Pursuits

This 14-Year-Old Restaurant is Hong Kong’s Best New Fine Dining Experience

The newly re-opened Amber from chef Richard Ekkebus at the Mandarin Landmark Hotel in Hong Kong is your next must-book restaurant.
IMAGE Courtesy of Amber Hong Kong
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Jumping on the bandwagon is not Richard Ekkebus’ style. In fact, the celebrated chef behind the two Michelin-starred Amber restaurant in Hong Kong is just about as original as they come. So, after a long and memorable 14-year run at his legendary progressive French dining room inside the Mandarin Landmark hotel, Ekkebus knew that it was the right time to update the way he defined himself and his cuisine—just not in the same way that that many may have expected.

The new dining room was designed by legendary New York-based hospitality designer, Adam Tihany.
Photo Courtesy of Amber Hong Kong.

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Inside Amber Hong Kong
Photo Courtesy of Amber Hong Kong.

“We need to change how people feel after a business lunch or dinner,” he tells me during an hour-long conversation following my meal at his renewed and reinvigorated restaurant. “People should want to dance or make love after a meal, not fall asleep.” His candid statement is one that comes after years of reflection and is an observation on how the lavish and often, heavy-handed menus found in many fine French dining establishments have adversely affected the general health of their patrons.

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Catering to a moneyed and well-traveled clientele, Amber and restaurants like it play to an audience that not only have an appreciation of the world’s gustatory pleasures but in recent years, have also displayed newfound respect for its overall well-being and that of the planet it occupies. A sincere consideration for the provenance and purity of ingredients is consistent with a concern for what diners are putting inside their bodies. Ekkebus understands this idea better than most chefs.

His new dairy-free and gluten-free tasting menu, one that favors fish and vegetables over heavier proteins, is not meant to be “game-changing” in the way that the colloquialism has been used and abused over the past few months when referencing food choices. Meat is still very much on offer.  Instead, the new dining experience at Amber hopes to be more nurturing. “I didn’t reinvent anything. I just want people to walk away saying: ‘That was so good I really look forward to coming back very soon,’” he continues. “It is something that will make my customers feel that they have been indulging but in a responsible way.”

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Ekkebus also asserts that this “new-style” is really not all that new for him, and the food at the new Amber is not a 180-degree departure from the cuisine it was renowned for. The kitchen still works with the freshest Japanese ingredients, and his discipline of simplicity is still evident in the clean flavors of every dish. Yet there are undoubtedly exciting changes that have taken place. His new culinary philosophy employs the use of at least 45 different types of non-saturated plant-based oils. Sugar is replaced with agave and other natural sweeteners and flavor enhancers are derived from natural ingredients as much as possible.

“The fundamental ideas are something that I have been gradually working with for quite some time now and have been in my head,” he continues, “Now it’s just much more measured and clever, probably.”

Challenging himself was critical. The chef shares that he needed something to push him to be creative and something that would enable him to use all that he has learned over the years. “I told myself, if I’m going to do this for another 15 years or so, I don’t want to do the same old [thing]. This is bold, but it’s natural.”

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Teardrop peas with pomelo and wakame
Photo Courtesy of Amber Hong Kong.

Creative and bold it certainly is. Not to mention wildly delicious. Full-flavored and packed with umami, every dish at Amber is a hallmark of the Ekkebus style of haute cuisine. The tasting menu—there is no a la carte at Amber—offers a full spectrum of tastes, textures, and innovation in every course. And then there is also the added elements of adventure and surprise.

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While the menu changes throughout the year, captivating dishes such as the silken tofu with heirloom tomatoes, black truffles, carmeline oil, and fine herbs, will consistently highlight the pure flavors of their ingredients. 

Homemade silken tofu, heirloom tomatoes, salted sakura with virgin almond oil
Photo Courtesy of Amber Hong Kong.

The new Ekkebus classic (time to move over, sea urchin and caviar!) is the Okinawan corn with Kristal Schrenki Caviar. A showcase piece of Ekkebus’ clever ingenuity and technique, the texture of this dish is achieved without cream or any type of oil but instead credits the way starches in the corn cook to creamy perfection. A dish made with a combination of only four ingredients—corn, caviar, seawater, and sudashi—is as delectable as it is intelligent.

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Okinawa corn with caviar, seawater, and sudashi
Photo Courtesy of Amber Hong Kong.

Akamutsu, ramsons, morels, langoustine
Photo Courtesy of Amber Hong Kong.
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Another standout is the abalone with sake, edamame, plankton, and black winter truffles. “I can’t believe it’s not butter!” is a phrase that the kitchen and wait staff will need to get used to hearing. Indulgence and satisfaction are not lost with the nut-based butter used.

Spring lamb loin, gunpowder, peppermint, and lamb fat
Photo Courtesy of Amber Hong Kong.
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Wagyu beef A5 sirloin, red miso, black garlic, Sansai spring mountain vegetables
Photo Courtesy of Amber Hong Kong.

While gluten-free desserts may be a challenge for many pastry chefs, but if chef Michael Pretet was daunted in any way, it surely isn’t obvious. Avocado and rice milk are just a few of the ingredients he uses to create his pleasurable sweet endings, but it is the buckwheat madeleine served with Burlat cherries that is the most irresistible meal-ender. Whether gluten-full, gluten-free, or made with or without butter, Pretet’s madeleine is one of the best you will ever have. It’s light, crispy, and decadent, minus the heavy or oily mouthfeel. We can only hope that sometime soon these will be available for take-home treats.

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Avocado, lime, Sicilian pistachio, Granny Smith apples, and Thai basil
Photo by Courtesy of Amber Hong Kong.
Sake lees, raspberry, puffed black Camargue rice, rice milk
Photo by Courtesy of Amber Hong Kong.
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Ekkebus strongly believes that if consumer dining patterns and habits are to be changed, then the idea must start at top-end restaurants and trickle down. “Sustainability has not been a Hong Kong thing, but we cannot continue to eat the way that we have,” he says.  In addition to the food it serves, Amber’s commitment to sustainability is evident beyond the sourcing of ingredients.

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Bitter chocolate, smokey bourbon barrel, Michter's, buckwheat
Photo Courtesy of Amber Hong Kong.

At Amber, there are no table cloths that need to be washed and starched after every service. The mineral water served to guests is not only filtered on the premises, and available with or without gas, it is also free-of-charge, something virtually unheard of at Hong Kong restaurants. A pioneer of the Nordaq water system in Hong Kong, the water is used throughout the Mandarin Landmark. Not only does it eliminate the need for plastic bottles, but it also offers premium water of the highest quality without the carbon footprint of imported water.

Water, of course, is not the only thing to drink at Amber. A collection of teas, both warm and cold brew, were sourced and brewed to pair with the dishes. For those who want to skip the tea, the wine list at Amber will never cease to please. As the Mandarin Landmark has one of the best sommelier teams this side of the Pacific and a wine inventory worth millions, this is not the place to bring your own bottle—Amber does not allow patrons to bring in their own wine—but rather to take advantage of the luxury available to them.

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With 50 new items on his menu and many more in the works, Ekkebus is quite confident that his new culinary narrative is one that will continue to evolve, nourish, and satisfy. The experience will surely send his diners home and ready for their evening to begin.

Amber, Richard Ekkebus, Mandarin Landmark, 15 Queens Road, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2132 0066, mandarinoriental.com

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Alicia Colby Sy
Executive Editor, Town and Country
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