Saturday, July 23, 2011

Amber (Hong Kong)

July 2011

15 Queen's Road, The Landmark Mandarin Oriental
The Landmark, Central, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2132 0066

Amber is a 2 Michelin star French restaurant in the Landmark Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong. Much lauded recently in the Hong Kong fine-dining scene, it has become popular for its weekend wine brunch where they ply you with so much wine that the rest of your day is literally wasted. We have eaten here several times for lunch (as well as the wine brunch on a Saturday) and have been quite impressed with the food and decor, though this was our first dinner here.

The restaurant goes for the dark and modern lux look for its interior, with tables too poorly lit for our liking (which consequently affected any photographs of the food we took), but the dining room felt spacious and comfortable. This is the ideal dinner date restaurant as the dim lighting conceals all but the most obvious flaws. The menus at Amber usually come with wine pairings and it is in our experience that the wines are well picked and hence worth going for.

We were started off with some canapés of anchovy rolls and camembert tarts, both of which were quite tasty. These were followed by a foie gras terrine with a coat of raspberry jelly presented as a lollipop and a Iberico ham croquette. The foie gras was excellent but the croquette ordinary.

The last amuse bouche was a strange one: a layer each of parsley foam, ceps mushroom cream and crispy cereal. This was quite bad actually and we were surprised that the chef let this out of the kitchen.

Sea Urchin: in a lobster jello-O with cauliflower, caviar and crispy seaweed waffles - This was excellent.  The uni and Oscietra caviar were a perfect match. This was accompanied by a basket of crispy seaweed crackers and we were supposed to take a bite of the cracker after each scoop of the uni/caviar. This had the effect of bringing to us the taste of the sea.

Tasmanian salmon: confit and smoked, with avocado, horseradish and granny smith apple - The salmon was cold-smoked (an unusual and difficult mode of cooking) and the green puree on either side of the salmon did well to take the edge off the taste of charcoal. A very enjoyable dish. In addition, the 'wine' served for this dish was a glass of sake, which was rather unique and innovative.

Duck foie gras: Tasmanian black truffle ravioli in cep consomme - Quite a classic dish, tasted good without impressing too much.

Red amadai: fennel and orange confit, 'bottarga' grated new potatoes, with 'bouillabaisse' and manni olive oil emulsion - The fish was very nicely cooked. This reminded us of the same dish we had at Robuchon Hong Kong (see earlier review: Robuchon Hong Kong) but was slightly better. The scales were nicely crisped yet the fish remained very tender and moist.

Kagoshima wagyu beef: sirloin MS, A4, oven roasted with puree of 'forgotten' shallots - This was a Grade 9 Wagyu sirloin cut hence a bit tough, but nonetheless full of flavour and utterly delicious. The sauce in particular was excellent. This dish, in case it wasn't filling enough, came with a side of beef cheeks in mushroom and potato puree. The beef cheeks could have been easily overlooked as just an accompaniment but was in truth worthy of being a main course in its own right. Curiously, we didn't really understand what the name of this dish really meant. What did "MS" and "A4" mean and why were the shallots "forgotten"?

French farmer cheeses: matured by Bernard Antony - the usual French favourites but pretty ordinary in this instance.

Malaga wild strawberries: mascarpone semi freddo with liquor 'fraise des bois' tipsy cake - We really liked this dessert. The raspberries were very sweet and cake was light and refreshing.

Abinao 85% chocolate: soufflé with brown rum anglaise and cacao sorbet - The chocolate sorbet was an interesting one, it was intensely chocolaty yet lacked the milkiness usually associated with chocolate (as it was a sorbet and not ice-cream or gelato). The soufflé was also good.

Service throughout was good and the wine pairing excellent as expected. We didn't pick from the wine list this time so cannot comment on it. Strangely, we were not served with any petit fours with our tea after dinner, which we weren't sure was due to an oversight or if they just don't do it. Not a big deal as we were already unable to eat any more after the dinner.

Final Thoughts: A very good meal and we enjoyed each course. However, we just cannot help the feeling that the chef in his cooking did not sufficiently stamp his personality on his food; this entire dinner could have been served in Robuchon and we would barely notice the difference. One could take that as praise for Amber, but in actual fact, for a 2-star restaurant, we feel that it needs to develop its own unique identity.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Joel Robuchon (Singapore)

July 2011

Hotel Michael, Resorts World Singapore, Singapore
Tel: +65 6577 7888

Update: Joel Robuchon was awarded 3 Michelin Stars in the inaugural Michelin Guide for Singapore in 2016.

Joel Robuchon is the newly-opened French fine-dining restaurant in Singapore by the renowned chef of the same name. He has a very strong presence in Asia with top establishments in Macau, Hong Kong and Tokyo (see earlier reviews: Robuchon a Galera (Macau) and Le Jardin de Joel Robuchon (Hong Kong)), and we were very keen to see if he could match our sky-high expectations with his new outlets in Singapore.

The restaurant is located at the ground floor of Hotel Michael, one of the hotels of the Resorts World Casino and Integrated Resort in Sentosa, Singapore. Next to it is L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon which is the slightly less formal restaurant of the same chef, where there is bar-top counter dining.

The interior of the restaurant was luxurious and modern, with a large chandelier dominating the dining room, and fresh lilies adding a soft touch to the stark black furniture and tapestries. The room was reasonably well-lit, and interesting sculptures and lamps caught our attention.

The table setting was very impressive as well. Small crystals were laid out on the table to give some glitter. We started by ordering some Bruno Paillard Champagne and a bottle of 2002 Gevrey Chambertin Premier Cru from Bruno Clair, which had a fragrant nose and was deliciously full-bodied.

Robuchon had an impressive bread trolley, with a large selection. We were excited to see if the brioche here was as good as the one in Macau, but sadly it wasn't.

Amuse bouche was a very substantial bowl of salmon tartare topped with a generous topping Oscetra caviar on a bed of ice. This was very good. The salmon was fresh and slightly spicy, bringing out the taste of the caviar.

For the meal proper, we opted for the 6-course menu whereby we were to pick out 1 entree, 1 soup, 2 main courses and 1 dessert from the menu, and the meal would come with cheese as well. This was the largest menu aside from the degustation menu which was 16 courses and pure madness. We each picked different dishes for each course (without replication).

Le King Crab: King crab and asparagus blanc manger, medley of seasonal vegetables - Very refreshing, with the asparagus blanc manger (which is a pudding and tastes like panna cotta) especially interesting. The large chunks of crab meat were juicy and succulent. I liked how the various flowers and vegetables brought out different flavours with the crab meat and the blanc manger with each mouthful.

La Langoustine: Truffled langoustine ravioli with chopped cabbage - This was highly recommended and did not disappoint. The lobster was tender and tasty, and the black truffle sauce brought the dish to the next level.

Les Petits Pois: Light green pea veloute, refreshed with peppermint on a sweet onion cloud - Decent enough without being remarkable. The soup was well-executed, but ultimately it was a simple dish and tasted that way. There was a strange sticker of peas on the plate, which I tried to scratch out to see if it was edible. It wasn't.

Le Soja: Soy, cappuccino germs on a royal flickering of Shimaji - This was curiously interesting yet turned out to be very good. The layer of jelly on the bed of tofu was slightly tangy and with the foam and mushrooms, this was a very Japanese-inspired dish (the head chef here is Japanese). Was a good entree yet didn't appear to be much of a soup.

La Langouste & Le Homard: Duo of langoustine and spiny lobster cooked in a cocotte with saffron bouillon - Good and hearty yet slightly disappointing because the langoustine was chewy. The lobster was great and the saffron bouillon was delicious but the dish was let down by the langoustine. I was puzzled by the item on the left of the bowl and tried to eat it (I always thought that if it was on the plate it was meant to be eaten), however, this was for decoration only (another curious aspect of this dish).

Le Bar: The sea bass and abalone with lemongrass emulsion and baby leeks - This was excellent. The fish was fresh and cooked to perfection. There was a slight peppery and curried taste to it which gave it an 'Asian' flavour.

Le Boeuf: Beef ribeye, wasabi spinach and a medley of bell peppers - This was also cooked to perfection. The beef was juicy and tender and the sauce was amazing.

Robuchon's signature mash potatoes - This accompanied our main courses. Simple but divine.

Le Turbot: Cooked in a casserole with jus of artichokes - Another one of their signature dishes. I loved the artichoke sauce, but I felt the Turbot was slightly overcooked and had lost some of its texture. That said, I have eaten some of the best Turbot in the world and had my taste buds spoilt already (see earlier review on the Turbots: Le Meurice and Ledoyen).

The cheese platter contained the usual suspects with the common french cheeses. Reasonably good but this time there wasn't any particular cheese which stood out as being special.

We were celebrating a birthday this time and the restaurant was kind enough to wheel out a birthday cake. It was a very nice raspberry ice-cream cake with pineapple meringue. Throughout dinner, we noticed that the restaurant wheeled out cakes for almost half of the tables; it seemed like there were many birthdays celebrated that night.

Le Rose Fleuri: Lightness of cheesecake with vanilla from Tahiti, coloured fruit in season - Another signature dish, this was rather good. The description was correct in that it tasted like a cheesecake without being too heavy. Accompanying it was a champagne sorbet on a toothpick.

Le Mikado: Orizaba chocolate, flower of salt crumble, coffee dome - This was also very good. It was not too chocolaty and was a light end to a very heavy meal.

Fortunately this time they did not bring out a trolley of sweets as we had just about eaten enough for the rest of the week.

Final Thoughts: Very high standard of fine dining, fully consistent with the standards expected of Robuchon. Wine list was reasonably broad with the expected emphasis on the French. Dining room was comfortable and the service was good. With this and Santi (see earlier reviews: Santi 1 and Santi 2) opening up in Singapore, we are comforted that we no longer need to travel abroad for some proper European fine-dining experiences.

Bvlgari Resorts Il Ristorante (Bali)

June 2011

Bvlgari Hotels and Resorts, Jalan Goa Lempeh, 
Banjah Dinas Kangin, Uluwatu Bali, Indonesia
Tel: +62 361 847 1000

Il Restorante is the in-house Italian restaurant of the upmarket Bvlgari resort in Bali. It typically reserves the bulk of its seats for in-house guests and it can be quite hard to secure a table if one is not staying at the resort. The tables are set in two sections, separated by a long canal-like water feature and located in two separate elongated pavilions. It appeared to us that the tables facing the sea on the right were reserved for resort guests whereas some tables on the inside were for outside diners. We were staying at the resort this time and could easily get a table. It was non-airconditioned and was pleasant during the 'winter' months when it was cool, especially in the evenings. However, we could imagine that it could get quite hot and muggy during the 'summer' months.

Bali is not known for its fine-dining. There are a few popular serious European/Australian restaurants like Mozaic in Ubud, Metis and Warisan at Seminyak and Ku De Ta at Legian but somehow we have never thought them as fine-dining establishments. The Bvlgari restaurant attempts to reach those heights with an ambitious menu and proper tableware.

The amuse bouche was an interesting apparatus on which there was a row of sushi each with a fruit peel on it which gave it a slightly tangy flavour to simulate the taste of wasabi. On the high stand was a pastry roll filled with crab meat and on the lower stand, a cream and egg custard which was the best of the 3. Overall, it did not blow us away but was a decent effort nonetheless.

Foie Gras Terrine, Pineapple, Peaches and Cognac, Chocolate Tuile, Butter Seared Brioche - Very good. The foie gras au torchon was done well (though I thought the chef could have cut off the oxidised surface) and the dark chocolate was a surprisingly good accompaniment. The brioche was nicely toasted but slightly too oily though.

Lavender Marinated Butter Fish, Soya Sauce, Candied Ginger, Toasted Sesame Seeds, Borage Flower - This was another very good dish. The raw fish was matched very well with the ginger and soya sauce jellies which were very innovative. It reminded us of how dipping sashimi into soya sauce would taste like.

Topinambur Soup with Poached Oysters and Langoustines - This was not a remarkable dish. There were small pieces of langoustine and oyster and the service staff did not know how to pour the soup, resulting in the dish looking rather unappetising (see below the before-and-after). For all the effort into the menu and the tableware, the service staff were still essentially resort restaurant staff and there was a distinct lack of fine-dining service training.

Langoustines and Truffle Ravioli, Mushroom Mousse and Light Langoustines Bisque - This was pretty good, though we wish there was more than one piece of the ravioli.

Alps Castelmagno Cheese Risotto - I love a properly cooked risotto. This was one of them.

Slow Cooked Lamb Rack and Braised Shank with Fresh Wild Mushrooms, Pumpkin Puree - This was an excellent main. The lamb was cooked to perfection and was both tender and flavourful. This dish was accompanied by a pot of lamb shank in case we didn't feel full after just one rib of lamb.

Mint sorbet - This was an appropriate palate cleanser to prepare us for dessert.

Warm Rhubarb Tartin Cake, Yoghurt Ice Cream, Crunchy Orange Tuile - A very good dessert to end off the meal. I loved the rich vanilla cream which was poured over the cake and ice-cream.

The petit fours were not bad too. I particularly liked the marshmallows.

Final Thoughts: Not going to win any dining awards anytime soon but managed to achieve a respectable effort in putting together a fine-dining meal. Cooking was good though we felt the portions were tad bit small. Chef demonstrated solid cooking skills with some innovation. Wine list was limited and expensive and service was enthusiastic but basic. Probably our best non-Asian meal in Bali and this was appropriate given that we were in probably the best resort in Bali.