Singapore’s remarkable dining scene is deservingly world-renowned. But the one thing that almost always throws a food critic off in his or her attempt to confer some poised, personal and, to some extent, impartial advice on where to eat is the local restaurant industry’s volatile nature. Not all good restaurants survive this competitive market. But the ones that do, such as fine-dining restaurant Les Amis, often share a vested interest in serving good food and nurturing talent. The fact that the restaurant is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year is impressive, but even more so how its owners have grown the business to include a group of other successful dining concepts.
“I believe our concepts have to be about good food. Fundamentally, that’s what it has always been about,” says Desmond Lim, chairman of Les Amis Group. In 1994, Lim founded restaurant Les Amis (French for “the friends”) with three of his pals—business partner and clinician-researcher Chong Yap Seng, then-sommelier Ignatius Chan (now the proud owner of one Michelin-starred Iggy’s) and chef Justin Quek. It is Singapore’s oldest independent French restaurant and, not surprisingly, one that many would not hesitate to recommend, confident that it would be as good as when they last visited.
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The restaurant didn’t just survive the last quarter of a century. It helped set the benchmark for service, quality and value within the industry, and continues to do so—even if it means lowering its prices to make it more accessible to a wider pool of diners. Case in point: when executive chef Sebastien Lepinoy took over the kitchen at Les Amis in 2013 and managed to convince his bosses to adopt a much more competitive pricing strategy. The resulting profit helped fund a $1.5m kitchen overhaul the following year. Not long after, the restaurant earned its two Michelin stars.
By June this year, Les Amis Group will have 21 dining concepts and 29 outlets in Singapore alone, spread across a diverse range of experiences—from high-end French and Japanese restaurants to the more accessible options, be it casual Italian or Spanish tapas.
Lim, a stockbroker with more than a knack for the restaurant business, never imagined that the idea to open a restaurant would grow into a group of F&B concepts that is also successfully expanding overseas, specifically a NamNam Noodle Bar franchise in Bali and more than 25 joint ventures across Hong Kong, Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar.
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