September 19, 2023

Occupy Amber: the alumni dinner

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I just had to do it. I had to be at this dinner tonight. I had debated about coming to this event for weeks, but I had already committed to a dinner last night as well as tonight. So I hesitated, and didn't bother asking for a table. Besides, Foursheets is out of town. Who would I ask to sit at my table?

Then I found out that PR8 would be returning to the Amber for one night only, dressed up in the uniform of front-of-house staff. This would be a great opportunity to snap a picture or two, and see how much he's changed since the time when he was a youngster working at the restaurant in 2005. Almost could not pass up this opportunity, but I didn't feel good about flaking out on my friends.

The final straw came when Maxime announced the closure of Écriture. It would seem that the last chapter has been written on that venture, and I didn't know when I would see him again, so I decided I had to come to this special Amber Alumni Return event tonight. It would feel very special. So I apologized to the Candidate and the others, told them I was bailing on dinner with them, and got myself "not the best table in the house" a few days ago. I am grateful for Belo for indulging my whims and accompanying me tonight.

I didn't see PR8 anywhere in the dining room when I was seated, so I asked around for him. Apparently he was hanging out in the kitchen and had to be notified that someone was asking for him. A lot of good he was doing... We managed to take a picture of him in his new uniform.

Our meal started with a welcome cocktail from an alumnus.

° Moët et Chandon Impérial Brut ° lacto-fermented peach milk custard ° local soy distillate °, by Agung Prabowo of Penicillin, Hong Kong - I could definitely smell the grapefruit oil. Some savory, umami flavors thanks to the clear soy sauce.

° Root vegetables ° maple syrup ° enriched soy ° black currant ° pied de mouton wild mushroom°, by Richard Ekkebus, Stanley Poon and Terry Ho of Amber - a millefeuille made with carrot, parsnip, and Jerusalem artichoke. Meh.

° Buckwheat ° black autumn truffles ° extra virgin grilled rapeseed oil°, by Richard Ekkebus, Stanley Poon and Terry Ho of Amber - very mushroom.

° Dutch blue lobster ° duck tongue ° liquorice ° foie gras ° green apple ° micro basil °, by Sidney Schutte of Spectrum, Amsterdam - WOW! This was clearly a winner! Visually appealing with its presentation, as the pile "foie gras beans" literally act as the rubble of a breakwater, and the green apple "jus" is kept to the right side of the plate. The fruity acidity of the apple worked very well with the foie gras. The crunchy sweet peas were very tasty, and that sauce on the lobster... with a little licorice. Beautiful.

The big surprise was the crispy duck tongues, which had this satisfying fragrance - not to mention the flavors - from the Maillard reaction. So, sooo tasty, and so unexpected from a chef working in Amsterdam. But then again, he did spend about 3 years here in Hong Kong.

This was a really strong dish to set the tone for the rest of the meal.

Next we were asked to visit the kitchen to take our next course. Maxime was there waiting for us.

Now the caviar was cured in beef ham, like the way it was done when Écriture first opened. It imparts more flavor and makes it more salty.

° Royal Caviar Club schrenckii caviar ° Canadian red sea urchin ° celeriac °, by Maxime Gilbert of Écriture, Hong Kong - we have the famous caviar tart for two in a buckwheat tart shell. The sea urchin now comes from Canada instead of Hokkaido as usual, but we all know the reason behind it. Given the recent closure of Écriture, this would be the last time I see this for a while...

Served with celeriac cream.

Not sure that anyone introduced this drink...

Before I arrived, Maxime had messaged me to tell me that he had a gift for me. I was so surprised to find that it's the knife he had made for me to use whenever I visit Écriture, engraved with my nom de plume. Now it was time for me to take it home. In accordance with French custom, he could not just give me the knife, so I bought it from him with one of the coins in my pocket.

° Tagliolini ° fish roe ° pistachio ° dill °, by Francesco di Marzio - the pasta came with "two kinds of roe". While I could see that one looked like trout roe, I had no idea what the other kind was...

Nevertheless, this was very tasty. The dill flavors were very obvious without being overpowering. There were some marinated leaves bringing some acidity and salt.

We were shown the seabass for the next course, which was cured for 3 to 4 days and dipped in mastiha.

° French wild seabass ° mastiha ° artichoke ° kumquat ° bottarga °, by Luca Piscazzi of Pelagos, Athens - the seabass was steamed before being nicely pan-fried, and came with purple artichoke, artichoke purée, a cream sauce with finger lime caviar.

° Normandy diver scallop ° garden herbs ° Champagne ° seaweed °, by Florence Dalia of 16 by Flo, Taipei - the Champagne beurre blanc came with a nice acidity that was just right. The cabbage was pretty tasty.

The wrapper of the raviolo had a nice bite, and the scallop was, of course, pretty nice. This was not the first time I've seen a dish like this from a chef who spent time helming one of the Robuchon restaurants...

° Cevennes onion ° winter black truffle ° buckwheat ° Paris mushroom °, by Nicolas Boutin of Épure Ami, Hong Kong - this was a dish I'd had before at Épure, where slices of black truffle were inserted between layers of the onion. The sauce at the bottom was made with onion purée, truffle, crispy buckwheat, and veal jus.

To cleanse the palate afterwards, we were also served a drink made with champignons de Paris.

° Ping Yuen chicken ° salad hearts ° Szechuan pepper ° sorel °, by James Baron of La Chavallera, La Punt-Chaumes - on top of the chicken skin we had crispy nuts, garlic crumble, and some Sichuan peppercorns. The sucrine lettuce heart came with mushrooms and sorel. This came with two sauces - a sorel beurre blanc as well as a smoked paprika and fermented tomato sauce.

° Wagyu ° crystal pear ° red onion ° red wine vinegar ° shiraz °, by Richard Ekkebus, Stanley Poon and Terry Ho of Amber - I wasn't the least bit surprised that the Amber team gave us wagyu... The ribeye was grilled over binchotan (備長炭) and had a good, firm texture. The ribeye cap was braised with shiraz and red onions but unfortunately I found it a little too dry, and it came topped with braised pear as well as pickled pear providing some acidity.

Infinity cake - someone Belo knows was seated at a nearby table, and sent us a piece of the restaurant's signature cake. This was pretty sweet with the hazelnut cream but the yuzu (柚子) coulis brought some acidity.

° Amatica Chocolate ° soy ° black lemon ° charcoal ° Timut pepper ° honey ° sobacha tea °, by Carles Codina Escofet of Amber - the ganache was made with Valrhona Amatika (with a 'k') 46% chocolate. I have no idea what the quenelle is on the right, as it was described as "soya sabayon ice ice cream, and actually it's buckwheat tea flavor." So I'm guessing that's sobacha (蕎麦茶) and soya? The flavors were much too delicate for this uneducated palate to pick out. The coulis on the side was charcoal and lime. No explanation was given on the "biscuit" at the bottom, but that was the best part of this dessert.

The fruit selection - the figs and (muscat?) grapes were from Taiwan, while the melon and (mirabelle?) plums were French.

Madeleines - with "Japanese citrus" purée inside, which tasted like yuzu to me. MUCH more moist than all the ones I tasted from previous visits. They finally got it right... in my not-so-humble opinion.

70% dark chocolate with raspberry ganache - rose petal on top.

Ambershu - this time with white peach.

I suggested to Belo that we forgo the wine pairing, and instead pick out a bottle we would like to drink from the restaurant list.

2004 Jacquesson Aÿ Vazuelle Terme, dégorgée le 13 fevrier 2013 - acidity was definitely on the high side for this. Drinking OK but not as memorable as I would have expected.

Belo and I were very happy to have been able to participate in this memorable experience, and very happy that all these chefs have agreed to return from different corners of the world for this event. Oh, and just the memory of PR8 pouring me Champagne in his uniform - and having that recorded for posterity - was worth the cost of dinner.

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