Everyone has a story or two about something stupid they did when they were young. In my case, I’ve got a whole compendium of “Shen’s idiocy and the acts that followed”. That’s Volume I, btw. Once, I saw a brown liquid that was moving down a tree branch at a glacial pace, and thought it was…honey.
Oh boy, you’d think that would put me off a restaurant called Amber, wouldn’t you?
Good thing I don’t get traumatised very easily. By the way, did you know that tree sap actually doesn’t taste all that bad? *ahem* Ok, now onto actual French food.
Date Last Visited: 18/12/2014
Address: The Landmark, 15 Queen’s Road Central, Central, Hong Kong
Recommended Dish(es): fukuoka hobo fish, Hokkaido sea urchin, Bahibe milk chocolate cylinder
In Dec-2014 to January-2015, I embarked on a two-and-a-half week holiday with The Lady to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. Unlike my 2013-2014 Europe trip, I’ll actually attempt to blog my food adventures in these glorious foodie destinations. It only serves to do you dear readers right!
So why a French fine dining restaurant in The Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong? Honestly, I have no idea. Perhaps because it’s a two-Michelin star restaurant, the world’s 24th best restaurant and Asia’s 6th best restaurant. Perhaps it was to see just how good French cooking fares in a dramatically Easten cultural demographic. Perhaps I just wanted to see if Amber tasted like tree sap. Chef de cuisine Maxime Gilbert could probably figure out how to make it work.
The restaurant interior is helluva fancy. If you were to see it in colour, it would most definitely remind you of amber. Tones of yellows and reds are everywhere, quite the stimulating venue.
While you can go degustation, we actually went a la carte this time, as we didn’t want to stuff ourselves here. Trust me, when you’re in Hong Kong, your stomach budget had better be very carefully allocated. There can be no room for regret.
A 3-course a la carte meal will set you back 548HKD (~$92AUD at time of writing), while a 4-course option will take 748HKD ($126AUD) from your wallet. These prices are reasonable if in Australia, though for the average Hong Konger, maybe less so. Then again, if you’re eating at places such as Amber, you probably have the capacity to pay. With that out of the way, let’s eat some butter!
I wasn’t exactly kidding about that. Apparently, if you score butter, it’s easier to spread on bread. I can’t say it’s any easier, but it certain’t isn’t any more difficult. Plus, it’s a looker!
Somehow, in my haste (or perhaps due to tree sap poisoning), I forgot to take photos of the bread itself. Sorry! Amber offered several types on our visit – mini baguettes, super thin crispy rye pieces, and a more classic olive bread rolls. The rye was our favourite, due to the crunchy texture.
Who am I kidding though, I love all bread. Besides, I’ve got to find some way to mop up that creamy butter, right?
Our amuse bouche is most amusing indeed. Up front, we have squid ink pita spheres w/celeriac puree, alongside pumpkin chips w/little dips of fruity pumpkin and apple puree. The two bites rest atop a bed of pumpkin seeds. You know, in case the pumpkin flavours weren’t enough. Our waiter was kind enough to inform us that you shouldn’t eat those pumpkin seeds…unless you really want to.
In terms of flavour, everything was quite mild and light. It’s too subtle for me – I wished for something punchier in the black sphere, an “ooooohhh” moment when I bit into it. I didn’t get that. Rather, it felt like I was eating a fancied-up piece of bread with a creamy centre. That said, there’s a lot of work that went into this, and it was quite good from a texture perspective. I would say the same for the pumpkin crisps. Those were a bit better – crispy and with a bit of a sweetness coming from the pumpkin. I wished I had just one more!
If the squid ink sphere and pumpkin chips’s lack of flavour were to be considered as a deliberate attempt to build things up, then the haymaker would definitely be in these foie gras lollipops. Duck foie coated in a beetroot and berry glace is every bit the high-end Chupa Chup. There’s even a little circle of gingerbread adorning the top! A sharp hit of acidity from the berry is experienced on first taste. Then, the foie strikes. Ah, delicious, so rich, so foie. It’s a savoury course for sure, but there’s definitely a sweet side to this and that is quite lovely.If you told me a fine dining restaurant would name one of its courses ‘hobo fish’, you would not be well-received, I’ll tell you that much.
So then I read on Amber’s menu: Fukuoka hobo fish. I honestly have no idea why it’s called this. I couldn’t Google the answer quickly enough, so I’ll leave this one to learned readers to inform me!
Despite its name, the dish is beautifully plated, with none of its plodding namesake appearing anywhere. It also happens to be a bit amber 😉
The Lady isn’t a fan of truffles, and boy is it strong in this one. I’m not complaining – that means more for me, and it’s a delicious dish as well! The white fish is on the outside, ensconcing the fennel truffle compote within. It’s a bit hearty, with very well-balanced umami coming from two directions – that of the fish and that of the truffle within.
The truffle is actually quite strong, to the point of almost being overpowering, but if you’re a truffle lover you won’t have a problem here. It would have been nice to get shaved truffle, but this will suffice nicely!
Amber’s signature dish is elegantly presented as the Hokkaido sea urchin. This requires an extra 248HKD ($41AUD) investment, which is reasonable, given the high prices of urchin & caviar, as well as delivering on signature-level quality.
The urchin itself lies on a bed of cauliflower cream, and above it is a generous proportion of caviar (not sure on the type) sits on top. It’s beautiful, as it is tasty. There is a small plating of seaweed waffles and flat crispbread in the background to go with every spoonful.
It also just happens to be the best sea urchin I’ve ever had. Yep, you get your ROI – it lives up to the hype, and is easily the best dish of the entire meal and one of the best dishes I’ve ever had at a fine dining restaurant. So creamy, so fulfilling, and one of the best examples of why seafood is just so delicious. Everything just works.
Urchin lovers, you absolutely must order this. Haven’t tried urchin before? Set the bar with this dish. Tried urchin before and hated it? You may change your mind after this one.
With taste buds still tingling from that delicious urchin, our first main rolls onto the table, a line caught alfonsino. Alfonsino and my stomach rarely get the chance to get acquainted, and that’s something I’m trying very hard to work on.
It’s quite a beautiful main, as are all of Amber’s dishes so far. However, its looks may have done this dish too much justice – flavour-wise, it was not particularly to my liking. The citrus elements were quite flat and didn’t add much to the fish itself. Thus, while the fish was excellently cooked in terms of texture, there was very little flavour to carry across. The result? Something akin to a grilled fish with a delectably crunchy grilled skin…that doesn’t taste like too much.
Our second and final main turns to the dark side. Nearly-black French wild venison steals the plating show, topped by a generous piece of pan-fried foie and sweet potato gnocchi all around. If you order this dish, you will be warned that ‘wild game dishes may contain shot pellets and small bones’. That’s pretty stiff stuff.
Don’t worry though, this is a world-class restaurant. While mistakes could happen, we found no traces of anything other than venison meat in our dish. Don’t pass this chance up! Why? Because it’s a really good venison dish, above and beyond most venison dishes which only make me think “this is nice, but I could just have ordered a beef dish and be done with it”.
Venison is fairly gamey, which requires a lot of TLC to get right without overdoing it. It tasted particularly tender (for venison), almost approaching something like a lean beef. It does taste quite gamey though, but that’s what you’re ordering when you get this. The blob of fatty foie on top, when knifed together with the meat and underlying sauce, is a very enticing combination. Delicious blobs of kumara gnocchi finish things off, and we’re primed for dessert!
Yes, we were contemplating on cheeses…but this is Hong Kong, not Italy. We had other things to eat…
…such as these pre-desserts of coconut sherbet chocolate pops. These were a fun little diversion into childhood – when I used to huff sherbet like it was sugar. Well, it was sugar, really.
They’re nothing to write home about (though I am writing about them from the comfort of my own home), and I’m not so sure chocolate and sherbet go together. That said, they’re still tasty and a good way to get our palates primed for the real desserts to come.
A “real” dessert, something like the poached Williams pear poached in macvin du jura w/buttermilk. Think of this as a larger, more glorified palate cleanser. That’s actually why I ordered it. Given that I’m a big fan of more refreshing, rather than heavy desserts, this was a natural progression.
Indeed, the lightness and refreshing nature of the pear sorbet is what did it for me. I wasn’t a fan of the texture, which was particularly grainy (like a real pear, actually), but it definitely did a good F5 number on me. Sorry, that joke was a bit nerdy, I promise I’ll keep making them.
By the way, what in the heck is macvin du jura? Turns out it’s wine! At the time I could not explain the alcoholic taste of the dessert, and only found out when I wrote this post. Mystery solved!
I must admit, sometimes heavier desserts really do pull their weight. The Lady’s choice of bahibe milk chocolate w/dulcey & salted caramel ice cream is a choice I’m glad she made. Bahibe is 46% dark valrhona chocolate, which strikes a good balance of sweet, bitter and richness. The chocolate cylinder, as a result, is not too heavy or sweet, and neither is it particularly bitter. That’s what I like so much about it. Additional crunchy elements (always welcome, always) are provided by the caramel honeycombs. Think Cadbury Crunchie, but never sticky!
As for dulcey, the Valrhona website says it best:
Dulcey is a smooth, creamy chocolate with a velvety and enveloping texture and a warm, blond color. The first notes are buttery, toasty and not too sweet, gradually giving way to the flavors of shortbread with a pinch of salt.
And that explains the outer yellow layer!
The dessert is rounded off with a token quenelle (it’s kind of melting) of salted caramel ice cream. No complaints here.
This chocolate is beautiful. A must-try dessert, for sure!
There were a few remarkable dishes at Amber, a few middling ones, and a few underwhelming ones. I suppose French cuisine will never be completely my calling. Amber is a good restaurant, without a doubt – exceptional service and sometimes great food. Is it a world-class restaurant? I’m not entirely convinced.
This post is based on an independent visit to Amber Hong Kong.
As usual, feel free to leave a comment or three 😀
- Amber’s signature dishes are truly worthy of their signature status
- Amber taught me to love chocolate more and more in desserts
- Exceptional service
- Seafood dishes were middling at best
- If you’re visiting Hong Kong, there is not that much of a reason to visit a French restaurant unless you’re chasing Michelin stars.
I have a new scoring system! Read all about it here.
Most important takeaway – three separate scores for food, service and ambiance to give the final score. The new system is not compatible with any score given prior to 11/11/2014.
F6.5 | S4.5 | A3
- Rated 3.5 stars
- Very Good
- Restaurant Amber
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