Amber is a contemporary French restaurant under the culinary direction of Chef Richard Ekkebus, located in the Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hotel. It is currently ranked at No. 24 on the World's 50 Best list, holds two Michelin stars, and sits at No. 7 on Asia's 50 Best.
I was lucky enough to catch them before their full renovation. They are in the process of radical changes; I am excited to see the improvements when they reopen in Spring 2019.
The 10-course degustation menu began with the five flavors of food depicted in the amuse bouche. We started with salt, moved to sour, then bitter, next came sweet, and ended with umami. I thought that the progressions was well thought-out because salt and sour were presented together, then sweet and bitter, leaving umami at the end to transition your palate to the rest of the meal.
Amber has had a change of signature dishes throughout their long run. The menu is ever-changing, highlighting the season's best offerings. The ebisu oyster is an intersection of their culinary skill and advantage point to Japanese produce. This oyster was the perfect transition piece for the rest of the menu. Light and briny, but the thick texture made it sustainable on its own. It's coagulated at a gentle 155*F. It was like a mousse but the seaweed emulsion and white radish kept it tart and balanced.
The Hokkaido scallops were served cold (too cold for me), but flavor-wise was brilliantly composed. They were served raw on a scallop and mushroom dashi and topped with a "hazelnut praline," (I don't know why the description had these in quotes), shiitake, and autumn truffle. So many of the things I love all together. The only qualm I had with this was that it was too cold.
The next course was a play on a religieuse, a traditional French pastry made with two choux pastries stacked on top of each other. The bottom was actually the duck foie gras enveloped in black fig and Banyuls, typical French dessert wine. This was served with a duck jus drenched slice of hazelnut bread. I love bread and this one had great bounce-back and density. The black pepper was very strong, which I personally enjoyed because it balanced the fattiness of the foie. The hazelnut was subtle in flavor but played a large part in the texture. It's a personal preference, but I don't like nuts in my bread.
I love fine dining in autumn because it means table-side shavings of white alba truffle. The next course starred merus leg 'a la plancha' in a seabuckthorn puree with a ginger emulsion. The truffles were the best part of this course.
Cuttlefish has to be one of my favorite proteins when done right, and Amber did it right. The aori cuttlefish was served with tear drop peas and a buttermilk emulsion. I loved the way that the peas brought out the subtle sweetness in the cuttlefish. There was also shallots in this, continuing with those hints of sweetness. The cuttlefish was also perfectly cooked, holding its integrity against the emulsion.
The line caught kinmedai was SO impressive. I rarely say that I'm impressed and surprised by much, but this one was the one. Kinmedai is a kind of sea bream, grilled over binchōntan, white characoal. The dish was dotted with lacto fermented tomato and curry leave emulsion. The fish was served next to a condiment of green tomatoes, caivar lime, and green cardamom. All of the components separately tasted quite unpleasant or flat, but when they were brought together, IT WAS AMAZING. The unpictured broth that was served with this had so much depth I thought I was going to drown. This was the epitome of flavors melding together to create unison. I'm impressed.
I skipped the two desserts that preceded this because they didn't tickle my fancy much. It was celery stalk and quince. Celery stalk was a dessert/cheese dish with a goat cheese ice cream and honey syrup celery. It was far from my favorite. And quince had a rosé champagne granité, but I didn't think anything particularly special about it.
This was the kacinkoa 85%. There was a tofu ganache and foam, cacao sorbet, almond praline, and cacao nibs layered between crispy cacao sheets. I love a rich and dark chocolate, paired with the nuttiness of almond and soft subtleties of tofu, perfection. It didn't make for the most beautiful picture, but it tasted really good.
The last bit of sweets was ,of course, the petit fours and a hibiscus sorbet. I love when meals have a cyclic motion. I definitely noticed their intention when they brought out what seemed to be their foie gras religieuse. There was also a nutty nougat and some sort of marshmallow. They were actually very yummy and I like the step away from the typical jelly petit fours.
I felt like the overall meal was built around some reoccurring flavors of celery (salt amuse bouche and first dessert) and hazelnuts (foie gras, scallops, and dessert). Amber skillfully weaved these flavors throughout the meal to create a cohesive orchestration. I'm not a huge fan of celery much, but I thoroughly enjoyed the meal and can recognize a refined service and menu. I was pleasantly surprised by this meal.