Restaurant group Les Amis has been busy making changes to its line-up of restaurants; closing some, opening new ones and expanding into the region.
Last week, the group, whose flagship is the high-end French restaurant Les Amis at Shaw Centre, opened two restaurants on the Basement 1 level of Suntec City Mall: A third offshoot of Nam Nam; and new concept restaurant called PACK'D, which is a self-service soup, salad and sandwich place. Its fourth Peperoni Pizzeria outlet will open next to Nam Nam soon.
It will also expand into the region, opening restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and Yangon in Myanmar, and opening more outlets in Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, it has closed two of its restaurants, and will close a third one next year. Upmarket Vietnamese restaurant Annam in Shaw Centre closed last month, while fine-dining French restaurant Cepage in Hong Kong closed in June. Next April, it will close its 15-year-old French restaurant Au Jardin in the Botanic Gardens.
Mr Raymond Lim, 35, spokesman for the group, says that the changes reflect market sentiment and also "make business sense". On why the group has decided to close Annam, he says: "The market didn't take well to the pricing. It is an issue of perception because people see Vietnamese food as cheap street food."
The restaurant had refined the dishes and used quality ingredients, but prices, at about $80 a head, he admits, were too high. Prices were subsequently revised downwards by 20 per cent, but business did not pick up. Cepage in Hong Kong closed because the lease was ending. The decision was also bolstered by other factors such as the high cost of doing business there.
Au Jardin, which opened in 1998 and has been the go-to restaurant for weddings, anniversaries, birthday and other celebrations, will close when its lease runs out next April.
Mr Lim says: "You can't afford to get sentimental when rental and labour costs are going up.
Labour is a precious commodity and running a business is about the most efficient allocation of resources and we will redeploy our manpower."
He adds that the group is also unlikely to open another fine-dining outlet here, given that opportunities in the mid-market dining segment abound.
For instance, it plans to open at least two more Nam Nam outlets - one more in the Orchard Road area and another in the suburbs. Its lunch set of a spring roll, drink and bowl of pho, is priced at $9.90. In place of Annam, it will reopen Italian restaurant La Strada, which was previously located at the same shop unit before the Vietnamese restaurant took it over. The new 50-seat eatery will also be a casual trattoria with no tablecloths. It will be headed by Joo Khian Pow, 33, who has worked with the group for eight years in Au Jardin and Les Amis.
Overseas, the group will be opening a second Bistro Du Vin in Hong Kong later this month. By the end of the year, it will open a high-end Japanese restaurant called Sora in Ho Chi Minh City; and in Yangon, a bar, a more upmarket version of Peperoni Pizzeria and a Singapore eatery. The outlets in Vietnam and Myanmar are joint ventures.
Les Amis restaurant, which celebrates its 20th anniversary next year, has also undergone some changes. Heading the restaurant now are head chef Frenchman Sebastien Lepinoy, 39, and pastry chef Cheryl Koh, 33, a Singaporean. Both of them had run the kitchen and pastry section at Cepage.
The flagship restaurant here had been without a head chef since last May, when its former chef de cuisine Armin Leitgeb left the group.
Prices at the restaurant have also been lowered considerably. Menus start at $150 a person for four-course dinner, and from $45 a person for a set lunch. The most expensive menus are priced at $280 a person for dinner and $120 for lunch. Previously, for dinner, prices started at $200 and topped out at $300 a person. Mr Lim says that the prices are meant to be "in line with" and "be realistic" when compared to fine-dining internationally. For example, a dinner at three-Michelin-starred restaurant Daniel in New York starts at US$116 (S$147) for a three-course pre-fixe menu, and US$220 for an eight-course tasting menu.
When asked if lowering prices would be detrimental to the restaurant's upmarket image, Mr Lim says: "Prices in the market have been artificially inflated over the past few years. Given the current economic climate, we have reassessed our prices to be more realistic in terms of what someone would be willing to pay for a gastronomic meal. I don't think it will cheapen the image of the restaurant."
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