The Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hotel
15, Queen’s Street, Central, Hong Kong, China
Tel: (852) 2132 0066
Food type: Contemporary French Gastronomy
Nearest tube: Central
My friend Felix reckons that Amber is the best restaurant in Hong Kong. It is hard to argue with someone like him who is not only a very well-travelled diner but also follows the Hong Kong food scene very closely. In his own words, it would be a grave mistake to go to Hong Kong and not dine here. Yet it was not until it was quite close to my trip did I finally decide to book a table for lunch. I have dined here previously during my last trip to Hong Kong, opting for the tasting menu and while there were some very good dishes, there were also a few dishes I just wasn’t overly keen on.
Richard Ekkebus is the Culinary Director here and has been at the helm since day one of Amber’s opening. He has done a lot to develop the Hong Kong fine dining scene. His contemporary approach to French cooking was a refreshing change in a city where at that time, the top French restaurants (Gaddi’s and Petrus) adopted a more classical approach. Amber was awarded 2 Michelin stars in the inaugural 2009 Michelin guide and has held on to that achievement since.
The dining room is designed by Adam Tihany and features high ceilings, a rare commodity in Hong Kong where space is limited, and nut-brown walls. Naturally your eyes will be immediately drawn to the chandelier in the middle of the dining room composed of bronze rods – all 4,320 of them (I wonder how often they clean them). There is however not much of a view to speak off as the windows here offer views of neighbouring office buildings.
Like most restaurants in Hong Kong, the a la carte menu consists of individually priced items. There are two degustation menus – a 9 course tasting menu and a 6 course (seasonal) Platinum menu – both priced at HKD$1,988. At lunch, there is an additional set lunch menu priced at HKD$578 for 3 courses or HKD$798 for 4 courses. A shortened 4 course tasting menu is also available at HKD$1,188. Lastly there is the very popular 6 course weekend wine lunch at HKD$888. We opted for the lunch tasting menu with paired wines.
The meal begins with a traditional “Chinese tea ceremony” inspired by the pouring of Pu Er tea popular in plenty of Chinese eateries in Hong Kong. A small cup containing truffle butter delicately balanced on some pine leaves is brought to the table before a heady consommé is poured over it. The idea is not new – it was first introduced back when Amber first opened to poor reception, and it is only now, with a more receptive crowd has this playful opener been reintroduced.
A steady stream of canapés soon follow including their signature foie gras “Chupa chups” – a lollipop of duck foie gras parfait encased in raspberry and beetroot jelly, garnished with a round crouton disc. The duck liver parfait smooth and full flavoured with just the right amount of acidity and sweetness to act as a counterpoint.
One dish you cannot miss out on is their signature sea urchin with lobster jell-O, cauliflower and caviar. Hokkaido sea urchin known for its creaminess and sweetness is given extra body by the rich lobster consommé jell-O, with just a hint of bitterness coming from the cauliflower puree. Alongside, are some crispy seaweed waffles packed full of umami goodness and evoke memories of the seaside. Chef Ekkebus signature would certainly bring a smile to any even the most jaded of palates. However, what really sends this dish off the scales is John Chan’s clever pairing of the dish with sake.
The amount of effort that is put into the sourcing ingredients cannot be understated. Take for example a simple dish of asparagus, vintage sherry dressing and winter truffle coulis – the asparagus are sourced from Jérôme Galis (from Vaucluse) who also supplies other top restaurants like Gordon Ramsay and Alain Ducasse. Little curls of comte (Bernard Anthony of course) garnish this dish and alongside an ‘air baguette’ – a baguette completely hollow in the centre – wrapped with age belotta ham. This was another truly memorable dish.
My favourite dish of the meal was a slice of Miyazaki strip-loin served with raw and cooked tomatoes. This for me was confident cooking from a chef who truly understands that less is definitely more. The beef was of the highest quality – insanely marbled, melt in your mouth tender – and the tomatoes, spiked with just a little Fukuoka salt, providing the perfect amount of acidity to offset the fatty richness.
The meal concluded with a variation on Chocolate which brought the meal to a satisfying end. I freely admit I am not a big chocolate fan, as I often find such desserts too rich at the end of a multi-course meal but the key here was the cocoa sorbet which ties all the other elements together whilst providing some lightness.
Amber is the best meal I have eaten (so far) in 2015 – not an easy feat given that only a few days earlier I had just enjoyed a sensational and flawless extravaganza at Robuchon au Dôme. What I was most pleasantly surprised with was the confidence and progression of the cooking. It is almost as if my initial meal here were ideas in Chef Ekkebus’ head which have now been realized in its entirety. I would happily travel half the way around the world again to for another meal here. In fact I already have my next trip to Hong Kong booked!