February 25, 2015

Bucketlist Food review: The Lobby, Peninsula Hotel (Hong Kong)

Every food blogger has that one place they've always wanted to go. Irregardless of whether they get to write about it, or talk about it, or even take photos of the experience, every blogger has that one spot they've always dreamed of visiting and writing about. 

Mine is The Lobby's famous Afternoon Tea, of the Peninsula Hotel Hong Kong. 

I've gone to Hong Kong quite a few times in my life. At one point, I've visited Hong Kong twice in a year, then annually for four consecutive years. That's how much I love the place - I love it. It's in my bones to yearn for Hong Kong, to visit her, eat her food, watch her streets fill up with people through the night, be with her people.

However, despite the many times I've been to Hong Kong - I've never once tried to visit The Peninsula to see if I could secure a table for their afternoon tea. It is famously crowded, the queue forming long before the commencement of tea time at 2pm, and I just never went. I've been to the Peninsula for a visit once, but I never plucked up the courage to join the queue and ask for a table. I'm not too sure why myself - perhaps I had an underlying fear it would not live up the hype, or it just was never the right time for me. 

This time, however, it was the right time.

If you've ever seen The Peninsula, and you may well have, in several films - you'll know its a historical place in Hong Kong. Opening its door in 1928, it is one of the oldest heritage hotels in Hong Kong, seeing and surviving the start then end of a war, and having its name forcibly changed then returned to it when Hong Kong was restored from the Japanese to the English. Heavily colonial in its decor, and even its in service, this hotel has seen much of Hong Kong and lived to tell the tale.

The iconic English-styled afternoon tea remains one of the things left behind by its colonial masters of the past, and till today many still visit The Peninsula in the hope of securing a table for some afternoon tea while listening to the live orchestra play.

Oh, how we waited. Me and my long-suffering father took turns in the queue while my mother spent the two hours relaxing on the armchairs provided in the hotel lobby. A whole two hours, inching closer to the head of the line from the queue formed all the way to the back of the hotel, snaking around the corner as another waiter stood to help any lost customers. 

If you are a guest in the Peninsula Hotel, don't fret - you are able to make a reservation. Since I was not a guest (yet), I bid my time and watched as people came and left in the rush of the afternoon. 

After a grand total of two hours, we finally got our table - a smiling, understandably amiable young man led us to our table, gently coaxing us through the weave of other guests' tables, pulling out our chairs and presenting us with the menu. His expression was one I recognised, he knew we had waited an obscenely long time and he was not about to rush us for anything in the world.

As my parents relaxed while I ordered up our afternoon tea sets, our waiter nodded and smiled through my entire request. Extremely well-mannered, and alert despite the crowd he had been and was still serving, he calmly answered our questions in excellent English, and recommended the different teas to us without doubt or pause. Dressed in a sharp white suit, he quickly left to get our order in, sharply instructing a junior staff to dress our table with the suitable cutlery. 

I watched as the wait staff worked their way through the afternoon tea rush - they never ran, they never frowned, they never hesitated. They walked briskly from their stations to the tables, smiled as they poured tea and refilled glasses, never piling their glinting silver trays with excessive things - placing items onto tables with not a clink nor a splash. 

They had been trained, and trained well.

Now, if you find yourself in the same situation as I am, know that the afternoon tea menu is not extensive. It doesn't boast a dictionary of tea selections, or a huge selection of food to overwhelm. They simply list off the items and ingredients, and allow you to make your decision. 

One doesn't come here to just eat and drink - you do so in an atmosphere that's been catered to the English for over 80 years, and what an atmosphere it is. High ceilings, gold finishes, the lull of the orchestra playing on the balcony, watching the bellboys with their white suits and gold buttons, and those beautiful chandeliers - all add to the experience of afternoon tea in this hotel.

What you must notice, are the gargoyle faces on the sprawling, majestic columns along the hotel lobby. There are 76 in total - and they have been the one key feature to remain through the years, preserved and cared for till today.

A waiter arrived to set our table, setting the cutlery and the place-mats without a sound. He was precise and unassuming, never touching the cutlery at the wrong end, placing the beautiful plates down exactly in the middle of the place-mats and nodding to us as he exits to carry on the rest of his duties. 

He did not need our approval nor did he seek it. He knew he was doing just fine - or he would not leave the table.

The cutlery, of course, was suitably marked with the signature Peninsula logo - polished, heavy silverware, delicate chinaware with clever and pretty finishing and details. Shiny and fancy, with the slight flair of coloured detail to get your attention. 

Their teapots are all polished silverware, heavy and vintage. If you peer inside the pots, you'll notice that its stained, not dirty, from the countless amounts of tea served from them.

As our drinks arrived, the waiter poured our teas - an Earl Grey for my mother, while I ordered the Tangerine Rooibos. Both were incredibly scented, smelling absolutely divine, and tasting just as lovely as they smelled. 

I particularly loved my Tangerine Rooibos - heavy with the scent of fresh tangerines, sharp and acidic yet soft and sweet on the palate. I can still smell it now, a distinct scent, like someone peeling an orange next to you, the scent cutting through the air and refreshing your sense. (Also, I think the waiter knew I was taking a photo so he poured the tea slower and longer than he needed to.) 

As he gently placed the tea strainer away, I saw little specks floating lazily up to the amber surface of my tea - red strands of tangerine peel, adding depth to my sips.

My father had a cafe au lait, or a latte I guess, served in a pretty glass holder. It tasted pretty great as well, if my dad's word counted for anything. He quite liked the coffee, and he's quite the coffee drinker, so we'll have to take his word for it. 

As we sipped, and sighed - our food arrived.

The first of which was The Lobby Club sandwich (HKD$200) - a recommended dish, coming with a side of chilli fries. By chilli fries I mean hot crispy chips with savoury chilli powder sprinkled generously over them. By club sandwich, I mean crispy-soft, toasted seven-grain bread, with bacon, herbed egg omelette, shaved ham, lettuce, tomato and a light smear of sauce folded and clasped into the whole thing. 

They also serve the sandwich with a side of coleslaw and a pickle to make sure you don't stay hungry after your sandwich. That's pretty considerate.

I also ordered their signature Blueberry Cheesecake (HKD$150) for my father - who is a huge cheesecake fan. I felt the need to reward him for helping me with the endless queue for this meal, and he was very inclined to accept my reward. 

The cheesecake came presented like a work of art - creamy, crumbly cheesecake resting just barely on a crisp Speculoos biscuit, pebbles of blueberries, a wave of puff pastry sitting across the middle of the entire plate, a quenelle of lemon sorbet sitting on a biscuit crumble (also Speculoos), finished with a dramatic swirl-drag of blueberry sauce.

They were clever with this - they knew the cheesecake might be heavy for some - so they used the lemon sorbet to cleanse the palate and provide a refreshing accompaniment.

My mother, being vegetarian for the day (it was the first day of the Lunar Chinese New Year) - ordered this Coconut Sticky Rice (HKD$165). Served in a baby coconut, with dollops of sticky rice, tart chunks of mango and sweet, soft slices of coconut flesh, this was creamy and heavy, and reminded me heavily of the Thai version. The only difference was that this variation was much creamier, wetter and sweeter than the Thai version. 

It was very strange, but we didn't hate it. It's not something we could finish solo, but we shared this and we didn't hate it.

Finally, we arrive at the Pièce de résistance - The Peninsula Classic Afternoon Tea for two (HKD$628).

A three-tier spectacle of sweet and savoury, sitting in the middle of our table, demanding my attention like a spoilt cat. The top level were the sweets, strawberry pudding, chocolate hazelnut cake, raspberry cakes, and a peach tart - with the 'peach' actually being peach-flavoured syrup encased in a thin membrane structure, running down your tart like an egg yolk as you bite into it. 

I can't go into every one of the elements individually, but I make special mention to the chocolate-hazelnut cake concoction. It was lovely, velvety dark chocolate on sponge with hazelnut cream, and a touch of crisp wafer. That was very enjoyable for me. 

The savory second tier was a smattering of sandwiches, and a sort of weird egg and vegetable quiche. I didn't find the quiche very appealing as it was quite tasteless, and the sandwiches were basically sandwiches. Ham fillings, smoked salmon, some cucumber and cream, the basics.

There wasn't anything that particularly stood out for me on this plate, but it wasn't like I didn't just have an amazing Club sandwich.

As with all afternoon tea sets, there must be scones. Scones, scones, scones. 

I'll be honest with you - these scones straight up blew my mind. They were, visually, much taller than the regular butter scone, and their deep-browntops were lovely and tore off easily, crumbling very little. These observations immediately indicated to me that this would probably not be scones that were too dense, and perhaps more cake-like in texture. 

I was half right - the scones were fluffy, but retained a level of density in their texture. Buttery on their own without overwhelming, not absorbing the lovely clotted cream and jam - both with just a touch of sweetness so they didn't turn me off - as I spread the mixture onto the surface. Not too dense that you would feel it sticking to your teeth as you chewed, and not so fluffy that it would be too light and become a cake instead of a scone.

Absolutely perfect scones. I literally had no time to process my thoughts about these scones because I was too busy shoving them into my mouth-hole.

We ate a lot on this day.

I had long conversations with my parents as we sipped tea and made our way through the delights presented to us on this day. We nibbled and chewed and laughed as my dad plopped too much jam on his scones, and our little table almost ran out on space to put any extra plates or cups. 

It was a very peaceful, very comfortable time for me.

What else could I possibly add to this review that could articulate my happiness of simply being here, let alone being able to dine here after so many years of missing it and thinking of it?

Service is impeccable, the food is delicate, simple but delicious - complimenting their teas. Their cutlery is aesthetically beautiful with an old-school charm, which extends to everything they do, serve and decorate with. It isn't possible to say anything I would dislike about the Afternoon Tea at The Peninsula. I could gripe about the queue, but why would I when I expected it? That's like me complaining about having to queue at the bank. 

I hope you have the opportunity to experience this - I'm not talking about experiencing having afternoon tea at the Peninsula. I'm talking about being able to experience finally fulfilling your One Place, of finally being there and knowing it was exactly as you imagined and so much more. It was unforgettable for me how I felt at that moment, and I want everyone to be able to feel the way I did at some point in their lives, whether its at the Peninsula, or any other place.

The Lobby can be located at:

G/F Peninsula Hong Kong
Salisbury Road, Tsimshatsui
Hong Kong, SAR
Tel: +852 2696 6772


7:00 am - 12:00 am (Sunday to Thursday)*
7:00 am – 1:00 am (Fridays and Saturdays)*

*Afternoon Tea: 2-6PM 

(No reservations for Afternoon Tea, smart casual attire.) 

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