March 3, 2013

Dutchy's got talent

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Let me be honest here.  I never liked Amber.  For years it was the one "French" restaurant in Hong Kong that I just didn't care for.  While many people didn't "get" Pierre, I was the one who loved Pierre but didn't "get" Amber.  I think a lot of it had to do with my early experiences with the restaurant, especially that first work dinner where I felt things were just too gimmicky.  It left such a deep impression on my mind, to the extent that my subsequent meals - many of which, in retrospect, had been delicious - were simply overshadowed and forgotten.

I don't think I have ever been to Amber of my own accord… it was always someone else who wanted to go, or one of my friends who loves hosting dinners there.  I didn't mind tagging along, but it just wasn't gonna be my first (or second or third) choice.  Then came my last meal at Amber, not long before my relocation to Taipei.  While I enjoyed the food a lot, the service that day left me fuming.  Since then Amber was pretty much written off my list.

The Wommer and I were getting together to open a couple of bottles, and he suggested that we come to Amber.  I was still trying to figure out why everyone is so enamored with the place, so I agreed to the suggestion.  Clearly he knows the chef a lot better (well, since I didn't know Chef Richard Ekkebus at all), and so I was expecting VIP treatment and for the kitchen to do a few special things.

What's the point of me saying all this?  Well, after I was blown away by tonight's dinner, I finally realized how wrong I've been all these years about Amber and the cuisine of Chef Richard.  I GET IT NOW.

 A series of canapés and amuse bouches to start us off:

Cannelloni with black truffle coulis, kabocha pumpkin and pumpkin seeds

Pita bread ball filled with aubergine, with pepper

Signature foie gras lollipops - with raspberry coating and gingerbread crisp on top

Couldn't remember what this was…

...but there's jamón ibérico in the liquid center of the deep-fried ball, along with plenty of acidity from (vegetables?)

Cauliflower soup with egg sabayon and black truffle - this was very yummy.  Cauliflower always works so well with black truffle… as I first tasted at Bo Innoseki (the old name for BO Innovation) years ago.  This, however, is a much, much more refined version.

Now the meal finally starts…

Needlefish 'sayori' marinated with olive oil 'caviar', heirloom carrots, finger lime and ginger - I never expected to see halfbeak (針魚) done this way, but it was awesome.  The fish is complemented so well by the carrot and tomato bouillon, with that sharp acidity, a little sweetness and slightly spicy.  The olive oil "caviar" is lovely, and a little bit of piment d'espelette made things just about perfect.

Langoustines seared with bergamot, dark roasted brioche, caramelized parsnip purée and raw "Passe-Crassane" pear - a beautifully-done, fresh New Zealand langoustine.  Perfect texture.  Beautiful sauce.  The parsnip purée was nice, but what really made the dish was the strips of Italian parsley on top enhanced with bergamot.  Wow!

Iberian pork chin with salt-roasted beetroot, Granny Smith apple and 14 grams of caviar - a beautiful tower, and the caviar worked well with beetroot.  The pork belly was divine.  The crackling was so crunchy that we decided to flip the pork over just to cut it…

Duck foie gras raviolis with black winter truffle, chestnut and wild mushroom broth - the delicious foie gras ravioli had bits of black truffle inside, girolle mushroom on top and the bowl came with mushroom emulsion foam with truffle.  Took it with one bite, but what an awesome mouthful that was!

Bresse poulard breast, steamed then albufera glazed, minced leg in silver beet, smoked potato mousse line and pollard jus, black winter truffles shaved at the table - one of the things that always bothered me about Amber was that the chicken - even Bresse chicken - always came without the skin.  I looooove chicken skin, and depriving me of it just automatically knocks off a bunch of points in my book.  Tonight, however, all was forgiven as there was a replacement "skin" on top of the white meat.  That, boys and girls, was described as a "thin" layer of foie gras pâté - but in fact was about as thick as the breast meat underneath...  Served with some truffle coulis and smoked potato mousseline.

Oh and here's a picture of what my plate looked like after getting some black truffle shavings...

In case you were wondering, this is a picture of said black truffle before we got our shavings...

There was also Savoy cabbage stuffed with diced chicken leg, lardo and hazelnuts on the side.

Puntalette prepared like a risotto, as a 'carbonara' style with Alsatian bacon and black winter truffles - this was an amazing dish.  Made with oignon doux de Cévennes, which were incredibly sweet and delicious.  Lots of yummy bacon bits, chives and shaved Parmigiano.  You would have thought this dish to be really rich, but the surprising acidity in the sauce balanced it perfectly, making it possible to inhale the dish without any effort.

Oh and here's a picture of what my plate looked like after getting some black truffle shavings...

Time for some cheese!  Amber also get their selection from Bernard Antony, so here's what I picked...

Époisses de Bourgogne - I was sold the minute I saw the name Gaugry on the box.  Do you know how difficult it is to find unpasteurized Époisses?!  Together with the white wine, the flavors of pear and minerality came out.

Cantal - this was clearly aged and strong, pungent and stinky.  Pretty salty, too.

Mimolette, 18 months - yummy.  Salty with citrus notes, bitter finish.

Camembert - this ain't no ordinary Camembert... The rind was washed with Calvados.  It was nice and acidic, with the rind tasting extremely salty but still with hints of apples.

Amaou (あまおう) strawberry in hibiscus infusion, blackcurrant and Sichuan pepper 'granité' - this delicious strawberry from Fukuoka (福岡) was stuffed with strawberry jello inside, and served with olive oil caviar.  The intensity of the flavors and sweetness was simply amazing.

Abinao 85% chocolate soufflé with cacao sorbet - this was a strange-looking soufflé - with cylindrical walls which have somewhat hardened, then filled with smooth chocolate ganache inside.  It's been a long time since I was wow'ed by any chocolate desserts, but this was definitely the one.  VERY sweet.  VERY good.

The pure cacao sorbet on the side was interesting, since it was a sorbet and not ice cream.

The petits fours here are always good, but I didn't have no more room for them...

Last but not least... les vins!

NV Alfred Gratien Brut - savory minerals, toast.  Ripe on the palate with good acidity.  Very delicious.  Compliments of Chef Richard.

1997 Sine Qua Non Twisted and Bent - decanted.  Initially a little toast masked by the sweetness, then huge nose of toast, slightly sharp, sweet grass... VERY sweet nose, with buttery corn coming out much later.  Actually, creamy corn...from Green Giant.  Very smooth on the palate, very soft and elegant, but the finish was long with slight bitter marmalade.  Mature on palate now.  Incredibly beautiful to drink now.  60% Roussanne and 40% Chardonnay.  My contribution and possibly my last bottle...

1989 Vega Sicilia Unico - lovely, with sweet fruit, a bit of forest, chocolate, smoke and mint.  A little sharp on the nose.  Fairly smooth on the palate with medium body, and slightly acidic.  Still a very young wine.

I was finally properly introduced to Chef Richard, and found him to be a very passionate (that would be a no-brainer...) and interesting individual.  I offered him my compliments, as I found the meal to be truly sensational.  Some 6 years after my first meal, I have finally been fully converted into an Ekkebus fan.  I look forward to spending more of my hard-earned dollars there...


johannes said...

Lol. NOW you get it...?...
i does make a difference eating with friends.

Peech said...

yeah, I know… just a few years late...

Anonymous said...

This happens too often in HK. It's rather sad that you have to know the chef in some fashion in order to get a decent meal. Consistency remains a huge problem.


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