He may be Dutch but when asked about his cuisine at Amber restaurant inside The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, recently awarded two Michelin stars for the six years running, Culinary Director Richard Ekkebus speaks of the joie de vivre that a great meal ought to embody. “I keep a light touch to my cooking. You should get up from the table and still be able to dance or at least get back to business.”
He describes his dishes as French classic with inventive twists that take advantage of Hong Kong’s unique position at a global crossroads. After a distinguished education in the celebrated Paris kitchens of Alain Passard, Guy Savoy and Pierre Gagnaire, Ekkebus has discovered an appreciation for the tempo of Chinese cuisine. “Coming from Europe, everything in Hong Kong moves quicker. The fish goes from swimming in a bucket to frying in the pan in an instant.” Cooking for his local clientele is as challenging as meeting the exacting standards of Parisians, “because here the people have delicate palates. They are quite discerning but they can get as excited as I do about exceptional products.”
Taking maximum advantage of the annual seasons between the northern and southern hemispheres, Ekkebus refreshes the Amber menu every three months. Expect a mix of fruits from Europe or Southeast Asia with Japanese seafood. “Every single day we get a shipment of fresh fish straight from fish markets in Fukuoka and Hokkaido, then we prepare it in the French tradition but lighter, to suit local taste and with our own intuitive touch.” Running through a recent menu, Ekkebus explains, “Each dish here is product driven. Truffles in the summer come from Tasmania then between December and March, from Périgord. We get blue lobster from Brittany in September when the sea is calm.”
The emphasis on seafood, such as scallop ceviche with avocado cream, kyuri cucumber and smoky bay oysters, satisfies current preferences for healthy cuisine and comes from the chef’s upbringing by the seaside. Every ingredient is purposeful and recipes are minimalist yet indulgent, like duck foie gras ravioli simmered with black truffles over a creamy violet artichoke in poultry velouté and of course the Valrhona Albinao 85% chocolate soufflé.
To satisfy the hectic Hong Kong lifestyle, the Amber team has developed a power lunch and to please the more committed palate, there are multi-course banquets and an ever-changing 8-course degustation menu that is sophisticated but will not overload. These can be paired with classic old world vintages as well as labels unique to Hong Kong like Mount Mary from Australia’s Victoria State. Amber is the only place in Hong Kong to sip this artisanal production. The Sommelier explains that Amber wine pairings work because “Ekkebus possesses a deep and insightful understanding of how food and wine lift up one another when matched harmoniously.”
These many attributes collectively led to Amber’s Michelin star winning streak. The global accolades are greatly appreciated, says Ekkebus, “but the greatest compliment is an Amber diner’s desire to come back and taste more dishes.”