Restaurant review: Amber by Chef Richard Ekkebus in Central, Hong Kong (2 Michelin stars)
French cuisine that's dairy-free and gluten-free?
Mention or Google the words ‘fine dining’ in Hong Kong and Amber surely comes up. Launched in 2005, it’s one of Hong Kong’s longest serving fine dining restaurants. When it shut in late 2018 for a renovation, there was lots of buzz about what would emerge. It turns out that the renovation was no ‘lipstick on a pig’ type of situation. Six months later, Amber is reopen, reinspired and reinvented to meet (or surpass) the needs of fine diners in this city hoping to give them what they want, even if they are not sure they want it yet.
The man behind the transformation is, of course, founding chef Richard Ekkebus. Tall with perfect posture, he speaks with us about his desire to reinvent Amber for the future. No longer satisfied with classic butter-laden, 12-course European-style tasting menus, the new Amber remains an Asian-inspired contemporary French restaurant but now serves dishes that are both dairy free and gluten free. Nut milks and plant-based oils are used and there’s also more of a focus on vegetables. I thought this was interesting because given Amber’s elegance and refinement (and price!), it’s often a special occasion type of place for its guests. And when people look for a spot to celebrate, healthier eating and vegetables probably aren’t front of mind.
Does Amber succeed in not just pulling off Ekkebus’s vision but remaining a place where diners will book months in advance to eat?
Here's the review for Amber Hong Kong.
We visited Amber during the first week it was reopen and everything was shiny and new in the most tasteful way possible. Sadly, I never had a chance to visit the old Amber so am going by photos for this comparison but the redesign is total and extremely tightly executed. Everything is exact. The restaurant is bathed in an amber glow, with its famous 4k strong hanging rods chandelier replaced with a large-scale ceiling sculpture. Complementing the glow are fabrics and leathers in various neutral shades with tiny pops of colour coming from the navy and mauve silk ikat cushions. And Ekkebus’s love of circles and the symbolism of curves is shown through everything from the ceiling sculpture to the booths to the wallpaper.
Before we started our meal, the approachable Ekkebus came by our table to chat about the restaurant’s new philosophy which he’d been thinking about for six years prior to the renovation. From working with a PR agency to conduct a survey to doing ethnographic research of sorts through dining while travelling, it’s clear that he’s truly passionate about a healthier, more sustainable way of eating and believes it’s the future. Not only were the interiors overhauled but the menu was too with only one dish, the sea urchin with caviar, remaining from the old menu though the new version uses whipped soy milk instead of milk.
The restaurant now offers tasting menus only and there are three options:
5-course Amber Experience at $1,788
6-course Extended Amber Experience at $2,088
7-course Full Amber Experience at $2,388
There is also the option to add on four speciality dishes with prices ranging from $498 to $598. And in line with the restaurant’s new philosophy, vegetarian and vegan tasting menus are also available and encouraged.
On the evening we went, we were treated to a variety of dishes from across the three menus.
Homemade silken tofu with heirloom tomatoes, salted sakura and virgin almond oil
Okinawa corn, caviar, seawater and sudashi
Kegani, palm heart, hyuganatsu, coriander
Pointed cabbage, shiitake, virgin black sesame oil, button mushrooms
Teardrop peas, pomelo, cuttlefish, wakame
Spring lamb loin, gunpowder, peppermint, lamb fat, kabu
Avocado, lime, Sicilian pistachio, Granny Smith, Thai basil
Sake lees, raspberry, puffed black Camargue rice, rice milk
Throughout the meal, I realized that my understanding of fine dining was being challenged. What is its purpose and why would I splurge on such a meal? Is it to have a one-off meal that is as indulgent as possible? Is it to expand my understanding of what food can be? I think, ultimately, it’s a bit of both. In the past, I’ve left fine dining experiences pumped full of indulgence and, to be honest, very happy about it. Leaving Amber, I didn’t feel this way; not exactly. I didn’t feel overly satisfied and ready to roll into bed but that’s the point with Amber 2.0. I left the restaurant feeling light yet full, even without a breadbasket or heavy ingredients, and like a more mature diner, appreciating that each dish was deceptively simple, honest but prepared in an exact way. A spoonful of corn custard was not just delicious on the tongue but a feat worthy of appreciation given the effort, skill, and imagination it took to generate that taste without cream. Ultimately it was a meal that left me with food for thought on what fine dining is and is meant to be.
From my first steps into Amber to my last steps out, the whole experience was executed to a T. The decor, vibe, service, timing of being served - everything was perfect. Those that are used to heavier fine dining may need some time to adjust to Amber’s new philosophy and style of cooking but it’s worth checking out. There are no flashy gimmicks here, but refined, calculated dishes crafted by experts in their field.
7F, The Landmark, Mandarin Oriental, 15 Queen's Road Central, Central, 2132 0066
*By invitation for Foodie