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Mar 17, 2008 10:30 PM

Amber - Hong Kong

Just wanted to share about a very nice dinner we had at Amber, Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, recently. We ordered:
Starters - Kangaroo Island king crab in 5 textures, 4 temperatures, served as jell-o, salad, foam, hot bisque & ice-cream (this was delicious - a tricky dish where so many things could have gone wrong, but they managed to carry it out here, and what I experienced was an explosion of flavors & textures which teased & challenged one's palate); and
- Tasmanian salmon "charcoal" smoked & served warm, cream of hass avocado & extra virgin olive oil (again, a surprisingly well-executed dish, not overly-complicated. Love the fragrantly-smoked salmon reclining seductively on its divan of smooth, delectable avocado creme);

Mains - Slow-roasted Margaret River wagyu sirloin, with short-rib & aubergine canneloni and puree of caramelised onions & mushrooms (I didn't know that Margaret River produce cattle nowadays - used to be rainbow trout & marron in the 1980s/90s. The sirloin was meaty & bursting with flavor; whilst the accompanying canneloni with short-rib confit was a most welcome bonus);
- Lamb-neck confit & glazed, white cocoa beans & flat parsley, bouillon of Italian vine tomatoes with white balsamic vinegar (this dish was a tad too rich, although it's probably the tastiest lamb dish in Hong Kong outside of Hutong's crispy boneless lamb-rib dish);

Desserts - Coffee-havana-tobacco-fine champagne-cognac-&-ocumare South American chocolate (this was sensational - I'm not a chocolate lover, but polished up every single morsel on this dish);
- Clementine-jell-o-whipped-citurs-fruit terrine-mascarpone ice-cream-and-clementine-granite (great palate cleanser, and perfect if one is looking for a light finish to a meal).

Overall, a totally enjoyable experience (the restaurant's "chocolate sommelier" was a cool novelty). Price-wise, it's also lighter on the pocket than the terribly over-priced Pierre (at the sister Mandarin Oriental Hotel), with its hodge-podge of clashing flavours & bland dishes.

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  1. Sounds terribly yummy!! If only I knew earlier, I would have forsake my Da Domenica meal and went there instead!! Oh well!

    8 Replies
    1. re: Charles Yu

      BTW, my favorite HK restaurant at the moment is L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. Somehow, its chefs managed to maintain a perfect balance in the flavors & textures of its dishes. The last time I was there (3 weeks back), I tried:
      - La Crabe (fresh king crab on a lobster & fennel jelly, with salmon roe);
      - L'Amadai (crispy amadai fish fillets, served with an aromatic champagne nectar);
      - for dessert: cheesecake flavored with pear & plum compote, and XO cognac ice-cream.

      The starter and entree were both simply perfect (my dining companion had La Saint-Jacques for her starter & it was also sensational!).

      The dessert item was the only "let-down" for me - but then, I'm unfairly comparing its cheesecake to the one served at the lobby of the Peninsula Hotel (which is probably one of the best cheesecakes in the world!).

      1. re: klyeoh

        How do you compare L'atelier Robuchon between the Tokyo and Hong Kong branch?

        Actually for "value for money", take the ferry across to Macau to try Galera Rubochon at Lisboa.

        1. re: FourSeasons

          L'Atelier Tokyo is a fave of mine, and is much more polished in its service and presentation-style, but can be a bit more stiff & formal.

          The French maitre'd at L'Atelier Hong Kong mentioned that he's worked with Joel Robuchon for the last 8 years, mainly at the 3-Michelin starred Restaurant Joel Robuchon in Ebisu, Tokyo, before coming to Hong Kong. So does the current chef of L'Atelier HK. Joel Robuchon permutates his staff to try & ensure consistency of cooking and service standards at his different restaurants thoughout the region.

          The food at L'Atelier HK is almost (but not quite) as good as the Tokyo one, but is miles ahead of its rivals in HK: Amber, Caprice and that "yucky" Pierre.

          I heard many good things about Galera Joel Robuchon. I was in Macau last Sunday (right after landing in HK earlier in the morning) but, after 2 weeks of good French-influenced Californian cuisine in SF, opted for Portuguese-Macaunese food instead. Went back to one of my old fave haunts, A Lorcha (another fave is Ristorante Litoral a few doors down the same street) for lunch. We ordered:
          - Rissois de camarao (crisp pastels filled with shrimps in creamy sauce - delicious!);
          - Pasteis de bacalhau (Portuguese dried cod cakes - a must-not-miss whilst eating out in Macau);
          - Caldo verde (Portuguese kale & chourico soup. Sadly, not as good as the ones at Litoral or Fernando's in Coloane);
          - Feijoada (Macaunese-style pork knuckle, red beans & cabbage stew. It's delicious but, be forewarned - it's more "Chinese" than the Brazilian-style feijoadas you'd have tasted in churrascarias);
          - Galinha a Africana (grilled African chicken - a real Macaunese dish, by way of another Portuguese colony, Mozambique. A Lorcha's version has generous chunks of grilled chicken smothered with a spicy, tomatoey gravy that's to-die-for);
          - a wonderful, wonderful dessert that I can never get enough of: serradurra, a rich milk & cream pudding, topped with crumbled biscuits.

          One thing I should mention, at the beginning of the meal, A Lorcha serves delicious warm buns on the side, which has very nice thin & crisp crusts. Eaten with a pat of butter, it's absolutely divine.

          1. re: klyeoh

            I left Macau on Sunday afternoon, I guess we may have just bumped into each other on the ferry terminal. I was just thinking of writing about the dining experience at Venetian Macau on this trip. May post it soon.

            Yes, I have tried both A Lorcha and Litoral. They are so close and similar to each other that I often get confused which one is the one I prefer or last visited. I think the one I prefer is A Lorcha, and I usually tried the Curry Crab, sauteed clams and your favorite African chicken.

            1. re: FourSeasons

              I have only horror stories for my dining experiences at the Venetian Macau...vowed never to eat there again. I can only hope you fared better...

              1. re: Peech

                I have a completely different experience from you; I actually enjoyed the food there though not the room and the smoky environment. I tried 3 places: Roka, Canton, and Old Neptune which I thought were decent. Which are the restaurants that you have horror stories and when was that?

                1. re: FourSeasons

                  Roka ought to be good. I've only been to Zuma, its sister restaurant in HK. BTW, the food (and atmosphere) at Zuma HK was just as fantastic as Zuma London! The martini & cocktail selection alone can keep me going back for a month. A must-not-miss if you're in HK.

                  1. re: klyeoh

                    Roka at Venetian Macau was quite good. I normally do not like the fusion type of Japanese food, personally not a big fan of Nobu style but I thought Roka has done quite a good job.

                    It has divided into 4 sections: sashimi, tempura, robatayaki and kitchen menu. Did not order anything from the sashimi and tempura menu, and focus more on the robatayaki and kitchen menu. The ingredients were fresh, very well presented, nothing really stands out but everything was decent. The highlight was actually the service; maybe it was not crowded that evening but every effort was made to please us to enjoy the dinner.

                    Interestingly, I was told the main chef and the pastry chef in Roka Macau are from Singapore!

    2. glad to have someone else on the 'I like Amber' boat! It had a horribly rough start and got a bad rep, but has since improved greatly, as you've experienced.

      1 Reply
      1. re: e_ting

        I am another 'I like Amber' crew. ^^*

      2. Just went to Amber last night after a few months. Looks like some of the menu items haven't changed.

        Guess we have different views on how well these dishes were executed. While I like chefs who try to put different things together, I am still biased against Richard Ekkebus...I have to question why some of the ingredients are there at all.

        In contrast, I much prefer the cuisine at Pierre. While Pierre Gagnaire also tries to blend different flavors together, I find that he uses fewer ingredients and that there is always a singular flavor that comes through and stands out. That's much more appealing to me.

        Next time you are in town, let's meet up for a meal and compare notes!

        1 Reply
        1. re: Peech

          Hi Peech

          Drat, I didn't check the Web all the time I was in HK till now - at the SIA Lounge at Check Lap Kok Airport. Else I would have liked to meet up with you for a tete-a-tete on HK dining out spots! You're absolutely right - we do have different tastes - for me, Pierre HK's cuisine was really, and I do mean REALLY, tasteless - especially the Rouge entree, and the weird iceberg lettuce dessert.

          BTW, I missed Pierre Gagnaire's HK visit by a day. But my last experience at Pierre was so bad the last time round, I have my doubts as to whether even the visit by the great man himself would have made any difference. A well-trained kitchen crew is supposed to be able to re-produce the chef's dishes exactly, and to not vary the recipes when he's not around, not even by a single grain of salt. I don't see the current bunch improving overnight by leaps & bounds.

          Anyway, the highlight of my visit this time was a truly wondrous meal at Da Domenico, perhaps the only other place in HK, besides L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, where I can truly say I've had some really, really great-tasting dishes - its linguine gamberi was delicious. Its salt-baked snapper truly divine. Even its bruschetta waa fabulous - one can taste the sweet balsamic vinegar which I guess, from its mellow flavours, to be 20-years-old.

          Also trawled every corner of HK for authentic Asian flavours & spices this time. Shalimar at Shop 24, G/F, Chung King Mansions, served some of the fluffiest parathas I've had in HK (its chicken dopiaza was not bad either).

          On the other end of the dining scale, two-month-old Sevva at 25/F Prince Building served some really interesting food (if one's not distracted by the fab views outside) - dined there 3 times in 3 days, and especially loved the King Island Brie salad with lettuce, baby beets & candied walnuts. Owned by Bonnie Gokson (sister of Joyce Ma), the former chefs of the defunct Joyce Cafe were brought over to prepare the crispy rice claypot with seafood/meats, and also the Shanghainese dumplings in rich chicken broth which the latter establishment was known for.

        2. I notice Amber featured the 2-star Michelin Chef Thierry Marx gala dinner this month. Thierry Marx was in Seoul last December, and it was fairly good considering he did not have all the equipment and staff flown to Korea in order to show his molecular cooking skills fully.

          Amber posting:

          Thierry Marx posting:

          1. Amber, the signature restaurant of the Landmark Oriental, actually has been in my radar since 07-08 but somehow it failed to persuade me. I read some mixed reviews discussing about inconsistent performances at Amber; instead at that time I opted for dinners at Caprice and Pierre – when both restaurants just opened. Recently, Amber has become the talks among Asian’ critics and bloggers alike, in the positive way of course. 2-michelin star, HK top restaurant (according to Tatler and Restaurant magazine ‘Asia version’) and Miele’s top 10 are some accolades that the restaurant has received. Hence, I really cannot help it that Amber became a “must try” place when I visited to Hong Kong last month.

            Amber has been lead by the hotel’s Executive Chef, Richard Ekkebus – a Holland-born man who has been trained in France under some nouvelle cuisines genius such as Chef Passard, Gagnaire and Savoy. I usually like the cooking of L’Arpege alumni chefs. Chef Ekkebus shared that Alain Passard was a demanding chef but he learned a lot from the vegetable master during his stint there. In the past 2 years or so, the day to day kitchen operation has actually been managed and executed by Paul Froggat, the chef de cuisine who used to work at Saint Pierre Singapore. Nowadays, Chef Ekkebus role is more like Yannick Alleno or Franck Cerutti; most of the time, they will focus on the hotel’s kitchen overall performances. I went for lunch and decided to savor the degustation menu since many have said that the portions at Amber are relatively small.

            From the total of 8 dishes, I enjoyed very much nearly half of them.
            - The famous Hokkaido uni was decadent and generally worked well with caviar. There was a smooth cauliflower ‘cream’ underneath to bring additional depth for this dish; the seaweed waffle added texture contrast as well as balance the rich cauliflower & lobster gelatin. The only problem for me: there’re too much cauliflower and not enough sea urchin. Also, I cannot help to compare this dish with Waku Ghin’s botan ebi, uni and caviar dish .. I would say Wakuda-san’s dish is slightly more superior due to the fresh and sweetness of the Japanese shrimp
            - The New Zealand seared langoustine was well executed; it's tender and slightly sweet. The puree and bergamot enhanced the overall experience of the dish. As long as you have high quality langoustine, the side dishes are secondary
            - The A4 wagyu was cooked medium rare; the beef was buttery, tender and succulent as expected. The short ribs was rich and decadent, nicely complemented by mustard onion. However, I found that the caramelized shallot (black 'puree') was too intense. Japanese wagyu is generally a safe choice for main course at any Asian fine dining place; more adventurous foodies should try lamb, duck or pigeon – the kinds of meats that French cooking usually does fantastic job

            The sayori dish as the opening course was alright, teasing your palate. Somehow, I wasn’t too impressed by Chef Ekkebus singnature smoked salmon confit probably due to the squid ink bread crumb that covered the fish was too salty. Moreover, its side dishes (avocado mousse and a couple forms of green apple) were ordinary. I usually avoid cheese course unless when I dine in Europe for ‘strange’ reasoning: Asian generally dislike (farmer) cheese so I often wonder how long those cheeses have been around in the restaurant untouched. Though I could be mistaken ... Whenever you have multiple desserts in any degustation menu, the pattern is almost always: one will be fruit-based and the other will chocolate-based.

            -The fruity dessert (william pear with dried fruits, yoghurt and biscuit) features sweet and sour taste with soft and crunchy texture – OK; I prefer my cheese replacement: Amaho strawberry - sweet and refreshing, served in earthy hibiscus with pepperand soft cold granite.
            -Chocolate souffle: a common French dessert that's perfectly executed with high quality ingredients (Abinao 85% chocolate). The souffle was sweet and smooth in contrast to the bitter sorbet; a very comforting dessert towards the end of the meal
            Verdict for food: 93 pts (about 2 ½* by Michelin standard). If the degustation menu represents the best items Amber can offer, it has a long way to go for the Red guide 3rd star. I hope it may not be the case

            Amber is not only famous for its food, but also reknown for its decor. The dining room is grand and elegant; nobody could not help but notice the suspended chandelier consisting of more than 4000 bronze rods designed by Adam Tihany, a popular interior designer. The distance between tables are spacious while the couch & booths are comfortable. The center piece is filled with floral arrangements inside slender black vases. It’s essential for the restaurant to have a beautiful dining room since Amber has no views of Victoria harbour/Kowloon peninsula

            The service in here is generally good with some contrast between local and foreign “waiters”. Like in Singapore, the local waiters tend to be (or tried to be) more formal and rather stiff; they’re knowledgable about the dishes though it looked robotic when they described the food. Luckily, I was also often servd and entertained by Hector Lugo, a Mexican assistant manager – he’s easy going and has vast knowledge about hospitality in general. Towards the end, I got a chance to have a chat with Monsieur Noyelle, the restaurant manager who had been trained for almost a decade as maitre d’ under Denis Courtiade (Ducasse Paris); no wonder his service was smooth. I don’t know how, but I wish Asian maitre d’ could have “more interesting” personality so that they can ‘connect’ with their guests better
            Overall experience: 93/100 and I agree with Michelin’s assesment thus far

            Here are the pictures of the dishes:

            2 Replies
            1. re: Bu Pun Su

              Thanks for the report, BPS.

              Amber is on my hitlist for my next visit, but I am glad to hear that Paul Froggatt is doing well. He is an extremely gifted chef and his stay here in Singapore was far too short.

              1. re: Julian Teoh

                Thanks for reading Julian
                Yes, you should try Amber
                But if you've never been or not intend to go to Ryugin Tokyo, I think Tenku Ryugin is a slightly better place than Amber IMHO

                I've never been to Saint Pierre when Paul was there - I heard it's probably the "peak" of Stroobant restaurant