A new high-end Chinese restaurant in Amstelveen has officially opened late September. I checked it out for a quick dinner with my brother last month, and it is really, really good!
About the restaurant
During its construction opposite the “Stadstuinen” city park, Amber Garden Restaurant (Van Heuven Goedhartlaan 16) was already advertised as ‘True Chinese Cuisine’, and ‘Chinese Fine Dining’, so no traditional Chinese restaurant interiors here. The modern, light and elegantly designed restaurant has a capacity of 130 people, and there are several ‘private dining/meeting’ rooms downstairs. On the first floor, there is a bar with a patio terrace as well as more private dining rooms.
The day-to-day operations are headed by Stark Li, 3rd generation in a line of Chinese restaurateurs. Shaun Song, who worked in one of the restaurants of the Li family in Beijing, is the Executive Chef and oversees specialty teams responsible for the preparation of one of the most renowned dishes of Chinese cuisine, the Beijing Roast Duck, as well as for the freshly made dumplings and noodles. Amber Garden’s sommelier, a function you will not find very often at Chinese restaurants, is Kenneth Wei.
About the menu
The various texts on the website convey Amber Garden’s high ambitions:
Up until now, true Chinese cuisine has been almost wholly absent in the West. What has been available up until now is a poor interpretation and representation of what Chinese cuisine truly has to offer.
In part, this statement is true, the standard Chinese cuisine on offer in the Netherlands since the 1950s was a mishmash of Chinese and Indonesian cuisines that had been bastardized to cater to the relatively bland taste of us Dutchies back then and that fare has barely evolved. However, nowadays, there are quite are few specialized Chinese restaurants that offer high-quality, often regional, specialty dishes.
The Amber Garden menu itself is worth mentioning as it basically is a glossy magazine, and it takes the picture menu to a whole new level, depicting the gorgeously plated dishes. This literally is the 1.0 version of the menu, which will have a seasonal cadence of 3 to 4 months. Please note that the current online menu does mention less and different items than the glossy one, so do take the – adequately provided – time to browse the entire magazine.
About the food
Amber Garden has a “Shared Dining meets Fine Dining” concept, which was indeed adopted by the various tables of Chinese families and groups of friends around us that ordered several dishes and shared between them and ordered more on the go. We also followed suit as we saw too many appealing dishes on in the glossy menu.
To start with the conclusion: Amber Garden is looking fantastic, serves delicious and refined food, and offers outstanding service. The prices are indeed high-end, but in my view, they are still reasonable for the quality, and the size of the portions served.
As an aperitif and throughout dinner, we had chosen the Osmanthus cocktails that were laced with red chili peppers (€12). It was not our first choice from the cocktail menu. It was too busy in the upstairs bar to also cater to the restaurant, so that evening the restaurant had limited cocktail/mocktail options from the downstairs bar. The abundant use of flowers, their cocktails (and later on in the various dishes) is a really lovely touch, and the Osmanthus cocktail was excellent.
The 4 amuse starters were Szechuan pepper marinated Mushrooms, Herby Tofu Strings, Red Bean Jellies, and Pickled Spicy Cucumbers. A great start!
As starters, we tried the homemade Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow; €6,50 per 4) as well as the Soup Dumplings (Xiao Long Bao, €5,50 per 4) which both were excellent. The traditional Beijing-style deep-fried pork meatballs filled with mozzarella served with two types of sauce (€ 16,50) were a nice surprise, and the spiced salt dip was especially intriguing! Dishes like this one – as well as the “Fried rice with vegetables topped au gratin with cheese.” – seem a bit out of place, but apparently, are the result of the century-old Western influences in Beijing cuisine. We did see them being served at various other tables, so they were quite popular.
Next up wereSichuan-style lightly breaded prawns in Gong Bao sauce (€26,50). Impeccably cooked prawns and the pepper paste filled lychees were great.
We also ordered pan-fried scallops with XO paste, wood-ear mushrooms, and assorted vegetables (€28,50).
I only noticed halfway that I still needed to take a picture of this one, so the initial portion was actually quite large.