May 31, 2008

A revelation

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Last night my friend Kevin hosted his "birthday MNSC" dinner at Amber. We always look forward to Kevin's birthday tastings, and tonight turned out to be quite a revelation.

We chose the tasting menu to make things easier for ourselves. The amuse bouche had a cup of delicious cauliflower cream topped with a thin slice of summer truffle, and a small cube of foie gras.

The Kangaroo Island giant king crab - as stated on the menu - came in "5 textures and 4 temperatures". I recall having something similar on an earlier visit to Amber, but it was pretty good nonetheless. The bisque with foam on top had sprinkles of red chilli pepper granules, adding a little extra in the mouth. Was the chef trying a bit too hard with this dish? I think so...

The Tasmanian salmon came with a glass cover, and as it was lifted by the waiter, the smoke that was trapped inside was released, filling the room with the smell of charcoal-smoked salmon. The block of salmon was, of course, tender, and blackened grains stuck on one side provided the smoky flavor.

The John Dory was pan-fried and was OK, and the duck foie gras emulsion was nice. But again I think the chef was trying to do too much with the black truffle potato mousseline, plus the combination of celeriac, granny smith apple, and shallots on the side.

The New Zealand langoustine was nice, fresh and sweet. The block of pork belly at the bottom of the dish was fat, juicy and yummy. The gnocchi also worked well in the overall scheme of things. Not so sure about the artichoke.

The lamb neck tasted reasonably nice but was a little tough - I prefer my lamb to be tender.

Like other top restaurants in Hong Kong, Amber has a good selection of cheese. Unfortunately, today wasn't a day when we really had capacity to enjoy the platter that was put in front of us.

The first dessert was the yuzu - egg white cream topped with a large "yolk" of mango sauce, sitting on top of yuzu-flavored meringue inside an open egg shell. Very nice - as is the basil sorbet on the side although I'm not quite sure why the two were put on the same plate.

The second dessert was medjool date and rum souffle. This was almost like the rum raisin ice cream and was lovely. The Oriental spiced Greek yogurt sorbet packed a punch with the star anise flavor, and I thought this worked well with the souffle.

The last dessert was full of chocolate...and wasn't so impressive. Or maybe it reached a level of overkill and I simply couldn't eat anymore.

Now about the wines... the theme of the evening, as it turns out, was to pair a grand vin from a top vintage with its second wine. Tres interesant, n'est ce pas?

First pair:
'82 La Tour Haut-Brion - first impression was a hint of sweet grass, with plenty of alcohol in the nose, along with a bit of brett and smoke. With time the nose became a bit sweeter. I rated it 93 points while the Parker score was 99.

'82 La Mission Haut-Brion - nose was smoky, more open than the La Tour Haut-Brion. Good amount of sweet fruit on the nose, and there was more power here. Still plenty of tannins here but the finish became a bit acidic. I rated it 94 points against the 99-point Parker score. Quite disappointed in the wine, actually.

Second pair:
'86 Leoville Las Cases - a very open wine with lots of sweet fruit on the nose. Powerful and concentrated. I rated this 94 points against the 98 points given by Parker. Oh and I did guess the wine's identity correctly...partly due to luck.

'86 Clos du Marquis - amazing amounts of sweet fruit, powerful and very open. There was good length on the finish, but after a while it was clearly fading in the glass. I rated this 96 points. No Parker score given.

Last pair:
'90 Montrose - what a wine! Amazing power and an explosion of sweet fruit. There was also a bit of smoky grilled meats and bacon fat. What else can you say about this wine? A few of us were able to immediately identify this wine from the memory of its sheer brilliance. This is a wine that never fails to impress. I rated it 96 points against its perfect Parker score, because the wine faded a little in glass at the end.

'90 La Dame de Montrose - I thought the Montrose was a great wine, but this was actually better! Once again an explosion of sweet fruit, with more smoky cigar and a large dose of "farmy" nose of grilled and gamey meats. This wine just blew me away. I rated it 98 points against Parker's score of 90.

We were utterly amazed by the result of this blind tasting. In general we preferred the second wines to their grand vin counterparts, and all of these wines have had enough time to evolve and reach their drinking plateau. In the case of the last flight, the two wines had a 10-point difference in Parker score, and we preferred the second wine that cost about 1/8 of the price of the grand vin!

It was a truly great tasting put on by Kevin, and we are now going to buy up all the '90 La Dame that we can find!

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