May 31, 2016

Occupy Amber: Amber x André

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A mere two hours after a very interesting session with the two chefs, I'm back in the very same private room at Amber for the "four hands dinner" with Richard Ekkebus and André Chiang of Restaurant André.  I was privileged enough to have snagged a table, and unlike a few hours ago, my stomach was now rumbling and I was ready to eat!

We started with a series of snackings, and I was pleasantly surprised that the person introducing them to us was none other than Sudarampai (otherwise known as 'Pam') - André's wife.  Quite a nice change from the rude Singaporean girls André brought with him two months ago...

Foie gras, raspberry and ginger bread chupa chup, by Amber - this was a classic snack from the restaurant that had already been retired... and only brought out of retirement on special occasions.  Richard felt it would be nice to have the lollipop and the Hokkaido sea urchin on the same menu one last time.  Obviously this is something very familiar to many of us, with the coating of raspberry providing a nice dose of acidity to work with the smooth and very fatty foie gras in the middle.  The gingerbread adds a little crunch, as does the thin wafer of beetroot.

Baby mushroom tart 'croque en bouche', by André - these might be small, but they do look a little like miniature versions of croquembouche.  Those tiny lil' 'shrooms sure were delicious!

Butternut squash/ salted duck egg/ vanilla - this was introduced as "perfect egg yolk" with vanilla cream.  I didn't taste much salt in the bits of egg yolk.

HK egg waffle with bell pepper and tomato, by Amber - I still don't like the limp and spongy texture, but I love the tomato, aubergine, onion, and bell pepper filling.

Spring roll crust with celeriac, apple, and caviar, by André - so delicate and pretty... Loved the convergence of sweet, acidic, and savory notes here.

Charcoal deep-fried dough stick, by André - not on the menu, but this is something I've had before in Singapore... when it was also served off-menu.  It's pretty easy to pick out which pieces were the "fake" charcoal... In fact they were not Chinese youtiao (油條) crullers, but a combination of churros and baguette.  A little spongy and springy.  From the 'texture' part of Octaphilosophy.

This was to be dipped into a blend of piquillo peppers and amaebi (甘エビ) shrimp - which was a refinement over the dip I had from 3 years ago.  Very delish.

Now come the "real stuff"... Dishes which were more substantial.

Hokkaido aka and bafun sea urchin in a lobster jell-O with cauliflower, caviar and crispy seaweed waffles, by Amber - so... this is it.  What's in front of me would be the very last serving of this dish that I would ever enjoy.  As has been widely publicized - by such media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, FOUR, as well as yours truly - Richard has decided to take his most iconic dish off Amber's menu.  And this dinner would be the very last service in which it would appear.  Starting tomorrow, you couldn't hope to find it in the dining room at Amber even if you begged the man himself... (but maybe it's worth a try?)

This, unfortunately, was just a tasting portion... so it was gone all too soon.  But what an amazing dish!  The flavors of the ocean were all there... from the salinity of the oscietra caviar, to the sweetness of the sea urchin, and the umami of the lobster jello... all working in symphony with the creamy and sweet cauliflower.

I always feel that the crispy seaweed waffle is really an afterthought... at least for me.  But it's delicious nonetheless.

Charred Gillardeau oyster/ scallop lasagna/ emulsion of watercress and wasabi, by André - this was a very interesting dish from the 'terroir' part of Octaphilosphy.  First scallop is put in a blender with other ingredients, then the mixture is placed between layers of plastic before being flattened with a rolling pin.  It is then steamed before having the plastic sheets peeled away after cooling.  And voila!  You have lasagna made of scallops.

Underneath the sheet of lasagna is a Gillardeau No.2 oyster that has been burnt, along with some aubergine purée.  Garnished with some watercress for crunchy texture.  The watercress emulsion was both savory and acidic, with bright and contrasting flavors.

Surumi squid confit/ kelp jus/ granola soufflé/ silky potato, by André - a dish I had 2 months ago on André's last visit, and from the 'sel' part of Octaphilosophy (although interestingly enough, it's actually listed under 'texture' in the book).  A dish made without any addition of salt, and relies entirely on the natural salinity of the ingredients.

The texture of the squid "spaghetti" was beautiful.  The kelp jus and wakame (若布) powder were the sources of salt and umami, while the creamy mash of La Bonnotte potatoes from Noirmoutier (which themselves have salty flavors due to algae and seaweed in the soil) at the bottom of the bowl stopped the dish from becoming overbearing in terms of salt.  The puffed granola added a little crunchy texture as well as some fragrance.  A beautiful dish that I enjoyed having again.

Robert Blanc 'bourgeoise' green asparagus with raw and marinated kibinago, nori purée, seawater foam and matcha, by Amber - the green asparagus was lovely.  Served with some seaweed, salicornia, and Japanese silver-stripe round herring (黍魚子) resembling needlefish (針魚) on top. The nori (のり) purée, marinated herring, salicornia, and the seawater foam all delivered flavors of the sea as well as some umami.  There was even a little hint of acidity in the seawater foam.  Interestingly, this dish from Amber also came with no added salt - just like its André counterpart.

Warm foie gras jelly with Perigord black truffle coulis, by André - my third time having this, from the 'mémoire' part of Octaphilosophy.  The story behind the creation of this dish was relayed to me earlier in the afternoon, and is also well-covered in the book.  The combination of whipped foie gras and black truffles is simply beautiful and comforting.

The texture tonight, though, seemed a little off compared to my previous experiences.  Whereas the whole of the royale used to be smooth when I had it previously, tonight the surface area at the very top - where it meets the truffle coulis - seemed to have hardened somewhat.  Well... at this point I'm just nitpicking, because it was still damn tasty!

'Hugenin' piglet cutlet and saddle roasted, apricots with yellow bell pepper, black pudding coulis, salad of piglet ears with amaranth, by Amber - probably the one dish I wasn't so happy with tonight.  While I often joke about wanting my chicken to taste like chicken ("雞有雞味"), and normally love game meats for their flavors, tonight the flavors coming from the pork cutlet seemed to be a little too much for me.  No doubt some people would find this "stinky".  The execution, though, was flawless.  I also thought the black pudding on top of the roasted apricot was pretty interesting.

My other complaint?  Why the hell did Maxime think that sending me a reed-like strand of chicharrón would be enough to make me happy?!  That's nothing more than a very long toothpick!  Or as the Chinese saying goes, it doesn't even fill the gap between my teeth (不夠塞牙縫)!

The piglet ear salad on the side was a little spicy... and kinda interesting given what André said he wanted for his last supper.

Fennel sorbet, confit and shaved raw with lemon custard and lemon thyme infusion, by Amber - inspired by tarte au citron.  Here we've got fennel, fennel sorbet, raw and preserved fennel, lemon custard, and preserved lemon.  Richard likes a bit of savory notes in his desserts, so here we have it... sweet, sour, and savory.

D.I.Y. cake, by André - from the 'mémoire' part of Octaphilosphy again.  Pam told us that André is "lazy" and "tired of cooking" by now, so we were to bake the cake ourselves with all the ingredients - egg, flour, milk, sugar, butter, and chocolate.  The egg was actually poured onto the plate from an eggshell.

The "sugar cubes" were actually like marshmallows, except they were coated with caster sugar and had a little more crunch.  The "butter" was actually made from popcorn ground into powder, so there was both a little bit of sweet corn flavor but savory at the same time.  It did kinda melt in my mouth just like real butter would...  The "egg yolk" was basically treacle.  The "flour" was made from yoghurt sponge that was frozen with liquid nitrogen before being pulverized.  Finally, although the "milk" did have milk as an ingredient, the base was actually cooked jasmine rice.

Not the tastiest of cakes, but A LOT of fun to eat.

Towards the end of our meal, the kitchen presented one of the tables with the very last servings of Hokkaido sea urchin that the restaurant was serving.  For a minute or so, I was a little jealous of the diners at that table because, given the running joke I have with Richard about #OccupyAmber, I would have loved to have been the recipient of "the last uni".  Anyway, Richard and a number of the chefs came out from the kitchen with it, made a racket along the way to draw attention to this little ceremony, and did the presentation.  The video of the procession is here.

I was pretty happy with my dinner, even though the element of surprise had been somewhat dampened by the fact that I've had half the dishes at least once before.  But the point was to be here tonight, and I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

We were pretty full and it was getting late.  A quarter of our table had left us due to either professional or personal obligations, and the rest of us had taken the obligatory photo with André.  It was time to go home, without waiting for the petits fours.  And for once, I, along with the rest of our table, would leave the restaurant completely sober... and in no danger of falling asleep at the table or on the way home.

P.S.  We did get some canelés as a parting gift, which were delicious.

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