March 12, 2022

Occupy Amber: golden caviar

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It was about time that we returned to Amber. Our most recent visit last year saw us taking their vegetarian menu, so basically we haven't experienced Amber 2.0 since before the pandemic hit. It also means that I haven't been back to taste Richard Ekkebus' signature dish of Hokkaido sea urchin with caviar - the dish over which I jokingly threatened to "Occupy Amber" - for far, far too long. That just ain't right.

My original plan was for a table of three, where we would be joined by the Compatriot. Alas, he chose to return to the UK as the Covid situation in Hong Kong had become worse than the UK, and in any case new social distancing measures would force the three of us to be seated at 2 separate tables. So it was just the two of us today.

I had little interest in taking up the "Amber Unlimited" menu - which was the only option available online - so I asked Richard whether we could have the "regular" menu instead. I was glad we were able to choose the 6-course Amber Experience instead.

We were informed that on top of the 6 courses Richard would be sending us some other extras... I am always grateful for Richard's kindness, although I suspect that would make it pretty difficult for us to return our table within 2 hours. I would be right.

Right off the bat, Richard came to deliver the first extra dish to kick off our meal. This is Barely touched: best of the best - a starter of three luxurious ingredients basically raw, and paired with a glass of Champagne.

Ebisu winter oyster ˚ aka uni ˚ Petrossian Daurenki Tsar Imperial Caviar ˚ Acipenser Schrenki-Dauricus ˚ - apparently this needs to have equal proportions among the three ingredients. The Ebisu (恵比須) oyster from Karatomari (唐泊) in Fukuoka Prefecture (福岡県) was much more briny than I had expected, and came with some iodine/hospital disinfectant taste. It was crunchy on the first bite, but turned more chewy and creamy later. This worked very well with the sweet sea urchin. The caviar looked beautiful and had a richness and depth on the palate, although the texture was more firm than I had expected.

Laurent Perrier Ultra Brut - good depth on the palate, good amount of acidity due to zero dosage but not too sharp. Nice and toasty nose, with some green apple about 2 hours later.

Wait! There's now bread being served at Amber?! Shocking! But I only nibbled a little, because I knew there was a ton of food coming our way.

Smoked herring ˚ herring roe ˚ katsuobushi ˚ enriched soy ˚ potato ˚ me negi ˚ - the smoked herring bavarois was encased in a spherical jelly, and topped with a little herring roe. I must say... although I am generally happy to spoon herring roe from a jar, having just had sturgeon roe moments earlier does present quite a contrast... Anyway, this was very tasty, especially with the potato soufflé on top and the spinach/chives coulis at the bottom.

Duck foie gras: Chupa Chup with beetroot and raspberry, topped with crispy gingerbread and sea salt - the perennial favorite. Tough to get tired of this delightful bite. One of the few exceptions I will make for beetroot on my menu.

I had been jokingly exchanging messages with Richard a few weeks earlier, commenting that the amount of gold he serves on his signature dish was not enough. So... this is what happens when you get a reputation around town for wanting more bling on your food... Your chef friends try to call your bluff and you go home to shit glitter.

Aka uni ˚ cauliflower ˚ lobster ˚ Daurenki Schrenki caviar ˚ - WHAT THE... What is this?! I can't see anything because the whole thing's been wrapped in gold foil!

I look up to see Richard sneakily standing in the doorway to the kitchen, trying to see the reaction on my face when this was brought to me. That cheeky Dutchy...

Well... this was as tasty as ever, although I haven't had the pleasure of tasting this in the 2.0 era - when the kitchen replaced milk, butter, and cream with plant-based alternatives. I dunno how Richard feels about serving it now - as it shows up on almost all the non-vegetarian menu options - but I think the majority of the diners today chose this dish. Another dish I'm unlikely to ever tire of.

The seaweed cracker today was very, very good. Always nice to have that salty umami work with the sweet and creamy flavors of the sea urchin and cream... and of course lobster jelly.

Foie gras ˚ Madeira ˚ preserved black winter truffle ˚ green sugar pea ˚ pea shoot ˚ pea flower ˚ white onion ˚ - a new dish for spring not yet on the menu, so it was an extra that Richard sent for us to try. How pretty this looked with all that green plus the yellow and blue pea flowers!

The onion paper on the side was simply fantastic! Tasty on its own thanks to the salt and oil, the onions encased inside were so, so good!

So... we've got some black truffle coulis at the bottom of the bowl, along with foie gras crémeux. A little bit of pea pod jus, plus a few pearls of truffle-infused oil spherification. The peas were, of course, beautifully crunchy, and nicely balancing out the richness of the foie and truffle. The sweet peas also worked really well with the salty onion paper.

Richard always manages to deliver beautiful dishes with peas. I can't wait to have this again.

Milk-fed veal ˚ black winter truffle ˚ Italian parsley ˚ banana shallot ˚ button mushroom ˚ Fuxiang pear ˚ extra virgin hazelnut oil ˚ - Sankala is always happy to see veal tartare, and we've got truffle and button mushrooms to boot.

This worked really well on rye crackers, and one can see how fine the knife work is... with those crunchy, diced shallots, truffle, and of course the veal. Nice acidity here.

White asparagus ˚ ha wasabi ˚ junmai sake ˚ sake leese ˚ dehydrated soy ˚ white miso ˚ - ah yes, beautiful white asparagus in season... and these came from the Loire Valley. Glazed with sake and topped with bonito flakes, wasabi leaves, and pickled white asparagus. On the side we had a purée of wasabi leaves with a zabaglione of sake lees and dehydrated powder of soy salt. The fermented flavors from the purée, lees and miso were pretty interesting... almost like cheese!

Wild tai ˚ Dekopon ˚ sansho ˚ saffron ˚ bell pepper ˚ red onion ˚ fruit tomato ˚ basil ˚ - the wild red seabream (天然鯛) was seared a la plancha. Lovely texture and flavors, delicious crispy skin. The bouillabaisse sauce was so good one could smell it without tasting it. The compote on the side was made with (Japanese?) fruit tomatoes, bell peppers, and Dekopon (デコポン). The peppers were so flavorful and brought a little spicy kick. There was definitely lovely fragrance from the basil and cloves in that compote

Scampi ˚ veal cheek ˚ dry Sherry ˚ maitake ˚ bulgur ˚ bone marrow ˚ - I was a little surprised when we were only given a spoon for this course, but it all made sense when this arrived. No cutting necessary. The listing of scampi as the primary ingredient was rather misleading as this was a really, really rich dish... The cubes of tasty veal cheek... the maitake (舞茸) that had been covered by the richness of bone marrow... The Sherry foam on top was a nice touch.

Then we had the bulgur at the bottom of it all... soaking up all the melted bone marrow.

2016 Cos d'Estournel Blanc - served about 40 minutes after decanting. Good ripeness on the palate but still got the acidity. Perhaps mellowed out a little since the last time I had it.

Lamb rack ˚ celtuce ˚ Romaine lettuce ˚ extra virgin olive oil ˚ caper leaf ˚ gastrique "Béarnaise" ˚ - with tarragon mayo and tarragon oil, along with lamb jus seasoned with capers, shallots, and parsley. On the side there was lettuce and Sankala's favorite celtus. Oh yeah... this lamb was fatty and tasty. Finger-licking good.

2013 Trapet Chambertin - by the glass. Very fragrant nose with black cherries and lots of eucalyptus, forest, leather, and animal notes. Relatively dry on the palate.

Gianduja ˚ arabica coffee ˚ buckwheat ˚ sudachi ˚ - inside the sphere we had a sauce made from cold brew arabica coffee, which was really nice. The toasted buckwheat was really fragrant, but I failed to pick up any scent of the sudachi (酢橘)...

The fruits today included papaya, Indian jujube, and atemoya (which was mistakenly introduced as custard apple).

Not the Amber umeshu (梅酒) we've had before, but today it was yuzushu (柚子酒).

Buckwheat madeleines - with poppy seeds. It was dry and crumbling outside but still kinda powdery and moist inside... just shy of being mushy.

Kacinkoa chocolate with almond praline and cocoa nibs - thanks to the 85% dark chocolate and the mildly-salted praline, this wasn't really sweet but one could taste the cacao.

What a fantastic lunch! Even ignoring the 3 extra dishes we got from Richard - and the ridiculous amount of gold foil - this would have been a collection of 6 lovely dishes. I do have to say, though, that the peas and the red seabream both stood out today. They were simply fantastic. Made me so, so happy that I return to Occupy Amber.

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