May 29, 2019

Occupy Amber: 2.0

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Without a doubt, the most highly-anticipated restaurant opening in Hong Kong in 2019 actually isn't a new entrant.  It's the re-opening of Amber at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental after almost 6 months' of renovations, and the team at Amber has taken to calling it Amber 2.0 - much like the much-lauded Noma 2.0 that has taken the foodie circle by storm.

While I'm a big fan of Chef Richard Ekkebus' and was eagerly waiting for the 2.0, there was inevitably a huge rush to try out the new digs by chef friends, media, and "influencers" who want to show the world that they were there first... so I took a laidback attitude and decided to wait until the hype died down somewhat.  Meanwhile, I fielded a lot of questions from friends asking me whether I had been to "the new Amber"...

Then I received an email from the PR agency working on behalf of the restaurant, and an invitation was extended to me on behalf of Richard.  This is not the kind of invitation one should turn down lightly, so I gratefully accepted in spite of an upcoming busy eating schedule.

The room was markedly different, and the whole vibe was different.  Lighting was better, as they took note of the need for those of us who feel the compulsion to photograph every dish.  Unfortunately for me, the florescent lighting caused banding/flicker issues with my Sony A9, and I was such an amateur that I didn't remember how to deal with it...

Hello Kitty and I got an introduction from Richard about what they are trying to do with 2.0, which of course has already been covered by food media.  Friends had already told me how delicious everything was, and it was time to see for myself whether the removal of dairy and refined sugar would make a difference.

But once change is immediately apparent: the restaurant now serves Nordaq Fresh - water that is filtered on site.  Gone are the bottled water which had to be imported from far-flung locales.  I love that restaurants are moving towards sustainability, but of course Richard has been advocating that for years.

Home made silken tofu ° heirloom tomatoes ° salted sakura ° virgin almond oil ° - Richard told us how the team had to learn how to make their own tofu, since no Chinese tofu "master" was willing to share the secrets of their craft.  Paired with four types of Amela tomatoes including Amela Rubins (アメーラルビンズ) - which have long been Richard's favorites as they come in at more than 10°Bx.  This also came with cold-pressed tomato juice, almond oil, sakura (桜) salt, and sakura petals.

The home made tofu definitely had more depth of flavors, and the texture was more akin to tofu pudding (豆腐花).

Aji ° wheatgrass ° celtuce ° kyuri ° virgin line seeds oil ° - the horse mackerel (鯵) came in raw strips as if served as sashimi, and topped with slices of Japanese cucumber, thin ribbons of celtuce, wakame (若布), and "wheatgrass oil"...

The cucumber came with some nice acidity, but... I dunno... there was something that just wasn't quite right about the flavors of the fish reacting to the other elements of the dish.

Okinawa corn ° Kristal schrenki caviar ° seawater ° sudachi ° - so this was the new signature caviar dish... and Richard told us that this was by far the crowd favorite, which isn't a surprise to me.  It is, after all, the most Instagrammable due to the caviar.

Cracking the corn tuile reveals the contents of the bowl.  We've got cold-pressed Okinawan corn at the bottom, with seawater foam enveloping the farmed schrenki caviar from Heilongjiang (黑龍江).

I must have had the weirdest reaction to this dish that Richard's heard so far... because I actually thought it was eating a lemon meringue pie...  You see, the sweet corn at the bottom and the shaved sudachi (酢橘) zest on top of the sweet corn tuile together tasted like the sweet and sour lemon curd, and somehow the seawater foam reminded me of the soft meringue...  Of course the caviar delivered the unmistakable salted fishy and oily flavors, but the rest of the dish really screwed with my head.

I think I need another serving to figure this out...

Teardrop peas ° pomelo ° cuttlefish ° wakame ° - this, on the other hand, was a clear winner.  We've got pea purée, whipped lardo, raw and sautéed teardrop peas, shallots, wakame, diced cuttlefish, pomelo, and pea sprouts, wakame oil, and sudachi.  The list of ingredients here reminded me of another dish Richard served us last year.

A glorious spoonful with all the ingredients in one bite.  The creamy purée and the sweetness from the peas counterbalance the saltiness from the lardo.  Then there's the wonderful texture from all those tiny cubes of cuttlefish, with that bounciness.  This was so, soooo good Hello Kitty and I both said that we could eat this every day, since the flavors were so familiar like comfort food.  In fact, I could have been happy to a big bowl of this and nothing else.

We were then invited to leave our table and head for the kitchen, where a counter has been set up with a view of all the stations.  We were to take our next course here - tucking in while standing.

Osmanthus tea - first we were poured a glass of cold-brewed osmanthus tea, which showed some bitterness due to the extended steeping time.  Interesting that we were told that the osmanthus flowers usually come with Oolong tea (烏龍茶)...  Say what???!!!

As the next dish was served, we were asked to pull out the Relae-style drawers underneath the counter top to access the silverware.

Pointed cabbage ° shiitake ° virgin hazelnut oil ° button mushroom ° - so we have a dish without any protein, which was just fine with me.  Beautiful millefeuille made with pointed cabbage, shiitake (椎茸), and button mushrooms.  The fresh shiitake on top had such a slippery texture it was just lovely.  The crunch from the sweet cabbage was wonderful, and you've got lots of deep flavors and umami from the mushroom purée at the bottom as well as the sauce.  Very niiiiice.

Aka amadai ° violin zucchini ° Nocellara del Belice ° caviar lime ° shiso ° - OF COURSE we would have red tilefish (赤甘鯛)... with their scales crisped by pouring hot oil on top.  On the side we've got a bed of thin violin zucchini slices, topped with some finger lime caviar, shiso (紫蘇) mayo, kabosu gel, pickled pearl onion, and  Nocellara del Belice olive oil.

The tilefish was, of course, every bit as nice as expected.  But WOAH that acidity coming from the kabosu gel and finger lime!  Just blindsided me...

Blue lobster ° St George mousseron ° kabu ° hazelnuts ° vin jaune ° - the second we lifted the lids from our bowls, the wonderful fragrance of vin jaune - together with that of mushrooms - rose and filled our nostrils.  The homard bleu from Brittany was poached for 3 minutes, and came with Japanese turnip (蕪), toasted hazelnuts, and St. George's mushrooms.  Topped with a transparent layer of vin jaune jelly.  The crunchy hazelnuts were especially nice.

Wagyu beef A5 sirloin ° red miso ° black garlic ° sansai spring mountain vegetables ° - no surprise that the final savory dish was Miyazaki (宮崎) A5, which was charcoal grilled.  Interesting that it came with a selection of Japanese sansai (山菜) including fiddelhead fern, and a not-insignificant amount of black garlic purée.

To be honest... these days the A5 striploin is a little fatty for my liking.  The execution was perfect, of course...

Next came not one, not two, but three desserts... presumably all made without any dairy products or refined sugar.

Avocado ° lime ° Sicilian pistachio ° Granny Smith ° Thai basil ° - we've got a dome of avocado purée, Granny Smith gel hidden underneath discs of meringue, a big quenelle of pistachio sorbet on top of crumbs of toasted pistachio, lime mousse, and Thai basil leaves.  The Sicilian pistachio sorbet was rich and beautiful, and the crumbs were nice if slightly bitter.  Thai basil leaves were so powerful and full of anise flavors.  The gel was so sour I actually winced in pain...

Sake lees ° raspberry ° puffed black Camargue rice ° rice milk ° - so apparently we've got sake lees (酒粕), puffed rice, and bits of fresh raspberries at the bottom.  Then there's a quenelle of sake lees ice cream (dairy-free, of course) hidden within tuiles of sake lees and raspberries.  Gotta say that those rice crispies were pretty nice.

Bitter chocolate ° smoky Bourbon barrel ° Michters ° buckwheat ° - 65% dark chocolate in thin little sticks on top, with some puffed buckwheat on top of Okinawan kokuto (黒糖) cooked with Bourbon... and the dessert was finished with a few sprays of the Bourbon.  Interesting with a little savory notes.

Buckwheat, coconut sugar and olive oil madeleine °, home made cherry jam ° - this was very grainy in terms of texture, a little rough on the tongue, and very oily...

Burlat cherries on ice °

Ambershu °

I didn't want to drink a lot, and I was having trouble finding bargains from the restaurant wine list, so the sommeliers very kindly picked out something for us.

2013 Schiopetto Collio Friulano - much riper and sweeter on the palate than expected, very rounded, but perhaps a little overripe.  Some minerality here.

2017 Moulin de Gassac Syrah - lots of dried herbs and potpourri, eucalyptus.  A little bitter on the palate.

Amber 2.0 represents the direction that Richard Ekkebus wants to take for the next 15 years of his career, and it embodies a certain "less is more" philosophy.  I look forward to joining him and his team on their journey and see where that takes us.

P.S.  I did try to ask to settle the bill for dinner, but they wouldn't give me one...  Many thanks to the team for their kind hospitality.

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