Saturday, June 1, 2019

A Restaurant By Sommeliers

It’s been quite a transformation at Landmark Mandarin Oriental ever since the original Amber was closed for renovation six months ago. They literally re-built Amber from ground up with a new kitchen, a new dining area and a new dining concept, and in addition, three other new restaurants opened up on that floor. And I went to try out one of them called Somm one afternoon.

The place took up what used to be the bar area of Amber right in front of the elevator lobby, now with a large semi-circle bar counter in the center plus a few tables around it. "A Restaurant by Sommeliers" is how the restaurant advertised itself as, and I guess that’s how they tried to emphasize their wine offering is as prominent as their food at this new casual dining outlet. Compared to the fine-dining Amber, Somm was clearly less uptight, with cloth-less wooden tables, modern tableware in bronze tone that came out from a little drawer underneath the tabletop (in true local cha chaan teng style), and an all-day a la carte dining menu that was said to be changing regularly depending on seasonal ingredients.

Another thing that stood out at the restaurant was their vast selection of wines and sakes, many of them available by the glass or carafe. It’s perfect for small group meals when it seems over-stretching to share a few whole bottles, and a few professional sommeliers were on the floor to help you to choose from such a wide variety of drinks.

Menu came in a few sections from the smaller snacks and starters, to mains, sides and desserts – typical of any upscale bistro-style restaurant but here the dishes were slightly more sophisticated. Think of it as a toned down version of what Amber would serve, but not by much. And the dishes were well-priced, surprisingly for a top luxury hotel – that partly explained why the place was packed the day I was there.

We went with a few dishes to share, and we asked the sommelier to match with a few glasses based on our selection. We started with oysters served with spiced tomato granite. Love the kick from the red chilies and jalapeno peppers matched with the mineral flavor from the Boudeuse Oysters. The foie gras terrine was given an Asian touch, slightly marinated with kombu and served with kabu (Japanese radish) pickles that plated like a flower. I like the balance of the rich terrine and the acidity from the pickles.

We were right in the middle of white asparagus season and the dish we had was an interesting one, with a few stalks of white asparagus dipped in a batter and deep-fried, then served with the green tarragon sabayon espuma on the side. That was my favorite dish of the afternoon for sure. The sardine dish reminded me of something I had at Amber before, with the whole sardine fillet and cured Japanese style and served underneath some sea weed, and julienned pickled cucumbers and scallions (“kyuri and bannou-negi condiments” was how it was described on the menu) Love the firm texture of the fish, and the combination of ingredients.

Went for three main courses and shared among the few of us, plus a couple side dishes. The john dory was the lightest main that we had -  gently poached and pan-seared skin side down to get that perfectly crisped skin on top, then served with green beans, horseradish and pickled onions, plus a light dashi sauce. Along the same theme of green was the peas “a la Francaise” served on the side, sautéed with savoy cabbage and bits of bacon. Simple comfort food.

On the richer scale was the grilled pork belly with a charred crust served with a housemade barbecue sauce, grilled wedge of cabbage plus more cabbage on the side as salad. Definitely take the grilled cabbage over the salad and the dish was more suited for sharing than taking it by oneself, unless you were going for a one-course meal.

The side of potato dauphinois could as well be a main course for lunch for some people, served with the mild black summer truffles shaved on top. Wrapping this all up was the plate of potato gnocchi, served with fava beans and a parmesan morel cream sauce. It’s beautifully plated and comforting with the soft gnocchi.

They brought us two wines to match with our food, starting with the Tasmanian chardonnay then a syrah from Languedoc. Was looking for something more unique – given they have literally hundreds of choices on their drinks menu - but then nothing wrong with the selection that was versatile enough to go with a good range of dishes. Just wish they got something more interesting to offer for people who are slightly more serious about wines than their normal customers to live up to their name being "a restaurant by sommeliers" - looking for more quality than quantity here.

I was in a bit of a hurry at the end of the meal but still managed to grab a quick bite of the three desserts we ordered before dashing off. My favorite was the simple dish of sake lees ice cream served with the seasonal Alphonso mango underneath. Love it sweet with the perfectly ripe mango well suited for this kind of weather.

The place is highly recommended when you look for something casual to eat but want more than standard hotel coffee shop-fare in the area, or when you want a little bit of Chef Ekkebus' food without the luxury of having a 3-hour meal.

(Meal was by Invitation)

Where? Somm, Level 7 Landmark Mandarin Oriental, 15 Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Crispy White Asparagus and Tarragon Sabayon
2016 Tamar Ridge Estate “Devil’s Corner” Chardonnay, Tasmania, Australia
2016 Moulin de Gassac Syrah, Languedoc, France

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