Monday, April 18, 2011

Second time (still) lucky - Amber

This is a repost from my old blog, back from Nov 2008. I thought it appropriate to add it today, seeing that Amber has finally made it onto The World's 50 Best list (ranked 37). Oh, it's also Michelin 2-starred - not that rankings and guides mean much. Many people don't feel the same way as I do about this restaurant, but hey, food is personal and I happen have loved it long time.

Amber, the Landmark Mandarin Oriental's signature restaurant, has always suffered from a bad rep. Food and service have been substandard for everyone I've spoken to who's eaten there. I, on the other hand, have been twice in the space of perhaps 1.5 years and have always left wondering why no-one likes it.

Memories of my first time there are now quite faded, but I remember my main course of roast pork was beautifully executed - tender, juicy, in perfectly cooked light pink cubes, served with a syringe of red berry sauce that was more like a freshly pressed puree. A magical combination. From then on I subconsciously labelled Amber as a modern European restaurant with signature berry use (yes, these were the exact words that came to mind that day).

They didn't let me down the second time I visited, which was relatively recently. Both berries and perfect meat-cooking control featured in this meal, plus a couple of additional surprises.

We started with three amuse bouches (only pics of 2 here, the last looked kinda boring):

mousse of some sort with caviar

foie gras coated in berry toffee

My entree/appetizer was a lobster soup in five temperatures, but in three forms. I can't remember exactly what they were anymore, something like - cold lobster flesh, creamy soup with cooler jelly beneath, tepid frothed/aerated. All were super concentrated, rich and very palate awakening. I guess this kind of intensity isn't for everyone, but I loved it.

top left - cold; bottom left - creamy soup with jellied concentrate; right - room temp & frothed

The occasion was actually dad's birthday, so he had the 'license' to go super extravagant and had white truffle (in season) with his deceptively simple poached egg. When the chef came around and opened the truffle container to shave it into dad's Riedel glass (smart - you can continue to enjoy the smell), I inhaled and almost died in that blissful breath of truffle-infused air. Ahh...

Poached egg with shaved truffles, served in a Riedel glass for maximum post-shaving enjoyment

Dad's main - venison with red berry sauce

Given my preference for inactive poultry (I have a fear of moving birds), I chose pigeon for my main. The pigeon's skin was crisp and golden, and the pool of reduction was uber tasty. I also liked the extremely tedious 'bean arc' - something that dangerously toes the line of 'pedantic, controlling late '80s chef', but came out so postmodern/C.21st.

My main - pigeon with fava bean puree

Mom's main of roast lamb - very tender, and also has that rich/concentrated property that Amber does so well

Unfortunately we didn't have dessert (well, we had cake from the cake shop) - I would have liked to see how well the chef does with sugar, though something (maybe his mastery of red berries) makes me think desserts'll be equally spectacular.

So what's with the complaints from everyone else? I've come to the conclusion that Amber has a problem of consistency - when the head chef, Richard Ekkebus, isn't there, quality takes a huge dive. I've been extremely lucky and been when he was there.

Service was fine, if not a little too much at times - they come around with the bread basket every three seconds to ask if you want bread, which btw, all look enticing, but it doesn't help when you've got very reasonably sized courses coming. Some of the bread didn't keep so well either - one of mom's mini baguette had obviously been kept under the aircon for too long and was approaching geological density, and mom, being outspoken, told them and they promptly returned with freshly baked rolls, which were carb heaven.
I dare say that Amber is the only restaurant in Hong Kong thus far that has wowed me, and not only once, but twice, but now that I've come up with my little theory, I'll make sure Dick's there when I am.

Landmark Mandarin Oriental
Hong Kong
+852 2132 0066

View e_ting in Hong Kong in a larger map


  1. Great post and I have yet to go to Amber! Love your blog will keep reading and favourite: Hopefully meet you someday when back in HK.