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élan: all about this new French Restaurant in Singapore!

On Monday, September 26th, élan Restaurant will open its doors for the first time. This new French concept, located at 1 Scotts Rd, will without a doubt become your next GHQ.

Soul, warmth & conviviality are indeed Philippe Pau’s keywords when it comes to talking about élan. The Director of the next-door Bistro du Vin, gave So Chic some insights about the ‘French cuisine with Asian twists’ you will soon be able to taste!

Service is also engaging the guests, being able to read their needs, learning body language, cracking a joke from time to time, and being cheerful and convivial.
Philippe Pau

1. Good morning, Philippe! Could you start by introducing yourself, the way you want?

Well, I’m Philippe Pau – to be pronounced in French or in a local way [laughs]. I am soon turning 60, so I’m no spring chicken. I have been in Singapore for over 25 years and in the restaurant industry for over 38 years. I was born in France but moved around quite often because of my father’s job. I went from the south of France to Brittany, worked a little bit in France before moving to Switzerland, England, Dubai, and Seychelles and finally landed in Singapore!

Singapore was not meant to be the final destination. Unfortunately, or fortunately actually [laughs], I got married and 3 kids later it was a little bit more difficult to move. So, Singapore has become home and will be home for the foreseeable future.

2. You’re working as the Director of both French restaurants Bistro du Vin and the future élan restaurant. Could you describe your functions within the scope of these two establishments?

The title of Director has more to see with my financial investments in the business. Otherwise, I directly managed the future and direction of Bistro du Vin over the last 14 years, as well as you have just mentioned, the conception, creation, and opening of élan restaurant, which is coming soon.

We have enjoyed very healthy and good business, especially since the restrictions have been lifted. But finding staff has proved to be quite a challenge.
Philippe Pau

3. What’s the most challenging thing as a Restaurant Manager?

In today’s situation, the most challenging thing we are facing is staffing. Staffing is a pure nightmare. I am sure in other industries; we are all facing the same thing. Business is there: we have enjoyed very healthy and good business, especially since the restrictions have been lifted. But finding staff has proved to be quite a challenge.

4. So, you’re opening élan restaurant very soon. How did the idea of turning a former Italian restaurant into a French concept come about?

The idea started building during Covid. We got lucky. Bistro du Vin had many years of being open and had a good following, so the number of guests ordering take-away, or delivery was strong. The support we got allowed us to survive.

Unfortunately, next door, they were struggling. They had several changes of chefs and perhaps fell behind without a strong direction. I’ve always been looking at the possibility of expansion and to be honest, I initially wanted first to break down the walls and to make Bistro du Vin bigger but we thought there would be a bigger opportunity in offering something new and slightly unexpected.

The question was thus to find the right kind of concept that would blend in but also stand out within the line-up of concepts Les Amis Group has at Shaw Centre.
Philippe Pau

We first looked at the possibility of doing a brasserie, with convivial food, but we thought it would be too close to Bistro. That is when the modern French concept came about. The Chef that’s going to be holding the fort was trained in Les Amis Restaurant and was handling Bistro du Vin and Batârd in Hong-Kong. He has a vast knowledge and experience with French cuisine and crafted a menu that really represented what we wanted to achieve. .

The décor is going to be warmer, it will definitively have a soul, a character. It’s not going to be fine dining but ‘fun dining’, semi fine dining or whatever you want to call it. There will be no tablecloth, the staff will not be wearing ties ; it’s not going to be an exclusive place. It will be a place where we hope to build a strong following again, where people will come because it’s accessible. Well, it will be a little more upmarket than Bistro du Vin without going into fine dining prices.

5. Could you share with our readers some clues about the future menu? An overview?

Well, the menu is going to be based on French cuisine but with some slight Asian highlights. We are not talking about fusion, that’s for sure. 20 years ago, we used to joke that fusion is confusion. The background of Chef Peter is Singaporean, and he has a strong understanding of Asian ingredients, whether they are Chinese, Malay or Japanese. So, ingredients like ginger, kumquats, lychees, or kombu are going to be there but as little touches which complement, just to make the dishes more interesting and relatable, without going into something extreme. They will be there because it fits, not just to make the dishes special.

It’s not going to be overly creative and overly complex.
Philippe Pau

The portions will also be quite generous. You will be able to leave the restaurant feeling satiated, without a need to go for a snack. A little less than some of the portions you can have at Bistro du Vin, which tend to be very hearty, but still a place where you can have a proper meal without breaking the bank.

6. Personally, what are your favorite dishes at élan? What would you recommend to your guests?

Well, at the moment, they have a marvelous wagyu flank steak (aka Bavette) to share which is positively awesome. It is 600 grams of tender, flavoursome but yet still with enough bite, served with homemade fries, the kind that is hard not to eat [laughs]. I am a carnivore so that’s why I would be the first one to order this dish.

The second one is a starter: Carabinero Prawns served with noodles with a little Uni inside. The combination of flavours, the sweetness of prawns which are chargrilled on the wood fire, is also one of my favourites. It is a great example of French techniques with a touch of Asian flavour.

Approachability, conviviality & warmth’ will be élan’s motto
Philippe Pau

7. I was wondering about the opening process of a restaurant in Singapore. Can you tell us a bit about that? Do you see any differences between the Singaporean process and the French one?

This opening was perhaps a little easier because we took an existing restaurant and remodelled it for our purposes. For us, it was more of a cosmetic job. You have to find the right staff, the right contractor to do the job, and the designer who will understand your idea and turn it into reality. A strong project manager to make sure that everything goes smoothly. Nowadays, to open a restaurant, roughly the size of élan or Bistro du Vin, you have to look at investing at least, half a million.

Too many people think that opening a restaurant is easy. Finding money is technically easy and spending money is even easier. Making a restaurant successful is much harder. If there is a fundamental problem, for example with the location, the concept or the food, sometimes it’s best to pull the plug earlier rather than try to survive until your realize all your savings are gone. Restaurant competition is getting stronger and stronger in Singapore so it’s important to be able to stand out for the right reasons and for the business to be sustainable rather than just based on hype.
Philippe Pau

The big difference between France and Singapore is the French concept of ‘Fonds de commerce’, which you can sell. Usually, when you close a restaurant here, the landlord will ask you to reinstate it, which means demolishing everything and reverting to bare concrete. The new tenant will then have to rebuild everything, that’s crazy. You spend $15,000-20,000 breaking everything for another to spend $50,000 rebuilding what they could have kept.

The biggest advantage of Singapore is that people have a culture of eating out. In France and Europe, people tend to eat more at home. I’m not just talking about expats but locals as well. Things have really changed over the last 25 years.
Philippe Pau

When I first arrived in Singapore, it was quite unusual to be invited to a Singaporean’s home for dinner, it’s a very private space. They would normally arrange to meet outside, at a restaurant or a hawker center. Nowadays, with the increased interest in home cooking, more people are spending time learning and following videos online. The concept of home entertaining has dramatically increased over the covid era. In a way, it’s taking a little bit of our business away from us but at the same time has generated interest in more elevated cooking. So, what we lost on one side, we won on the other side.

8.  Would you like to add any last words about élan?

Élan means energy, style and enthusiasm and I hope for all who walk through our doors they will get to experience what we have to offer. For more updates on our concept, follow us on Instagram @elandining. See you at élan!

I’m grateful for the support and interest in both Bistro du Vin and élan. I have been in connection with the French Chamber of Commerce for almost 25 years. I was working just around the corner of your former location at the time. There used to be newsletters sent by fax where from time to time we would put information about wine dinners or things like this. I’ve been a member throughout different companies of the FCCS for over 25 years now. Quite a few of our guests are members and have been generous with their support, for this we are always thankful!

French Shopping, Dining & Lifestyle guide in Singapore