Sleek yet welcoming, refined yet accessible, Amber Restaurant in Sydney’s World Square dining precinct is an embodiment of pleasant contradictions and contrasts.
In hospitality, timing is everything. A wonderful bar with a clever theme can miss out on a city’s zeitgeist by a month. A splendid restaurant with a super-modern take on food can be too late to the party by a fortnight.
The result is usually not a good one.
Amber was supposed to open in March 2020 – in time with the sound of the Covid19’s starter pistol. And it was only in November 2020 that this restaurant was able to finally open its doors.
The fact that Amber was able to open and not miss that essential window of opportunity speaks of resilience and fortunate financial backing, but more important, it shows that this eatery is still viable – a place where people want to come.
We were lucky to visit Amber and her extraordinary head chef, Chef Parveen Prasad, shortly after the doors swung back open in November.
Keen to show what he and Amber were capable of, Chef Prasad put together a special menu for us to showcase some of the best dishes you can experience here.
A focus on NSW produce – a spectacle of technique
As we sit down to our comfortable table laid out with bronze-accented cutlery and Italian crystalware, Head Chef Parveen Prasad approaches to explain tonight’s menu.
It’s been a tough time sourcing ingredients to the restaurant from beyond New South Wales, let alone our country’s borders, so Chef Prasad and his team have done the most sensible thing: they’ve gone local.
Ours will be a five-course showcase of produce from the state in all its glory. And we start with a bottle of Ross Hill Winery’s Pinnacle Series Pinot Gris from Orange. It’s an elegant interpretation of what can be quite a mild grape.
This has body and a real sense of presence.
Dish #1 – freshly shucked oysters
The wine goes perfectly with our first dish – Pacific oysters with lime foam, lime granita, compressed pear and avrua caviar.
It’s a luxurious dish already, but when Chef Prasad pours house-made lemonade over dry ice chips beneath the oysters creating mystical wisps of smoke that curl around the bowl like a cauldron.
Plump and robust yet creamy, the oysters are delicious and connect up with all the other flavour points of the dish: sharpness of lime, sweetness of pear, salty caviar.
Dish #2 – lobster and blue swimmer crab tortellini
For our second dish, Chef Prasad marches out with delicately folded house-made pasta parcels filled with sweet swimmer crab meat and rich lobster.
But woven in a wreath between them is a ring of more Nelson Bay lobster – perfectly poached, strips of bright orange sea urchin and a crispy tangle of deep-fried softshell crab.
This is a luxurious dish already indeed, but to make it even more so, Chef Prasad pours a silken stream of unctuous lobster bisque in amongst the ensemble.
Ross Hill’s finest Pinot Gris is just about standing up to the big flavours of this seafood extravaganza, so we switch things up to another of Ross Hill’s Pinnacle Series: the Cabernet Sauvignon.
This is a beautiful wine full of tannic richness and amazing depth. Highly recommended – and our first stop next time we’re in Orange.
Dish #3 – Tajima Wagyu striploin
Our timing for switching up to the Ross Hill Cabernet is perfect and this dish deserves it.
Grilled to an exquisite rare though somehow rendered so that the meat is pristine, this 9+ marble wagyu – the highest rating you can get – is exceptional. Delicate with a powerful flavour, sweet from being fed for 400 days on grain and yet packed with umami, this is a world-beater cut of meat.
And though this is Tajima wagyu, it’s still from NSW – the original Japanese wagyu cattle have been bred with Angus cows to help their resilience to the Australian climate.
With the striploin is a handsome court of shimeji mushrooms, heirloom carrots, crunchy in-season asparagus, a wonderful carrot puree and some thoughtful tufts of watercress.
And then there’s the marrowbone.
Split lengthways and served in its bone with a crunchy grilled top, the marrow is rich and impressive, and goes beautifully with the bone marrow jus that Chef Prasad spoons onto our plates.
Dish #4 – slow-cooked Riverina Angus short rib
I’m still not sure I hear Chef Prasad when he tells us twice that these ribs have been cooked for 24 hours. But I believe him when the meat literally falls off the bone it’s served on.
In fact, steak knives are noticeable by the absence – we could easily cut this meat with a spoon.
Somehow, the meat is not dry (far from it) and is helped along with more of that excellent bone marrow jus.
To compete this dish, we have a bed of braised lentils and chickpeas, and a truffled mash that I would order as my last meal.
Sadly we’ve finished our Ross Hill Cabernet – in fact so has the restaurant. However, there’s still time to try the Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Shiraz, which is a beautifully gentle medium-bodied wine that eases us to the end of this immaculate meat dish and into dessert gear.
Dish #5 – white chocolate panna cotta
This is the only dish that I wasn’t sure about. I’m always a bit uncertain about panna cotta and its wobble.
My concern is unfounded however. The sweet milkiness of the white chocolate eases us back into our seats and the chewy crunch from a meringue shell sprinkled with macha sticks our teeth together creating that blissful silence at a happy dinner table.
What’s next for Amber?
Now back on her feet, this restaurant is sure to do well. Previous plans of a chef’s table where people can experience a top chef cooking for them at their table will have to wait a while longer. But I’m sure this will be a hit.
And as dining adjutant to Rydges World Square, Amber is also the breakfast setting for its hotel’s guests, which for now is a la carte rather than a merry buffet. But the kitchen’s dealing with it.
Perhaps it’s those elements of balance we’ve mentioned already – sleek yet welcoming, refined yet accessible – that have kept this place going.
Or more accurately, it’s Amber’s agility and sheer quality that have saved her.
Like many businesses during the pandemic, Amber has had to adjust offerings – from how the kitchen is run to what food is available.
But it doesn’t seem to have damaged this restaurant too deeply. In fact, it makes you wonder if doing all this hasn’t made her stronger.