Amber, Hong Kong 2015
The back of our menu has a verse from the poem "Amber Room" from 1860. It cites a room with walls like diamonds, rubies, jacinths and jewels, rich in honey which reflects the ancient sun.
The restaurant is located in the prestigious Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hotel on the 7th floor. The dining room, designed by architect Adam Tihany (named the greatest American interior architects by The New York Times in 2001) is spacious, with 4320 copper rods hanging from the ceiling forming a gigantic chandelier that stretches the entire room. The floor-carpet is thick, and we sit comfortably in our large wooden chairs. This is a grand room but the overall feel is very dated.
We've once again ventured to an "hotel restaurant". The type of restaurant we often get disappointed at. During our trip to Hong Kong we however felt the need to experience this place anyway. It sits well as a 2-michelin starred restaurant, with very high ranks at the worlds top 50 list – and is helmed by chef Richard Ekkebus, which seems to win every award there is lately for his creations and food-philosophy.
The meal starts off with an amuse bouche of fennel purée disguised as a blanched tomato, placed on top of a pot. The lid of the pot is removed and filled with a tomato broth and we're told to first drink the broth and then eat the "tomato". We're also served a small bite of basil and fennel purée, fennel macaron with tomato puree and a Bloody Mary tart in the shape of a small tomato. Interesting that all the amuse bouches plays with the taste of tomato and fennel. The last dish in the first serving is a small plate of avocado foam, with mushroom, asparagus and a mustard chip which makes the transition from amuse bouches to the first dish of the degustation menu.
The first dish of violin zucchini is beautifully served on an impressively thick plate which looks striking. The dish is fresh, with a hint of black truffle. It's evident that almost every dish on the menu has to have at least one luxury ingredient. The restaurant is famous for using seasonal and very high quality produce, easily noticeable in all the dishes.
The most famous dish on Amber's menu is the hokkaido sea urchin. Reading its description, it seems like someone has taken the most luxurious ingredients they could find and tried to put them together in one dish; with the sea urchin on top of a lobster jell-O with a generous serving of caviar. It's easy to understand why this dish is iconic, because it tastes heavenly. Every bite is an indulgence in creaminess, saltiness and a pleasant dose of umami. This is excellent produce, put together perfectly.
Amber's reputation of serving excellent produce really shines through in all their dishes, but the overall ambiance of the meal and the restaurant starts to feel a bit "soul-less". The dishes follow a pattern that lacks excitement. The servers are stiff and strict, and we are left alone to indulge our luxurious produce.
We generally don't eat foie gras, as we don't appreciate how it's produced (we're hoping more restaurants would go for humane foie gras instead). We decide to try one serving, and ask if it's possible to substitute one serving for something else, which they happily do. The foie gras dish was not worth it, and we should instead have gone for two servings of the artichoke substitute which is the first dish that seems spontaneous and "fun".
Usually we have a chance to turn down our dreaded nemesis "the cheese cart" which french institutions insist on keeping around. This time it's however a part of the degustation menu and we simply have to tackle it the best we can. We have a great chat amongst ourselves as we try the different options available, but as always, we are disappointed by the experience.
The dessert courses starts of with a throwback to the initial amuse bouches with variations of fennel. A fennel sorbet, both raw and confit fennel on top of a crunchy biscuit. The sweetness of the lemon custard and thyme infusion makes this almost into a palette cleanser, very good.
The last desert however throws us back to our previous qualms of overusing luxurious ingredients "just for the sake of it". The dish is using rich chocolate in every way it can. We find no relief in the very rich chocolate, and we cry out for maybe the taste of raspberry or something to bring in some sharpness to the dish.
The entire meal is rounded of with classic petit fours in a cleverly presented metal box.
Amber is a luxurious restaurant where the diner can indulge in fantastic produce in well crafted dishes. If this seems interesting to you, by all means – go visit Amber, you'll not be disappointed! For us however, we can't shake of the fact that these types of establishments aren't for us. It lacks soul and interest. Give a talented chef access to the best produce in the world and something great will surely come out of it – but where's the fun in that? There's more to a dining experience than simply what's on the plate.
A day after our visit, we get an email from the general manager, where he hopes we had a lovely evening, and if he can assist us with anything else, we should feel free to ask. We think this is a nice gesture, and fits well into the Amber-experience. We actually have a few questions, so we write back, only to never hear back– even after sending another email. This however doesn't fit well into our Amber-experience...