Business Times - 30 Mar 2009
The good life just got a lot more affordable
#02-16 Shaw Centre 1 Scotts Road
IF there's one positive thing that can be said about the recession, it might be this: for a bunch of supposedly depressed people, we sure are eating very well. As restaurants hunker down to the new reality of value-for-money pricing, it's getting harder even for seasoned tightwads to resist the new dining catchphrase: 'one-for-one'.
Fine-dining doyenne Les Amis has not gone the one-for-one route, but it may well have gone one better by putting truffles in its just introduced two-course $38 lunch: home-made pasta in an earthy madeira-infused sauce and shavings of black Perigord truffles is offered as one of its decadent menu choices.
On top of this, you just add another $10 to make it a three-course meal, which is a sizeable drop from its regular-priced set lunch of $60. A four-course lunch is now $68 - a sure sign that, like SIA offering free upgrades, the good life has gotten a lot more affordable.
To juice things up, Chef Armin Leitgeib has just launched his new menu and it's filled with vibrant flavours that show a steady hand and a cool confidence with a role that he stepped into less than six months ago.
Take the aforementioned pasta, for example, which usually gets a dainty treatment of light olive oil to allow the truffles to take centrestage, particularly with white Alba truffles. But black truffles being less delicate, Chef Leitgeib adds more depth of flavour with the sauce and he doesn't stint on the truffles either.
Lest you think you'll need to add a Big Mac after merely teasing your palate with a two-course meal (you can pick from appetiser, main and dessert), the portions are very decent. In fact, if you really want to, you can combine the pasta with an equally rich confit of egg wrapped in crisp ciabatta with a delicious combination of spinach and finely chopped parma ham and more truffle shavings. It's a bit overkill, but if value's what you're looking for . . .
The real dilemma, though, will be stopping at two courses. You'll find excellent value in the $68++ four-course set lunch which features a juicy, marinated white asparagus spear wrapped in raw blue fin tuna and served with a perky sauce gribiche of mayonnaise mixed with chopped egg and pickles, followed by the aforementioned egg confit.
Add a serving of beef entrecote with truffle French fries and a refreshing terrine of fruit sorbets and you'll be rolling out the front door for less than you think. Chef Leitgeib's food is not as coy as that of his predecessor Thomas Mayr, who's now wooing Hongkongers to Cepage, Les Amis' first overseas outpost. While Chef Mayr's cooking tends to be more understated with elegant flavours that tap you on the shoulder rather than yell 'Oy!' in your ear, Chef Leitgeib takes a more daring approach. His flavours are well defined and confident, a little more hearty and rich tempered with the right proportion of acidity.
One of his must-tries is the pickled pork leg with crispy skin (from the two-course menu) where he reveals his inner Chinese chef with the crunchiest, most melt-in-the- mouth crackling tasted in a restaurant that doesn't serve char siew. The lightly salted pork is tender and juicy, served with a mild sauerkraut and grated fresh horseradish to complete the treat.
And if you're there for dinner and the kitchen managed to get hold of some baby monkfish, splurge on it because Chef Leitgeib roasts the whole fish with just fresh herbs and olive oil, and the aroma combined with the sweet, meaty flesh is simplicity perfected.
For those with slightly deeper pockets, a six-course tasting menu now costs $200 instead of $250. Meanwhile, sister restaurants Au Jardin and La Strada have also dropped prices a bit. Au Jardin's $55 set lunch is now $45 while La Strada's is down marginally to $34 for three courses and $28 for two.
So, if you want to cheer yourself up these days, it's nice to know you don't have to lower your expectations.
By Jaime Ee