Hong Kong’s top restaurants reviewed: Amber – modern French turns out to be nine courses of Japanese delights
Richard Ekkebus and his team show why they have two Michelin stars – Amber’s degustation menu ticks all the boxes, with great-looking dishes that burst with flavour
This is how SCMP.com’s food editor enticed me to Amber after I admitted to caring little for traditional French cuisine. “It’s not duck confit and cassoulet,” she said briskly. “It’s very modern and can be appreciated purely as delicious food.”
She was right. But all she really needed to have said was that the two-Michelin-star restaurant (and number 24 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list) borrows a little from Japan (“negi”, “dashi” and “sansho pepper” jumped out from the menus when I looked them up online). And that they offer a vegetarian à la carte menu.
Not that we wanted to go without meat or fish, but just knowing culinary director Richard Ekkebus does more than simply tolerate vegetarians gave us a warm, fuzzy feeling.
Seated at a slightly awkward banquette (two of us on a straight bench by a window, facing others), we quickly forgot all about our herbivorous friends when the amuse bouches arrived. These appetite stimulants didn’t mess around with flavours, delighting with creations that individually nailed salty, bitter, sour, sweet and umami (in the form of chawanmushi, that silky, steamed egg-custard dish the Japanese serve as an appetiser).
Then the chefs really started showing off. At the top of our degustation menu (HK$2,068), chosen because it contained almost as many dishes as are offered à la carte, was Hakata Bay Ebisu oyster, which, and I quote in full, came over a plankton gel with organic kale, seawater and organic lemon jell-O, plus mustard cress bloom.
Although the thought “seawater from where?” creased my brow, the taste erased any doubt about its freshness and whether straight from the sea wouldn’t have sufficed. My oyster was clean and briny, but with a bitter kick, courtesy of the mustard cress. Hardly detectable was that it had been steamed “at 70 degrees Celsius, for three minutes”, according to our keen-to-please waiter.
Next up was wild buri. The yellowtail tartare was accompanied by slivers of sudachi (a citrus fruit used to make ponzu), Japanese leek and fish-head dashi. Tart and fresh, it was rendered even more satisfying lubricated in extra virgin olive oil.
It was here that the wine pairing came into its own. The buri was matched with a beautifully smooth Kazeyo mizuyo hitoyo Junmai Ginjo sake (served to my guest, who paid HK$1,518 for nine tipples, also sourced from France, Portugal, Hungary and Australia). This was followed by langoustine minced over red sea urchin and Schrenki caviar, whose flavour burst was as rewarding as the uni was rich. Granny Smith fricassee was a surprising, yet enlivening, addition.
It was at this stage of the meal that we were told the nine-course number was flexible. We could delete a dish if desired, or, as it turned out, change it, which we did for one offering. After a surprised, “You don’t eat foie gras?” from our otherwise charming waiter, we opted for two versions of a dish: my guest had kabocha, prepared as tortelli, the sweetness of the pumpkin set against the parmesan reggiano emulsion, while I chose wild mushroom and was glad for the light, subtle “mushroom and black tea consommé”.
We started getting full after the Miyazaki wagyu beef (him; “perfect”) and line-caught sea bass (me; bland, despite the truffle shavings), although he persevered with a selection of French unpasteurised cheeses. Going without (HK$50 was taken off the bill) meant I could enjoy both desserts, with the very-berry rhubarb winning out over the caramelatte, a chocolatey texture play with contrasting salty and sour highlights.
How right was my knowing friend to recommend Amber? I’m now expecting an e-mail from her saying: “Told you so.”
Amber, 7/F, The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, The Landmark, 15 Queen’s Road Central, tel: 2132 0066