The friends with benefits – Les Amis shares the secrets to its service success

Mark Sansom - 17/04/2020

Singapore restaurant Les Amis claimed the Gin Mare Art of Hospitality Award at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2020. Its executive chef Sebastien Lepinoy gives an insight into why his and his team’s guest-centred philosophy has been ranked as the finest in the continent

There is a school of thought that says that good service and hospitality means more in Asia than it does anywhere else in the world. Asian culture and, more widely, Confucianism, is tied up in a belief system of ethics that hold family and respect for wider society in the highest esteem. There’s perhaps no greater example of this than in the continent’s restaurants, where exemplary service is frequently a given.

As such, winning the Gin Mare Art of Hospitality Award in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants is the mark of a particularly special establishment. This year’s winner, Singapore’s Les Amis, is certainly an acolyte of this guest-forward philosophy. Its French name, which translates as ‘the friends’, gives perhaps the best indication of the style of service it looks to present. “We ensure our guest feels comfortable and well taken care of the moment they walk through our doors,” says Sebastien Lepinoy. Now revelling in the full title of Director of Culinary and Operations, the French chef joined the restaurant in 2013 and has overseen its ascension from one-star to three-star Michelin rating, which it achieved in the 2019 Guide, as well as landing its highest-ever ranking in this year’s Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list.

“It’s a huge honour for my team and I and we couldn’t be happier to win the Gin Mare Art of Hospitality Award. In a country like Singapore where there has been such a strong emphasis on hospitality, the award is testament that we are on the right track,” says Lepinoy. “We often tend to focus on the chef and his or her creations, but it is equally important to focus on the service team. The food may be fantastic, but if the team does not make you feel welcome, you won’t be visiting the restaurant again.”
The Les Amis team preparing for service

Chef Lepinoy goes further than most in terms of ensuring his staff are well prepared to offer fine service. Each year, he sends individuals from the team to spend time working alongside producers who provide ingredients for his kitchen. After a few weeks with the artisans who supply cheese, truffles or caviar, say, they return with an exceptional knowledge base and become specialists – or ‘Masters’, as the restaurant calls them – in a particular field.

“I was always very impressed with how sommeliers spoke with such confidence, conviction and expertise,” says Lepinoy. “I attribute this confidence to the fact that they were able to spend time at vineyards tasting and learning from the winemakers. So I thought, ‘why restrict ourselves to having just a Master of Wine?’ It’s like when you are courting someone: you want to find out everything about that person. The team does the research and becomes better-acquainted with the nuances of the product. Their stories are based on their own experiences, not something that they read on the internet.”

Interestingly, Les Amis also looks to the psychological principles of kinesics to help inform how staff should react to certain situations. “It is our job to find out as much as possible from guests by reading verbal and non-verbal cues, so we can curate a dining experience that is in line with what they want,” he says. The staff are encouraged to offer more off-hand service to couples looking for romance, while providing more attentive actions to those eating as a group.

Chef Lepinoy and the full Les Amis staff

A big part of Les Amis’ burgeoning success has been its world-renowned wine programme, headed up by wine director Rajeshwaran Raja Gopal. The cellar is one of the most technologically advanced in the world, controlling moisture, temperature and humidity, and plays host to some 8,000 bottles. “The list is designed to complement the cuisine, with most of the wines hailing from France, mainly Burgundy and Bordeaux,” says Lepinoy. “Recently, we’ve ventured into wines from the areas of Loire Valley, Roussillon and South West of France. Some of these areas offer interesting and good-value labels such as Charles Joguet, Francois Chidaine, and Cosse Maisonneuve.”

However, where the list gets particularly interesting is in its stock of super-fine bins, majoring in claret. “Despite the scarcity of the market here, we have some legendary rarities, such as Domaine de la Romanée Conti Montrachet 1983 in magnum, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee Speciale 1990 and Château d’Yquem 1945, to name a few.”

The lauded Les Amis cellar

A rarefied wine selection, highly-trained staff and a chef at the helm who holds service on the same pedestal as he does his food. Les Amis is a worthy winner of the Gin Mare Art of Hospitality Award 2020.

Now take a tour of Les Amis with our exlusive video:

Browse the full list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2020 on the website and discover all the individual awards recognising the work of chefs and restaurants in the region. Follow 50 Best on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for the latest news and initiatives in support of the global restaurant industry.