Have you ever had a dinner so perfect that you wanted to applaud to the Chef at the end of it? What makes a dinner perfect, anyway? For me it is the elegant ambiance, faultless service and a meticulously prepared meal that wows the palate as much as the eye. Not everyone can achieve a fine balance between innovation and staying true to classic cooking methods, and that’s why, when it comes to naming truly perfect French meals I have had I could only name a few – Joel Robuchon, Dominique Bouchet and L’Effervescence in Tokyo, Guy Savoy in Las Vegas and there is one more restaurant that has been added to this golden collection of mine – Amber in Hong Kong. From the amuse bouche to the very last bite, everything was geared to excite the taste buds in more ways than one.
The restaurant is led by the Dutch executive chef Richard Ekkebus who honed his cooking technique under the guidance of French culinary legends including Alain Passard and Pierre Gagnaire. Currently ranked as no.20 on S. Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants, the two Michelin-starred Amber is the only Hong Kong restaurant that was included on the prestigious list. The chef Ekkebus blends the finest French culinary traditions with innovative cooking techniques to create a unique cuisine. He is committed to using the freshest seasonal ingredients, many of which are shipped daily from Japan.
The ambiance exudes utmost elegance, with moodily lit dining hall, warm amber color hues and a dramatic fixture of bronze rods suspended from the ceiling. There was no long deliberation as to what we would order. Trusting our dining experience entirely into the hands of the famous chef, we opted for the dinner tasting menu – a collection of Amber’s signature dishes. We ordered a glass of Dom Perignon Rosé to lead us into the meal, while our incredibly attentive waiter served us the warm in-house baked bread from the basket, as well as two types of butter – classic and salted. A set of complimentary amuse bouches followed soon. As you can see it consisted of different components, with each one having a different flavor – sweet, savory, salty and sour – thus aiming to awaken our palate and prepare us for the delightful meal ahead. It was a feast on its own.Salt: a parmesan ‘sablé’ with parmesan custard, 12-year-old balsamic gel & a parmesan waffle. Sweet: a thin dried then fried kabocha sheet stuffed with kabocha puree with maple syrup & caramelized pumpkin seeds. Bitter: onion stew deglazed with Guinness beer and spherificated, then sprinkled with toasted & salted peanuts. Sour: lemon peel, lemon rind, lemon caviar over a Camargue red rice cracker. Each morsel burst with deliciousness and stood out individually while also working together to form a coherent “flow” of flavors that complimented one another. Nowadays, when we talk about flavors there is always the fifth one that is mentioned – umami – and the chef didn’t forget about it either. Our final amuse bouche consisted of a traditional Japanese dashi broth served alongside Sanma fish which had been marinated with yuzu and flame grilled till semi-cooked. The broth was truly a show-stopper with ton of flavor. I wish I could have had more of it as it would quite easily make one of the main courses in my opinion. We were told that Sanma is a name for a Pacific saury characterized by high content of fat and lots of umami flavor, but without off-putting fishy taste. It’s in season only for two months a year – September & October – so we were very lucky to get a chance to try it. From this point forward it only got better. Our first course was a beautiful bowl of an oyster coagulated at 70 degrees which made for a very refreshing start. Notes of lemon and wasabi and a touch of sweetness from granny smith apples brought out and complimented the umami flavor of the oyster without overpowering it. Next, we enjoyed our platter of aji horse mackerel from Fukuoka. The way it was presented with stack of slices of aji, sweet tomatoes and basil it resembled Caprese salad a bit. It was paired with a piquant basil gazpacho sauce and basil paste on the side. Both J and I found the dish to be very basil driven which slightly overpowered the fish. That’s why I opted to ignore the paste which helped to let the umami flavor of the mackerel shine. For the third course, we devoured Amber’s signature dish – kohlrabi (type of cabbage) spaghetti was topped with creamy uni and schrenki caviar. I tried to prolong each bite because it was so incredible. The refreshing crunch of kohlrabi cooked perfectly al dente as well as the hint of saltiness from the caviar and sweetness from the sea urchin formed fireworks in my mouth. Our following course didn’t fail to impress us either – Hokkaido scallop was perfectly seared with lime caviar and topped with an amazingly flavorful sabayon sauce. I could feel sweet and tangy flavors playing on my tongue, while the presence of fish row in the sauce further enhanced the presence of umami. All this was covered with grains of red rice adding interesting texture to the bite. As this point I was quite excited for our next course – foie gras – which is my favorite ingredient. I must admit I was quite surprised with the innovative (as we were told, “healthier”) preparation method, namely poaching versus more traditional searing. The foie was topped with slices of roasted fig and turnip. I quite honestly still prefer my seared duck liver, although it was still rich in flavor and had a perfect creamy texture. The entire dish was brought together by a light and piquant duck and mushroom broth. Our final savory course was an eye-catching platter of fatty miyazaki wagyu beef which was prepared medium rare. It was a leaner strip loin cut than what we are used to in Japan with just the right amount of buttery melt-in-your mouth texture. Since we live in Japan and are somewhat pampered with premium grade wagyu beef straight from the source, it is quite difficult to impress us and it hasn’t been the best steak we’ve tried. But it was still very very good. I also thoroughly enjoyed the fantastic horseradish & pepper berry emulsion, as well as the accompaniment of red cabbage and dulse (sea lettuce flakes) slaw which balanced the fatty protein with a nice tangy flavor. Thankfully each course was very well spaced, and we had some time to take a little breather before moving to the cheese course. Impressive cart rolled by our table covered with a wide selection of French unpasteurized cheeses and instead of trying to make a choice, we were recommended to taste a little piece of everything. Mmmm… yet please? Overall the selection was a bit too strong for my liking, packing a lot of rustic and musty flavors, but J was in pure cheese-filled heaven. We finally moved to the beautiful sweet teats which matched the savory courses in presentation and the complexity of the taste. The first dessert had the sake-poached cubes of pineapple bedded on a matcha sponge cake. They were paired with soymilk and matcha liquid spheres, as well as pineapple and lime sorbet foam. Every single bite was sublime. Second dessert consisted of two parts. On the right side we tried a peppermint & white chocolate sorbet – a combination is simple and tasty, yet not my favorite. The left part, however, blew my socks off: 85% chocolate ganache and fisherman’s friend dust. I didn’t want it to finish, ever. And as if all this was not enough, we savored a selection of decadent petite fours – sorbet, tarts and mousse. What I took away from my dinner in Amber is that Chef Ekkebus does not fool around with his meals, and you could tell that there was equal amount of thought put into every single component of the tasting menu, from the amuse bouche all the way to the petite fours. Each course was a visual delight hiding interesting element of surprise and innovative twist.
I cannot help but highlight an excellent service as well, especially our head waitress, who spoke fluent English and provided detailed stories behind the creation of each dish. It helped us understand the flow of the menu as well as individual dishes much better.
Overall, for anyone seeking to experience an epicurean masterpiece in Hong Kong, Amber is truly the best choice. If given a chance, we wouldn’t hesitate to go back.
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