Restaurant review: Les Amis takes diners on a plunge into the unknown

A chocolate bubble dessert from Les Amis, a luxe restaurant in Shaw Centre. -- ST FILE PHOTO: MUGILAN RAJASEGERAN
A chocolate bubble dessert from Les Amis, a luxe restaurant in Shaw Centre. -- ST FILE PHOTO: MUGILAN RAJASEGERAN

It is possible these days to research a restaurant to death before even stepping foot in it.

Go online and you can browse sample menus and the wine list, read up about the chef, peruse pictures of the interior and, of course, check out what others are saying about the place in foodie forums.

In the midst of all this, Les Amis is asking diners to do something daring: Come and have a mystery lunch.

After two years, the luxe restaurant in Shaw Centre has started opening for lunch on Saturdays again because, it says, customers have been asking them to do so.

But there is no menu or wine list for its Simply Black Saturday lunches.

Diners pay $120++ for a four-course meal with wine pairing but don't know what they are going to eat or drink until they turn up.

Well, kind of.

Yes, the menu is presented when diners are seated and the restaurant will work around dietary restrictions. But the wines are served in black crystal stemware from Zwiesel1872, the kind used in wine competitions and blind tasting sessions. The wine list is unveiled only at the end of the meal, in a black envelope.

Mr Timothy Goh, 29, the Les Amis group's director of wines, says: "We want diners to discuss the different aromas they detect and taste them with the food served, not knowing the depth of colour of the wine, or even if it is a white or rose. The whole idea is to focus on the harmonisation process."

He and his team pick a theme for each week - wines from one country or perhaps made with a particular - and Chef Armin Leitgeb builds a menu around it.

I am no wine expert but judging from the three lunches I have had, it would seem like the harmonisation process is going very well indeed.

One of them featured four Italian wines and four great dishes. There was a fragrant pasta made in-house, with sweet little Bouchot mussels and aromatic saffron and fennel pollen. I loved the main course of stewed veal shank with mushrooms, pearl onions and potatoes - hearty but not heavy. It was perfect with the wine, Barbera d'Asti DOC 2007 Marchesi di Gresy.

In place of dessert, we had fried Taleggio cheese wrapped with crispy ciabatta, with tomato confit and a little salad. This cheese course was paired with Tortoniano Barolo DOCG 2005 Michele Chiarlo.

Another meal featured pinot noirs, with a succulent pan seared spiny lobster paired with Follin Arbelet, Aloxe Corton 1er Cru Clos du Chapitre 2005, and a perfectly cooked piece of red snapper with an impossibly crispy, panko-coated crust. This was served with Calera, Pinot Noir Central Coast 2008 from California, my favourite of the four wines that afternoon.

Dessert was a pinot noir ice cream which was both refreshing and rich from the butter in it. All ice cream should have butter in it.

Yet another lunch featured four Spanish wines and I was very taken by a log of chargrilled calotte de boeuf served with spinach, grilled corn and truffled mashed potatoes. The tender, juicy cap of the ribeye was perfectly seared outside and medium rare inside.

Naturally, it was beautiful with the wine - Pedrosa Crianza, Perez Pascuas (Ribera del Duero DO) 1998.

Dessert chef Daniel Texter ended the meal so sweetly with a chocolate bubble dessert (left), paired with an intense, raisiny El Candado Pedro Ximenez, Valdespino (Sherry DO) NV.

Under the big, gorgeous bubbles lay a blanket of chocolate mousse, covering crisp chocolate pearls and slightly chewy figs. Every mouthful was pure fun.

That just about describes these Saturday lunches.

The mood in the restaurant is casual and relaxed, and my friends and I had a great time trying to figure out the wines, with small clues from the sommeliers. One of us, I won't name names, could not tell a white from a red.

But that does not matter.

Sometimes, it is good to just leave ourselves in some capable hands and surrender to the unknown.

This review was first published in Sunday Lifestyle on Nov 5, 2010.

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