October 3, 2015

Game on!

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Hello Kitty's birthday is coming up, and I asked her to choose the venue for her birthday dinner. To my delight, she chose to go to Amber for the occasion.  I have not been back to visit Richard for a while and had been meaning to find an opportunity to do so, therefore I quickly agreed to Hello Kitty's request while secretly yelling "YES!" in my head...

I hastily fired off an email to Richard in the middle of the night, hours before flying out on vacation, asking him to secure me a table while apologizing for not going through the proper channels (of booking with the restaurant directly).  I did mentioned that it would be to celebrate Hello Kitty's birthday...

So a couple of days ago I was trading messages with Richard, and he mentioned that they had started to serve their game menu.  I, of course, responded with an enthusiastic "YES" when he asked whether he should reserve a couple of portions of this limited offering for us.  While we all love Richard for his creative / fancy/ refined cuisine with the finest seafood and vegetables, the game dishes I tasted at Amber last year were truly amazing.

No sooner had we sat down than Sommelier John Chan came over to offer a complimentary glass of bubbly from Richard.  The Alfred Gratien Cuvée Brut Classique showed nice acidity, which was balanced with ripeness.

The "welcome drink" was tomato water infused with verbena, lemongrass, and fern.  Lovely fragrance along with clean and pure flavors.

Then came the series of snacks:

Fennel macaron with tomato purée
Virgin Bloody Mary - tomato and Tabasco on a Parmesan crust.  A little salty.

Barbajuan - with lemon, tomato, fennel and basil.

Finally, we get to our amuse bouche... which was a dish I had last year.  Hazelnuts and chunks of Jerusalem artichokes on the bottom, with cep foam topped with Jerusalem artichoke chips.  The foam was smoky with nice acidity.

Pheasant: smoked 'ham' with Hokkaido sea urchin, caviar, salad of salsify, celeriac and wild mushrooms - visually this reminds me of the caviar dish from Hertog Jan, which was even prettier thanks to its bright colors.  The pheasant was indeed very smoky and a little salty, and together with the salty flavors of the caviar were counter-balanced by the sweetness of the sea urchin.  There was a layer of foie gras cream at the bottom of the bowl, and lots of umami coming from the mushrooms.  Wonderful mix of flavors and textures.

Grouse: breast single malt Whiskey marinated with foie gras served as a chaud froid', oxalis gel and beetroot purée - another beautiful presentation, and this one looks like an abstract painting.  It almost looked like a giant black amoeba... or... *shudders*... a giant leech?  Served with an arc of beetroot purée which didn't taste too earthy - and which actually accented the flavors of the grouse.  The dots of oxalis gel and oxalis leaves on the side were interesting, but not particularly tasty.  The leaves on top of the grouse were made of artichoke, and were just incredibly sweet and crispy.

From the cross section one can see that the grouse breast in the middle was surrounded by a layer of foie gras, then topped with a red wine glaze.  Very rich and heavy flavors here.

Patridge: roasted and hay smoked, topped with Jerusalem artichoke with grilled cep mushrooms and Japanese grapes - another dish I had the pleasure of enjoying last year.  The smoke coming from the cocotte when the lid was lifted was simply incredible.

There was a layer of small artichoke discs on top of the partridge, which were very crunchy.  The reason it's hard to see in the picture is that they were hidden underneath a layer of lardo from iberico pork... which was, in the words of Hello Kitty, very "fat die".  The grilled cep on the side was lovely, as were the Japanese grapes.

On the side we've once again got the leg, confit and served with mash potatoes topped with ceps.  Yum.

Wild colvert duck: breast grilled and smoked with pine needles, caramelized mirabelle plums and bread crumb ceps - so this was an extra service that Richard sent us... The glass dome was lifted so that Sebastien could show us the grilled wild colvert duck, and the smell of smoked pine needles filled the air.  This was a rare treat!

Sebastien carved what seemed to be two little slices of duck breast onto our plates, and cautioned us about potentially biting into birdshot.  The duck was rubbed with a mix of herbs and honey before grilling, and served with jus made from duck broth.  A cep mushroom coated with breadcrumbs and fried was delicious, as were the little black pearls of mash made with trompette de la mort.

But what really made my eyes open were the little mirabelles from Alsace.  These were simply incredibly ripe and sweet after being a little caramelized.  So much so that they deserved their own little shout out on FB.

Wild colvert duck, second service: leg and wild mushroom pie with sauce salmis - this was the "standard" service on the game menu... a cute little game meat pie that Sebastien took great care to slice in half.

Stuffed with a blend of duck leg, foie gras, ham, and mushroom.  Highlighted with some rosemary.  According to Richard, no salt was added in this dish... and all the flavors and umami came from the ingredients themselves. Wow!  It goes without saying that the sauce salmis was very, very rich and heavy... which made us appreciate the small pile of frisée on the side even more.

Venison: fillet with Iberian lardo, with grated tonka beans and citrus peel, red meat apple and quince jus poivrade - so finally, we get to the venison.  Venison can be a tough meat, and here the texture wasn't as tough as a piece of loin would have been, but it was still a hunk of very lean meat.  Executed perfectly to show a lovely pink center.  Then wrapped with a layer of lardo...

Served with little sticks of celeriac and celeriac purée , along with slices of quince and red meat apple.

The dish was accented with the addition of grated citrus peel, and the tonka beans gave it a whole exotic dimension.

Venison, second service: braised venison shoulder with raw pickled celeriac - the braised shoulder was a little tougher than expected, and much more heavily seasoned.  The slices of pickled celeriac offered some respite from the seasoning.

William pear: poached and raw with Gianduja mousse with praline ice cream and Williams pear sorbet, toasted hazelnuts in a meringue shell -  I love Williams pear desserts, and here we've got chunks of both raw and poached pear inside the meringue shell.  The pear sorbet was delicious, and the combination with praline ice cream worked wonders.

I just love the Gianduja mousse... and all those hazelnuts... both whole and powdered.  Yum!

I did tell Richard that this was a birthday celebration, so I shouldn't have been surprised when a cake was brought to our table.  Unfortunately both of us were completely stuffed by this point - thanks to that extra duck breast we got - and asked the staff to pack the cake so we could take it home untouched.

Petits fours are always good here, and I nibbled on the marshmallow and fruit pâté.

Birthdays are meant to be celebrated with wines from birth vintages, so I dutifully fished out a particular bottle from my cellar...

1982 Penfolds Grange - opened and decanted just before serving.  Initially nose was a little burnt rubber and shoe polish, with lots of coconut butter, vanilla, and sweetness.  Definitely smoky.  Smooth on the palate with nice acidity.  The acidity became a little too much after about 2½ hours in the decanter, but otherwise this drank very nicely.

What an incredible meal!  While I've had a taste of Richard's game dishes before, this was the first time for me to get the full-blown experience.  I'm really glad we came for this.  As Hello Kitty noted, both of us chose to celebrate our birthdays at a Mandarin Oriental property this year... so I guess we both can say "I'm a FAN"!

P.S. we decided to dig into the cake the next day, and it looked even more beautiful and alluring.

The smooth chocolate mousse... the hazelnut ganache, the crunchy biscuit crust... yum!

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