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Amber

The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, 15 Queens Road, Central, Hong Kong, China

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Amber is situated on the 7th floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel. Its Dutch chef Richard Ekkebus trained in the Netherlands at Chateau Neercanne amongst others, followed by stints at Pierre Gagnaire, Guy Savoy and Arpege. He spent seven years at the Royal Palm hotel in Mauritius before heading the kitchen at the Sandy Lane hotel in Barbados, prior to moving to Amber.

The dining room is very smartly designed and has a high ceiling (apparently this was a source of contention when opening in 2004, as taking out valuable floor space to gain a high ceiling in Hong Kong was a costly decision). The expensive design has not extended to the lighting though, which was distinctly murky (sorry about the matching murky photos). Tables were well spaced and had heavy, carefully ironed tablecloths. The menu had five and eight course tasting menus as well as a la carte offerings.

The long wine list had plenty of grand French wines on offer. Example wines were Villard Galet Blanc 2004 at HKD 1360 (£107) for a wine that retails at around £30 in the UK, Cos d’Estournel 1985 at HKD 5,980 (£471) for a wine that has a shop price of around £126, and Vega Sicilia Unico 1991 at 11,880 HKD (£936) for a wine that will set you back around £227 in a UK shop. Breads are made daily in the kitchen, and tonight comprised baguette, foccacia with black olives, a whole wheat roll and a sourdough crisp bread. It is good that they go to the trouble of making the breads, but to be honest they were merely decent, the whole wheat roll the best of the bunch (15/20).

The first nibble was an excellent and refreshing anchovy and lime roll (17/20) with a much less good muffin with mozzarella and basil, which was very dry (13/20). Next was a very pleasant tomato jelly with watermelon and mustard cream, whose flavors worked well together (16/20). A little foie gras lollipop with raspberry had flavor balance but suffered from a grainy texture (14/20), but this was paired with a much more enjoyable and well made little deep fried ball of Iberico pork with mustard (17/20).

The star dish of the night was sea urchin in a lobster Jell-O with cauliflower puree topped with caviar, served with crispy seaweed waffles. This dish worked really well due to the careful balance of the components, the earthiness of the cauliflower set against the rich sea urchin and the seafood saltiness of the caviar (19/20). A slab of Tasmanian salmon was served both as confit and smoked (over apple, pear and peach wood), with avocado puree and Granny Smith apple with a cucumber tie. This all sounded lovely but the salmon was curiously lacking in flavour, so the dish was merely pleasant (15/20).

Next, a duck foie gras terrine with Tasmanian black truffle was presented at the table, and over this was poured a cep consommé. This was a better dish, the cep consommé having excellent flavour, the foie gras and truffles working nicely with the mushroom flavour, the seasoning accurate (17/20). Amadai (tile fish, a variety of snapper) was carefully timed, its scales roasted and crisp, and served with fennel confit and orange powder, grated new potatoes and olive oil emulsion, with a bouillabaisse sauce. This was a sensible combination of flavours, and worked fine (16/20).

I enjoyed the next dish of egg confit with truffle powder, chives, crispy chicken skin and bread croutons. This was a very rich but enjoyable dish, the chicken skin giving a good texture contrast to the egg, the truffle adding another earthy note (18/20). I had high hopes of the next dish, seared langoustine with brown morels stuffed with minced corn-fed chicken and simmered in yellow wine, served alongside Parmesan creamed spaghetti. For me the spaghetti could have a lot more Parmesan flavour, though I thought the morels were very good; the langoustine was nicely cooked but did not have particularly dazzling flavour (16/20).

The final savoury course was sirloin of wagyu beef from Japan (A4 grade) which was oven roasted and served with a puree of shallots, sour cream, caramel sauce, potato fondant and Sarawak pepper, with a little wagyu short rib with mushroom puree on the side. This was a nice dish in each element but as a whole was extremely rich, and was crying out for some balancing acidity (15/20). Cheeses come from top affineur Bernard Antony, and were in good condition, such as a creamy Camembert, good Beaufort and one year old aged Comte.

Wild strawberries from Malaga was served with marscapone semi freddo and a "tipsy cake" made with strawberry liquor, plus a chocolate roll with strawberries. This was nice enough, though the distance the strawberries had travelled meant that their flavoured was not as it would have been nearer home (15/20). I thought the chocolate soufflé showed a rare technical problem, with the texture of the soufflé disappointing, served with pleasant brown rum and cacao sorbet (14/20).

The bill came to a hefty £265 per person for the tasting menu (which was £123) and wine pairing. Admittedly there were plenty of expensive ingredients here, and I had less of a problem with the food bill than the price (£109) of the wine pairing (not to mention the £6.30 per bottle mineral water) given that there seemed to be some pretty ordinary, and at times curious, wines. Although there were some genuine highlights there were also a number of less successful dishes, and although the technical skills of the kitchen were generally fine there was more inconsistency than I was expecting.

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