November 7, 2014

Game preview

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It's been a few months since my last awesome meal at Amber, and I was looking forward to returning with a couple of out of town guests next week.  While discussing my upcoming visit at a dinner last week, Chef David Lai mentioned that he'd like to come along and see Chef Richard Ekkebus... especially after Richard was snubbed by that stupid red book yet again recently.  It was time to show him some love, so I pinged a few people and rounded up a quartet for lunch today.

It's game season, so I checked with Richard about what was on offer, then chose both partridge and wild hare after consulting the gang.  I understand that Richard does a different version of lièvre à la royale every year, so we were definitely looking forward to that!

About an hour before lunch, I Love Lubutin pinged me to tell me that a big deal's come up and she had to work through lunch.  That's obviously a real bummer for all of us, as we would miss her company - and another opportunity to watch the famous finger at work.

I took a look at our menu upon arrival, and I knew that I was in trouble.  There were 5 courses - plus the amuses bouches and petits fours.  This was gonna be no short lunch, and I would have to carry my stomach outta here...

First we started with a drink... a little bit of ice-cold Silver Needle (白毫銀針) tea, with a piece of cucumber, a bit of Granny Smith apple sauce, and a tiny sliver of lemon zest.  The tea was certainly fragrant, but so delicate and elegant... not at all in-your-face.  A wonderful start to our lunch.

Then the nibbles started coming our way...

The wooden masu (枡) had a layer of pumpkin seeds, on top of which sat a squid ink pita bread filled with celeriac purée, topped with a slice of autumn truffle.  Very nice.  Beside it was a crispy rice cracker, with dots of apple and pumpkin purée.  Not bad, either.

The signature foie gras lollipops, with beetroot jelly on the outside, a beetroot chip and a brioche wafer on top.  One bite.

Finally we had a chestnut ravioli with yellow wine (vin jaune?) and trompette de la mort, with a dab of apple purée on top.

Our amuse bouche was diced Jerusalem artichoke, cep foam and cep chips on top.  Our waiter told us the chips were artichoke, but Sebastien told us they were ceps.  So who do you think I was gonna listen to?  Anyway this was beautiful... with the crunch of the sunchokes combined with the crispiness from the ceps - all combined with the rich, earthy flavors from the cep foam.

Fukuoka 'hobo' fish: confit in extra virgin olive oil with fennel, tomato and black winter truffle compote - wow!  This was simply a gorgeous-looking dish!  It's beautifully presented without being OTT.  I know Richard has just returned from a "shopping trip" in Fukuoka so this must have been one of his "catches"...  Hidden underneath the fish was a beautiful compote of tomato, black truffle and fennel (did I hear celery?)  There were tiny round discs of crispy fish skin on top, along with fleur de sel and some perilla flowers.  That saffron bouillon was just... incredible.  And it was surprisingly viscous - to the point I thought I was drinking syrup.  Very, very nice.

Cuttlefish: à la carbonara with quail egg yolk, pearl onion petals and smoked Alsatian bacon - now this was a dish I had been wanting to try for a while, having seen pictures come across on social media.  Very long, thin strips of cuttle fish, presented as if they were fettuccine or pappardelle...

Of course, Sebastien came over with a rather large white truffle from Alba, and proceeded to shave enough of it on top so that we could no longer see what was underneath...

What a beautiful dish!  The texture of the cuttlefish was just so delicate, and I loooooove carbonara!  Here we've got the crispy pearl onions and really thin strips of bacon - both of which added nice touches.  And what more could be said about the most amazingly fragrant white truffles?  As Richard said, he only uses white truffles which have been certified to have come from Alba.  Thank you, sir, can I have another?

With our game dishes coming up, I decided to get a glass of red... and left it to Sebastien to choose something for us.

2003 Dominio de Atatua - very ripe, maybe over-ripe, fruit on both the nose and the palate.  A little sharp alcohol.  A very big wine even at over 10 years of age, with tannins still very noticeable.

Wild partridge: roasted and hay smoked, topped with Jerusalem artichoke and belotta lardo with cep mushrooms and poached Japanese grapes - here we go... the first of the two game dishes we asked for.  This was brought out in a cast iron cocotte, and the smoke hit us as soon as the lid was taken off.  Amazing!

Then it was plated with pearl onions, half of a cep mushroom that has been beautifully grilled, little bits of autumn truffle, poached Japanese grapes and artichoke purée.  The partridge itself was beautiful - with a ton of smoky flavors that kinda overpowered the gamey flavors of the bird itself.  Beyond the series of sunchoke medallions, it was the rather sizable piece of bellota lardo that really moved me... naturally!  Oh and the beautiful jus...

On the side we have the leg of the partridge, confit and served with mashed potatoes and topped with a layer of ceps.  Very, very delish.  I was getting kinda full but I still finished this whole thing...

Wild hare: 'à la royale' pie, caramelized persimmon, Brussel sprouts, and black trumpet mushrooms - Richard brought out this very impressive "pie" with a nice little "pie hole" in the middle.  Basically a "Wellington" that was then divided into 5 tranches...

...then plated with some grilled Brussel sprouts, chanterelles, caramelized persimmon.  I wonder if the little black dots were made from trompette de la mort...  Looking at the pie, the loin of the hare is at the center, wrapped with a layer of celeriac.  It is then surrounded by a layer of "duxelles" made with black truffle, liver...etc. - all enclosed inside the pastry.  Last but not least, you gotta have the sauce that makes it a "royale"... real thick and rich from all that liver and blood.

Ever since I was first introduced to lièvre à la royale 6 years ago, I've had it a bunch of times in different places... ranging from the very rustic version from Michel Troisgros' La Colline du Colombier, to the very nouvelle and refined version I first tasted at Philippe Rochat's Le Restaurant de l'Hôtel de Ville, to the classic version from Anne-Sophie Pic at Pic... and even David's made me one at On Lot 10.  But this one definitely takes the cake for being the most impressive and special...  Just look at how perfectly tender that loin was!

But one needs sometime to balance out this very heavy dish, and we were served an autumn salad on the side - which consisted of butter lettuce, truffles and a very light vinaigrette.

The Great One was surprised that both David and I managed to finish our tranches... and I surprised myself, too, since I was pretty full after the partridge!

Before we even get to dessert, there's pre-dessert... the familiar coconut ice cream coated with chocolate and rice crispies.

A.O.P. 'Solliès' figs: over olive oil sablée with brocciu fresco A.O.P., organic lemon, fig blossom honey and shiraz wine sorbet - made with Solliès figs that even Grégoire Michaud raves about.  Fresh almonds, olive oil caviar, brocciu fresco cheese... etc.  Pretty busy here!

Plus a whole fig poached in wine.  Just beautiful!

What an absolutely fantastic meal!  I was completely stuffed.  I needed to run around Central for 3 hours just to digest this lunch... and there was no way I was eating dinner anytime soon... IF I was gonna eat dinner at all tonight.  Very grateful to Richard for generously sending out all the extra dishes beyond what we had asked for.

Lo and behold, our petits fours!  How strange that they should just appear without any one of us asking... and no, we did not have to pop the "golden question / 董太金句" that a certain Scumbag (now) famously asked... because they absolutely know all three of us.  Very well.

Anyway, I left most of it untouched, but couldn't resist the calissons.

Now, I've promised a few years ago (and have been reminded recently of that promise) not to deliver any more WTFs when it comes to the stupid Guide Michelin in Hong Kong, but... HOW IS IT POSSIBLE THAT AMBER IS NOT GIVEN A THIRD STAR?!  If you look at the quality of the ingredients, the creativity behind the dishes, the level of execution, the attention to detail both in terms of the flavors as well as the presentation... Richard Ekkebus and his team are certainly at the top of the game here in Hong Kong, and I would be hard-pressed to pick out another restaurant that can edge out these guys easily.  So yeah, Michelin, you got it wrong again... bitch!

P.S.  A few hours after lunch ended, someone received a delivery which consisted of what was left of the pie... along with the sauce, salad and vinaigrette.  How's that for service, huh?!

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