Mention or Google the words “fine dining” in Hong Kong and Amber at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental 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 a lot 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 and reinvented to meet (or surpass) the needs of fine diners in this city, hoping to give them what they want, even if they’re not sure they want it yet.
The man behind the transformation is, of course, founding chef Richard Ekkebus. Tall with perfect posture, he spoke with us about his desire to reinvent Amber for the future. No longer satisfied with the classic butter-laden, 12-course European-style tasting menus, the new Amber remains an Asian-inspired contemporary French restaurant, but it now serves dishes that are both dairy and gluten free. Nut milks and plant-based oils are used, and there’s 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 diners. And when people look for a spot to celebrate, healthier eating and vegetables aren’t normally front of mind.
Does Amber succeed in not just pulling off Ekkebus’ vision but also in remaining a place where diners will book months in advance to eat?
The new space
We visited Amber during the first week it reopened, and everything was shiny and new in the most tasteful way possible. Sadly, I never had a chance to visit the old Amber, so I’m going by photos for this comparison, but the redesign is total and extremely tightly executed. The restaurant is bathed in an amber glow, with its famous 4kg-strong hanging- rods chandelier replaced by a large-scale ceiling sculpture. Complementing the glow are fabrics and leathers in various neutral shades, with pops of colour coming from the navy and mauve silk ikat cushions. And Ekkebus’ love of circles and the symbolism of curves is seen in 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 conducting 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 of food. Not only have the the interiors been overhauled, but the menu has been 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 regular milk).
The restaurant now solely offers tasting menus, and there are three options:
- 5-course Amber Experience ($1,788)
- 6-course Extended Amber Experience ($2,088)
- 7-course Full Amber Experience ($2,388)
There is also the option to add on four speciality dishes ($498–598).
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, heirloom tomatoes, salted sakura, virgin almond oil
Okinawa corn, caviar, seawater, sudachi
Kegani crab, 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 apple, Thai basil
Sake lees, raspberry, puffed Camargue black rice, rice milk
Throughout the meal, I realised that my understanding of fine dining was being challenged. What is its purpose and why should I splurge on such a meal? Is it to have a one-off experience 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 stuffed 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 and 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 using cream. Ultimately, it was a meal that left me with food for thought on what fine dining is and what it 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 and timing – everything was perfect. Those used to heavier fine dining may need some time to adjust to Amber’s new philosophy and style of cooking, but it’s definitely worth seeking out. There are no flashy gimmicks here, but instead expect refined, calculated dishes crafted by experts in their field.
7/F, The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, 15 Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2132 0066, book online
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.
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