Amber, Hong Kong – landmark dining
Hong Kong is full of landmarks – all you need do is look up. Finding a specific landmark in a forest of extremely tall timber can be a bit of a challenge. Amber, the number 36 ranked restaurant on the most recent San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants proved to be a little tricky to find. It’s in Hong Kong’s Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hotel which, we discovered, is different from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Thankfully, as Greedy Girl was tottering in heels and struggling with the fearsome humidity, it was not too far away.
Amber is helmed by Richard Ekkebus, a Dutchman with an obvious flair and passion for French cuisine – with a few influences from his adopted home town thrown in and is currently the top-ranked restaurant in Hong Kong. It’s an elegant space, kept dark and moody morning, noon and night which, sadly, didn’t bode well for good quality snaps of the food. Nonetheless, Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband settled in on a spacious banquette seat and contemplated the feast to come.
Amber offers two tasting menus and a la carte. The premium tasting menu was in celebration of Tasmanian black truffles. Greedy Girl can’t forget her last truffle degustation at, appropriately enough La Truffe, which proved you can indeed have too much of a good thing. Despite being shown an extremely impressive-looking black truffle by the wait staff, we opted instead for the standard eight-course menu.
Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband were the first patrons this particular evening but the room quickly filled. The tables though, were spaced well and noise levels never rose to much beyond a hum, affording diners plenty of opportunity to chat to the wait staff, including our very personable Maitre D’, Hector, recently arrived in HK from Mexico via Germany. Was there ever any doubt that multiculturalism is at its best when it comes to food?
After Greedy Girl expressed reservations about one of the courses – foie gras with one of her more detested elements, pineapple, Hector came to the rescue by offering a special dish not on the menu. More on that later. In a flash, we were presented with the first of a series of amuse bouches. The first was a cube of cucumber soaked in gin and filled with a haddock cream. It was light, cold and refreshing. The other was eggplant and anchovy coated with incredibly thin and crunchy pita bread. Delightful.
The second round began with foie gras lollipops (pictured left) and croquettes.
The foie gras terrine was coated with very thin raspberry jelly and topped with skinny discs of gingerbread brioche and beetroot. It was smooth, silky, yummy. The croquettes needed to be treated like having a shot of spirits – all in the mouth at once. It soon became apparent why – the interior was mustard, pickles and lots of liquid. The breadcrumb coating cracked and dissolved and the mouth filled with a warm, runny texture.
The final amuse bouche was an asparagus veloute. This was layers of delight. The spoon dipped in to reveal parsley custard and morel mushrooms, topped with crunchy mini croutons. Delicious.
And so to the menu proper. First up were New Zealand langoustines. It was so pretty, light and fresh looking. The langoustines were, in the restaurant’s description, charred but kept raw and sat on a pool of Kyuri cucumber and Granny Smith apple marinade, spiked with jalapeno pepper and ricotta. Tiny discs of the gingerbread brioche added crunch. Greedy Girl took a leaf from gluttonous husband and tried the langoustine individually, rather than combining all the flavours. It was extraordinary solo and the dish all together was a triumph.
The intensity of the jelly was amazing. Each of the individual flavours could be discerned and they popped on the tastebuds one after another. Such a clever dish. It was served with a dish of various seaweed crisps. The idea, we were told, was to have a spoonful of the dish first, ensuring we got all the elements at once, and then to use the crisps as ‘toast’. Absolutely yummy.
Next up was ‘confit and smoked’ Tasmanian salmon. This was extraordinarily pretty. It was presented at the table with a glass dome, lifted to allow the smoke (from cherry, apple and pear) to disperse. The salmon was coated in very fine breadcrumbs coloured with squid ink and presented with a side salad of green asparagus, pickled cucumber and horseradish cream. It was very strong – too strong for Greedy Girl who was happy to taste and send across to gluttonous husband to finish.
Next up, it was time for cheese. The selection was substantial and quite, er, fragrant. We were invited to choose a hard, a goat’s, a blue and from a range of camembert. Greedy Girl took a mimolette, an ash-coated chevre and a standard camembert, while gluttonous husband had a cow’s milk hard cheese, a blue, a very soft goat’s cheese and a camembert infused with calvados. We tried them all and quickly admitted defeat.
Next was the chocolate souffle. Greedy Girl sighed when she saw how small they were but, in the end, was glad they weren’t super sized. The souffle was made using 85% abinao chocolate (a premium French chocolate) and paired with a cacao sorbet which was cold, dark and luscious.
By this point, being our first major meal of our 2013 major eating tour, we decided enough was enough. No coffee or tea, having had several cups during the day and decided to head for the door.
Not so fast. Petits fours were dispensed in a metal tiffin case. The apple macarons and little almond biscuits were delish but Greedy Girl couldn’t resist one more dive into the heavenly pool of chocolate with a tiny dark tart. Some caramels and marshmallows were regretfully declined.
Amber’s food is exceptionally accomplished. There wasn’t a low spot in the entire menu and, given the various amuse bouches and other touches that’s no mean feat. Perhaps there wasn’t as much fusion on show as Greedy Girl had hoped but the signature sea urchin dish was worth the price of admission alone.
Richard Ekkebus obviously knows his stuff. It would be interesting to try some of his more experimental cuisine but we left Amber feeling very full and extremely satisfied.
With thanks to the Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hotel for providing several of the pictures used in this post.
15 Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong