Given your finite liver, it was rash to start the wine lunch at Amber (at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental hotel) with an additional drink. On the other hand, had you not done so, you would not have had the best wine cocktail of your life, a Cardinal (sibling to a Kir but made with red wine). Usually the drink is concocted with an admixture of cassis, but, in this case, it was cassis and lychee syrup (served in a lovely glass carafe so that you could add to taste). More poetry then beverage, as much a perfume as a taste, it perfectly started the lyrical meal to follow.
The menu listed choices for four courses with four accompanying wines. In reality, so many amuse-bouches were served, plus two warm loaves of bread with two kinds of butter, plus two extra desserts, plus an unanticipated birthday cake, that, given the volume of wine imbibed, it exceeds your mathematical ability to count the number of courses served. A lot though! And every single one was complex. Complexity usually is a synonym for busyness, a ploy by mediocre chefs to impress. In this case, every course, without exception, was at least delicious and, in some cases, epiphanic. All were plated with utmost elegance in an amber-toned room that was elegance itself.
You eye what looks like a large breath mint sitting in its own bowl. It exudes Japanese simplicity. Should you eat it? It’s a bit large, but perhaps it’s delicious. You are mulling this when the waitress pours warm water from a silver pitcher over the mint, which immediately expands into a towelette. Thank goodness you hadn’t eaten it. That would have been dramatic.
A toast rack laden with super-thin rye toast and a fresh beet relish is served along with a full pour of Olivier Blanc de Noirs champagne, with sub-notes of chocolate. This hints that the sommelier has the chops to handle the chef, a reassuring thought considering the journey ahead. And you appreciate a full pour, when more often than not – Ritz or dive – it’s weaselly.
As love so often starts with lust, you formally begin the meal with foie gras. It is a disk wrapped sushi-like in seaweed, the consistency of warm butter, anointed with a saline dust of some sort. It is accompanied by ornaments of wakame and radish, which do no good but, then again, no harm – foibles of the chef. The warm seaweed brioche is so delicious that simply seeing it you anticipate the pain of not having it to eat, or even look at, in the future. Simply the act of writing this, at this moment, hurts. It is keenly suited to the foie gras. The lot is served with a dry Mosel Riesling. Once again, the sommelier throws a perfect dart. In total, the first course is a tour de force, immediately justifying the twin Michelin stars this restaurant has received.
Skipping over tesserae of amuse-bouche (some so beautiful they belong in a jewellery case), next is a red king crab leg within a mosaic of radish, pickled turnip, ice plant and so on. The critical quality of this dish, however, is that the crab comes through dominantly with a rare, pure sweetness. It would have been so easy to serve mediocre crab or to have overpowered it. Only the surest hand could have presented it with this delightful clarity. This is served with a Chardonnay from Bourgogne that your wife, family sommelier, describes as “chewy”. And, like a revelation, you realise that it is indeed chewy. You get it! Sommelier, spot on!
You go venison. Your wife goes duck. Because there is virtually no fat, venison is almost impossible to cook well. Naturally you order it medium rare. In fact, it comes mid-point between that and medium. However, it is so good, and you are feeling so good, that you don’t contemplate sending it back. Well, maybe you contemplate it, but a poke from your telepathic wife puts an end to that. The venison rests in a thick puddle of mole sauce to make angels weep, and you gasp. It is that delicious. The sauce is contrapuntal to the meat, a daring, cheffy creation. This is quintessentially why you come to a restaurant of this stature, to experience extraordinary tastes that expand your understanding of food and life.
Your wife’s duck is one point overcooked in your view, rather like the venison, and the skin could be crisper. Perhaps a moment with a blowtorch just before serving could help with this. The saucier, however, is inspired. The daub of sauce, probably reduced duck stock flavoured with what seems to be star anise, stuns with its intense flavour, every bit equal to the venison’s mole. All of this is complemented by an Erath Pinot Noir from Oregon, your home turf. The sagacious sommelier knows that it has the keel to handle the tempest of tastes.
A triad of desserts. The first based on coconut foam, the next on a killer kaffir lime sorbet and finally a chocolate soufflé with that classic puff above the ramekin that looks like a chef’s toque. The interior is molten. There is cacao sorbet alongside. It is a great crashing chord to finish a gripping symphony. With it you drink a botrytis Sauterne that is, frankly, amorous.
You ate four times too much. You drank four times too much. You are four times too happy.
Motor skills somewhat impeded, holding hands against the sway of the deck, the two of you descend to the MTR home.
Amber’s chefs are eloquent flavour artists and visual artists with neurosurgical skills. Better than great, the food is kapow! The sommelier can handle the torque. The entire meal experience requires breathtaking coordination that is flawlessly handled to make it seem simple. The meal is expensive, but the value for dollar is superb. You’ll surely return when your wallet is once again buff. You highly recommend this temple of French cuisine, Amber.
7/F, The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, The Landmark, 15 Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2132 0066, firstname.lastname@example.org