Saturday, December 22, 2018

End of an Era

"The End of an Era" was the feeling most of us shared when a group of us walked in to the private dining room of Amber at Landmark Mandarin Oriental for a special dinner recently. The Michelin-starred restaurant (and a prominent feature of Hong Kong’s fine-dining scene) would close for a few months to undergo a facelift and transformation, and before that, in their final week, they were hosting a series of "farewell dinner" featuring signature dishes from each of the 14 years of “Amber 1.0”, as its chef Richard Ekkebus called it.

Well, I wouldn’t say I ate here a lot over the years but we often saved this place for special occasions or time for celebrations, whether that be birthdays or anniversaries, or for one of those many collaboration menus Chef Richard often did with visiting chefs from all over the world. So the special menu this time – called “A Feast for the Future” – did sound familiar with many of the memorable dishes I have enjoyed over the years.

And with a long 14-course menu, we began early. Our first course of compressed water melon, Japanese tomatoes, mature goat cheese with Sarawak black peppers and cabernet sauvignon reduction was a special one in my heart – as this was the very dish that introduced me to Chef Richard’s cooking when Amber opened its doors 14 years ago at this then new Landmark Mandarin Oriental hotel with the same first course in his first tasting menu at the restaurant (the menu I still had an autographed copy of as keepsake). Though I admit this dish was not my favorite when I first tried it (but the rest of the dinner was lovely), but this version was clearly a much refined one, and I began to appreciate more the contrast and complexity of flavor in this dish featuring simple ingredients in a colorful presentation.

We moved on to a few dishes that sort of define Amber’s unique style, with the restaurant being one of the first in town that put more focus on using Asian ingredients in contemporary French cooking style, with emphasis on presentations in addition to flavor and textures. Our next courses of Duck Foie Gras Chupa-chup and the sea urchin with lobster jello, cauliflower mousse topped with caviar were probably both contenders for the most Instagrammed dish among all fine-dining restaurants in town and also two of my most favorite dishes here. Of course they had to be on the menu and they were as good as I remembered. The bite of the foie lollipop was smooth and rich balanced by the slight sweetness from the raspberry and a touch of sea salt, and the sea urchin served in a unique utensil topped with the decadent Ossetra caviar was loaded with umami taste in each pearl spoonful, eaten on a piece of thin seaweed crisp. And in between these two classic courses, a more recent creation with oyster served in its own shell, with plankton gel with organic kale, seawater and organic lemon jello, for the mix of mineral and sea flavor from the oyster and the condiments.

We went on for dishes in more substantial portion – some I have tried before, and some that were new to me. The cuttlefish was one of those dishes that I haven’t tried before and it was tasty. It’s cooked slowly over kombu-infused olive oil for its tender texture and mild flavor and on top, tiny tear-drop peas, tororo kombu and shallots, and underneath, buttermilk emulsion for the rich contrast in flavor plus dots of wakame fluid gel. Thought the combination was unusual but the ingredients worked beautifully together. I always liked the duck foie gras steamed with fondant daikon radish and dashi broth, and this one didn’t disappoint – simple cooking at its best.

The next course of egg yolk confit (using Japanese Tayouran eggs) with kabocha pumpkin puree, bread croutons, crispy chicken skin and white truffles were another one gorgeous in picture and even more gorgeous in flavor. Each components were layered carefully in a tall martini glass leading off with the good aromas from the white truffles, then all different tastes and textures came together in each spoonful, complementing one another rather than overpowering. We finished our savory courses with beef, a Kagoshima wagyu striploin with purees of “forgotten” shallots and pommes souffle, and on the side, a mini cocotte of braised short ribs with creamy mash, girolle mushrooms and croutons. The execution was rock solid.

Then there were 3 courses of desserts – I loved the surprise factor of the sweet Hokkaido corn icecream with a warm salted caramel custard and shaven black truffles, but in terms of taste, one couldn’t go wrong with the super rich chocolate souffle with cacao sorbet on the side. It’s a suiting way to celebrate 14 years of “Amber 1.0” with plenty to look forward to “Amber 2.0” coming our way in a few months’ time.

Dinner was by invitation of the hotel PR team. More photos can be found in my Flickr album:

When? December 3 2018
Where? Amber, Level 7, Landmark Mandarin Oriental, 15 Queen's Road Central, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Compressed water melon, Japanese tomatoes, mature goat cheese with Sarawak black peppers and cabernet sauvignon reduction

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