée complete the aquatic theme.  The addition of the cleansingly iodine and lightly bitter seaweed oil to contrast against the sweetness of the crab is sheer genius.  This, for me, is the essence of Les Amis'  cuisine: three or four ingredients, sometimes luxurious, expressing themselves in full voice but with a slight Asian accent.

Now my gripe, and it is a big one.  There is a very strong thematic connection between this dish and the amuse bouche, namely the use of "caviar" (apologies to the purists) and bonito as flavouring.  It is ironic that given the sheer brilliance of this dish, it just makes the amuse, which was otherwise pleasant, seem like a cheap, shoddy variation on the same theme.  I find it very odd that these two courses would be presented in succession, let alone on the same menu.

Second Entrée: New Zealand Langoustine, Momotaro Tomato, Lardo di Colonnata

Two chunks of  supremely fresh New Zealand langoustine, highlighted by the fruit-sweetness of the tomato.  The spice sprinkled on the lardo adds a gentle (but much-needed) acrid heat to cut through the fat and sweetness.  The lardo appears to have been lightly rendered to make it transparent, and while its taste impact is similarly ephemeral, its melt-in-the-mouth texture binds the elements together in every mouthful.  Very good.

Third Entrée: Ceps Mushroom, Egg Confit, Shaved Foie Gras

I'm not convinced by this dish.  I love my mushrooms, and I love the idea of shavings of frozen foie gras being gently coaxed by the heat of the sauteed ceps into a luscious, gloopy sauce (see the melted foie pooling on the first cep).  But the (over?)reduced chicken jus hits a high note discordant with the other components, neither complementing nor contrasting their earthier flavours.

Main Course: Smoked Angus Beef Striploin, Sauce Bordelaise

Featuring medium-done Australian Angus beef, this was fine, but nothing to shout home about.  The kitchen recommended it be done medium, but I can't help feeling that if you are going to cook meat to medium and slice it this thickly, the guest should be given the option of having more sauce on the dish.

Dessert: Dark Chocolate P125 Soufflé, Tahiti Vanilla Ice Cream

A classic souffle using Valrhona's P-125 Coeur de Guanaja chocolate.  The chocolate was suitably intense and the soufflé floated like a cloud.  The ice-cream, fragrant and delicious with richly flecked with Tahitian vanilla seeds, was served in a semi-melted state.  This is the second time in the last month that I've confronted the semi-melted ice-cream here at Les Amis, and I'm not sure whether it's deliberate.  Of course, it will melt easier if I scoop the ice-cream into the heart of the warm soufflé, but presentation-wise, it does look slightly off.

Coffee and Tea, Les Mignardises

From front to back: Lemon Madeleine, Lemon Cream, Strawberry Chocolate
Freshly baked lemon madeleine cooked to order, with some zingy lemon cream and a milk chocolate praline filled with strawberry cream and coated with ground-up freeze-dried strawberry.  The acidity of the coating is more reminiscent of raspberries, but it all goes down very well.  Coffee is very good.

What I say here probably won't make much of a difference to diners (if it ever did).  With a new chef(s) taking charge in the coming weeks, even more changes will take place.  Despite the fact that I do not find it a particularly distinctive cuisine, Lim's technique is assured, and he executes the general Les Amis modus operandi of synthesising ingredients from various parts of the world into a delicious whole.  His presentation is also very natural and organic, without any of the forced "shapings" or controlled drizzles of sauce so commonplace today.  However, the new staff do not appear as assured in their interactions with clients as I recall previously, and it may not be surprising given the turnover of staff here and in the industry generally.

All eyes will be on the new chef when he/she/they arrive(s).  Knowing what I do of his/her/their reputation, he/she/they will be a marked man/woman/duo from the start.  But regardless, they will be a very welcome addition to the ever-increasing culinary talent pool here in Singapore, and may galvanise Les Amis to return to its best after an unfortunately long period in caretaker mode.  Watch this space closely.

1 Scotts Road
#02-15 Shaw Centre
Singapore 228208
BYO Policy: $80++ per 750mL bottle, $40++ per half-bottle and $160++ per magnum.  Please click here for a list of Singapore restaurants which allow BYO, and their corkage policies.
Tel: +65 6733 2225
Reservations Recommended

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