Aldgate is the archetypal business district. Every city has one. London has several. However, in a world of profits and losses and phone calls and emails, there is a window into another world. Hidden at the base of yet another soon-to-be-completed steel and glass tower, Amber provides Middle Eastern dining in the middle of the metropolis.
The restaurant is unmistakably new and there is a palpable sense of optimism. However, it is well-founded. The tastefully decorated interior is reminiscent of the hanging gardens of Babylon and is lit by glowing orbs which sit high above the restaurant floor - amid the plant life. The illusion is somewhat spoiled by the exposed vents which, experience tells me, are actually rather cool.
All dishes are generally shared and the plates come out when they’re ready - which fits with the relaxed atmosphere of the restaurant. The open-plan design features bar seating from which you can watch the chefs and it’s here - from a gleaming oven - which our first dish made its way to the table.
With a distinctly Mediterranean look about it, alliterative phrases like “bread boat” or “calzone canoe” came to mind. But this was a Turkish pide. We’d gone for the Lamb Belly with sweet potatoes, spring onions and tomato - the vibrant flavours of which pair perfectly with the familiar texture of the crispy pizza base.
The chicken thighs, with pickled Sharon fruit and chilli mayo, are crispy and moreish while the Ezme (salmon tartare with Turkish chilli-mashed salad) is light, delicate and offers a tempered heat. Unusually for seabass, which comes with spinach escabeche, pomegranate and caramelised shallots, the overarching flavour is a strong taste of fishiness - making this the least popular dish.
The star of the show was the braised lamb shoulder. The slow-cooked meat had fallen apart long before the plate reached the table and the sauce was delicious. Less sweet than a jus but less earthy than a gravy, it boasts rich flavours reminiscent of a good lamb curry. However, the spice was merely an added extra. A “feast” dish, this was a much larger portion and the contrast of cream and crunch in the accompanying chilli butter pita croutons made this a standout dish.
The fried cauliflower, with crispy shallots, green tahini, pomegranate and dukkah, added a bit of vegan millennial pizzazz to an otherwise meaty meal. Concluding with the deliciously light brownie-base cheesecake and a slice of ginger cake, our Middle Eastern adventure had been a success.
Six plates, six drinks and two desserts cost £115 ($165). Taking its name from the Amber Road trade route, Amber manages to strike a balance between modern and authentic, while offering deliciously flavoursome food.