One of Hong Kong’s most iconic special-occasion restaurants — helmed by one of the city’s most talented chefs — is set to reopen its doors this week, following an extensive renovation and revamp of its menu. After 14 years of serving up one of the city’s most luxurious and masterful tasting menus, two-Michelin-starred Amber, along with its frontman, Richard Ekkebus, went on a hiatus last December, closing down the restaurant for an overdue makeover.
Now, the crown jewel of the Landmark Mandarin Oriental will unveil its new look and menu on Thursday, 2 May, with the grand opening coinciding with the launch of a handful of new F&B establishments at the hotel: three-Michelin-starred Sushi Shikon (relocated from its Sheung Wan location); Somm, a new neo-French bistro with an extensive wine list; and Kappo Rin, a contemporary 8-seat sushi counter and joint collaboration between Ginza’s Sushi Yoshitake and Sushi Shikon. Counting the current MO Bar and PDT (Please Don’t Tell, opened last year), LMO seems to be positioning itself as the ultimate destination for discerning diners.
Headlining the impressive new F&B portfolio is Amber (the mainstay for Culinary Director Richard Ekkebus), which is no doubt already furiously fielding calls and inquiries from gastronomes eager to experience version 2.0. With the restaurant having gained a loyal following over the years thanks to its progressive French flavours and series of iconic dishes (sea urchin in lobster Jell-O, anyone?), fine-dining fans are holding a collective breath to see what new surprises Ekkebus is bringing to the brand new Amber.
But first, let’s talk about the dining room, which saw its fair share of wear and tear over the years. A peek at the new digs reflects a lighter and subtler approach from acclaimed New York designer Adam Tihany, who was also responsible for the original interiors. For the revamp, he’s employed a less formal approach, stripping away at the intense dark red and bronze colour palette (including dismantling the dramatic 4,320-rod chandelier) and emphasising neutral, cream-coloured tones and organic shapes throughout. Keeping in tempo with the younger start-ups of the contemporary dining age, Amber is embracing a softer and subtler approach, with a larger kitchen and open tables separated by low snaking partitions meandering through the dining room. Tihany’s design scheme has also extended to encompass the entire seventh floor of the hotel, setting the entire aesthetic for the new multi-venue dining destination for the hotel.
As for the menu at Amber, Ekkebus certainly hasn’t been idle during the renovation period: For the past four months, the cerebral-minded chef has scoured the globe for ingredient inspiration, while trying to pinpoint the future of fine dining as intertwined with Amber’s institutional status as the temple of elite dining in Hong Kong. Armed with a new culinary philosophy that’s soon to be revealed to our palates, Ekkebus has parlayed his globetrotting insights into a progressive new menu rooted in pure flavours and masterful techniques.
Above all, consideration for diners’ increasing preferences towards healthy and sustainably-minded dishes has been taken into account; in addition to accounting for lactose-intolerant and allergy-prone guests, the new menu aims to attune itself to the modern diner, perhaps most notably replacing the ubiquitous use of cream, milk and butter with alternatives such as soy, rice, cereal and nut milks. Umami is a driving factor of the new menu, and the global dining scene’s obsession with fermentation has also permeated Ekkebus’ sensibilities with an increasing reliance on the natural sodium present in ingredients such as seaweed to add salt and umami to dishes. As for French cuisine’s unbridled love affair with fat, Ekkebus is turning instead to the use of over 40 non-saturated plant-based oils on his new menu, in addition to replacing sugar with agave, maple and honey.
“In developing this new menu, my intention was to strip away artifice or gimmickry and enhance the dining experience by presenting seasonal dishes that are sublime in their subtlety,” explains chef Ekkebus. “At the end of the meal, discerning diners want to feel nourished and comfortable, a feeling that can only be achieved through clean, pure ingredients. That is the new definition of indulgence.”
What does this all amount to? A grand total of 50 new dishes on the Amber menu which aim to suit the tastes of the modern diner — and accommodate an increasing number of idiosyncratic allergies, it seems — while staying true to Amber’s philosophy of boundary-breaking creativity and continuous curiosity. The new lunch menu comprises three-, four- and five-course options, in addition to all-vegetarian menus; while dinner includes five-, six- and seven-course tasting menus. And in a neat surprise that long-time Amber fans are sure to be giddy about — the restaurant will honour its legacy with a selection of much-loved signature dishes offered as extras. Here’s hoping the sea urchin with lobster Jell-O makes a triumphant return.