A chat with Richard Ekkebus – The impact of The World’s 50 Best on Amber?

Fine Dining Explorer - 10/05/2012

Twelve months ago, the restaurant Amber in The Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong placed the city back on the world’s culinary map when it was listed as one of S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Richard Ekkebus, Amber’s two-Michelin-starred chef, has done it again this year. Immediately after the ceremony, I had the opportunity to catch up with Chef Ekkebus on the topic of the World’s 50 Best.

What does the S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best award mean to you?
The list is created by a group of over 800 voters from the restaurant industry, consisting of chefs, food critics, and worldwide gourmands. The award means a lot to my team, as we are extremely honoured to have been recognised. It is truly a wonderful recognition. Since day one, we have always tried to deliver our best to every single guest at Amber. It is always good to be recognised for our consistent dedication. This achievement means we have been doing our jobs well, and it also motivates us to push ourselves even harder.

What should the S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best mean to diners and to the restaurant industry?
The 50 Best list is an important summary of opinions from a group of experts who represent the “worldwide taste makers.” Maybe instead of seeing these 50 restaurants as the “best,” the industry should interpret the list as 50 restaurants identified as the leading culinary movement in their own region. For general diners, it is always good to know which restaurants in your region are being recognised at an international level. It is also handy to have a list of recommended restaurants around the world when you travel aboard.

Amber was listed on 50 Best last year for the first time, and it is the only restaurant in China on the list. Has this recognition had any impact on Amber in the last 12 months?
There has definitely been a positive impact on the business. Last year, for several days after the 50 Best announcement, our restaurant’s phone system could not cope with the number of calls we received! Our website also had a massive increase in traffic. All of a sudden, Amber is placed in a window that the whole world wants to see. The impact is obvious, as the restaurant is now always fully booked for a good week ahead. We have also seen a tremendous impact on our client mix. In addition to a huge interest from the entire Asian continent, we now have guests from all over the world, providing a nice global mix of the clientele at the restaurant.

You must be now very comfortable with Amber?
With Michelin 2-star and again on 50 Best, what aspects of the restaurant can you still improve? I never feel 100% comfortable, as a restaurant like Amber is a constant work in progress towards a vision. The food always has room for improvement. I work closely with various local organic producers to improve the quality and consistency of each product. And there are always exceptional ingredients around the world waiting for me to source. I always see areas for improvement, but it’s never easy to implement these changes. To motivate the entire team towards the vision is a challenging job. In addition, it is always necessary to adapt to a market without losing our integrity. Without a doubt, this is one of the most difficult challenges. I have done this many times, and Mandarin Oriental Group has been tremendously supportive and patient! Another aspect is service. Mandarin Oriental has a strong Eastern service culture, and we are continuously working to improve our services. We want a restaurant that is not stuffy and where we anticipate the needs of our guests. We feel a restaurant is not limited to the experience of what you eat and drink. There are so many other aspects that combine to make a great dining experience. We are continuously fine-tuning these elements to ensure we deliver an incredible yet personalized experience.

I am sure Amber’s reservation line will be ringing non-stop once again. Congratulations to Chef Ekkebus and his team!

Published by Kevin Chan. Kevin is a food traveller who has lived and travelled extensively throughout Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Drawing upon his experience, Kevin offers a worldwide perspective on fine food