July 16, 2013

Amber in the sky

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Last week while we got together to watch his movie, Gru Tigger told me to "save next Tuesday's lunch" with him.  When I asked him why, he just replied cryptically that it would be "something quite nice".  I figured he'd tell me what was going on when the time was right.

I got an email from Tigger a couple of days later, asking me to send over a copy of my ID card and a passport photo.  For about 2 seconds, I thought this might have been a scam email… but not many people would know how Tigger addresses me.  I pinged him on chat and asked him why he needed those things from me.  The answer came in the form of an invitation from VistaJet to lunch aboard one of its planes.

I know that some time ago, Tigger had been responsible for hooking up VistaJet with Chef Richard Ekkebus from Amber, with the aim to provide catering onboard their fleet.  We've all had our fair share of bad airplane food, sometimes even in First Class.  This was an interesting partnership and would allow customers flying private to have delicious food onboard worthy of Amber's two Michelin stars.  Now THAT's something unique!

So… at the appointed hour late this morning, I got picked up by Tigger along with Hong Kong actor MW, who's a big aviation nut and flies his own chopper.  It was the slowest ride I've ever taken in Mrs. Tigger's car, but we still arrived at the Hong Kong Business Aviation Centre much too early for our lunch, so we hung out in the lounge watching the plane being loaded, and waited for the other guests to arrive.

At one point the plan had actually been for us to take off and serve lunch while airborne, but this was canned as it was still raining a little and the skies were likely to be a little choppy.  We would instead go back to the original plan of having lunch on the ground, then take off for a short flight to Macau to drop off some of the guests.

The Bombardier Challenger 850 was outfitted to seat 11, with an additional bed in case a nap was in order.  I ended up sharing a table with MW, who was as charming as one would expect.  Our neighbors were a colorful couple on their way to visit their casino business in Macau, and I had a lot of fun chatting with them about food and travel.

Nothing says luxury travel better than to start with some bubbly! 2002 Dom Pérignon had very heavy oak in the nose, which was kinda surprising.  Toasty, flinty and lemony.

We soon got some nibbles:
Crispy pizza bread with aubergine, bell pepper and anchovies

Cucumber "dirty martini"

A little something to go with the bread…

Can you imagine having delicious, fresh bread on a plane?  When was the last time you had half-decent bread in the air?

Hokkaido sea urchin: in a lobster jell-O with cauliflower, caviar - Richard's signature dish, but one that for many reasons I have never had the opportunity to taste… until now.  And it was divine.  The lobster jello and custard were absolutely delicious, melt-in-your-mouth… and of course the sea urchin and caviar were wonderful, too!  How is it possible that it's taken me this long to be introduced to the brilliance of this dish?!

Crispy seaweed waffles - silly me… Didn't realize that these were meant to accompany the sea urchin.  I ended up munching on these on their own.

2008 Antinori Tignanello - surprisingly accessible for a young wine.  Smoky, oaky, black fruits, grilled meats and a little savory.  Full-bodied with good tannins here.  Would have been better if served at a lower temperature.

Lozère lamb: shoulder, slowly braised with garden herbs, roasted bell pepper confit, lemon yoghurt and pickled kyuri cucumber in a tomato broth - slow-cooked meat is always tender and tasty, and this was no exception.  Very yummy with plenty of spices.  The acidity from the yogurt and pickled cucumber certainty would work well on desensitized palates up in the air.

Once we were done with our main course, the tables were cleared so that we could strap ourselves in for our short flight to Macau.  I think very few of us have ever flown on a jet between the two cities, so I felt very privileged.  The flight time can actually be as short as a few minutes, although we ended up looping around a little as dessert and coffee were served while airborne.

Cherries and Manjari chocolate, prepared in different textures - the cherries were succulent, paired with chocolate mousse, served in a chocolate hemisphere and topped with a crispy lid.  Yum.

Petit fours: marzipan tablet, rose macaron, hazelnut chocolate and chocolate truffle

I downed my espresso pretty quickly as our short flight quickly came to an end and we landed in Macau.  We bid farewell to the couple and stepped out onto the tarmac to stretch our legs a little.

Unfortunately, once on the ground we ended up getting stuck in Macau for a while.  Hong Kong is a busy airport, and it does take some work to wrangle a landing slot once your schedule goes out of whack.  We did finally end up taking off after more than an hour on the ground…

It took us all of 5 minutes (or less, I think…) to get to Hong Kong International Airport, but we were merely passing above… because Tigger was sitting in the jump seat in the cockpit, and had asked the pilots to fly around Hong Kong so he could look at his house from above.  Sheesh!

Well, we did get a pretty nice view of Hong Kong.  We were flying reasonably low, and got a pretty good look at the interesting mix of concrete jungle and real green jungle.  After doing a big loop around the south side of Hong Kong, up past Tseung Kwan O and Sai Kung, we doubled back and landed before we were in danger of losing our slot.  Smooth and perfect.

This was quite an experience today.  While we didn't have our tastebuds dulled by the cabin pressure from dining at 35,000 feet today, I have no doubt that Richard would have done an equally exceptional job if we were actually airborne.  The exciting partnership between VistaJet and Amber brings a unique product offering to the market, and I know this will be a tremendously successful effort.  Wishing VistaJet, Richard and the team from Amber the best of luck!

Of course, a big "Thank You" to VistaJet for the invitation, but I guess the real brownie points go to Tigger...

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