Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Chinese New Year Celebration at Chesa

We usually stay away from eating out during the holidays, especially to places that offer any sort of celebration set menu (often an euphemism of overpriced, under-delivered food that was prepared in advanced and in bulk by junior staff unwillingly stuck in the kitchen while everyone's away on holiday) But when our friend asked us to join she and her other friends for dinner at Chesa at The Peninsula during Chinese New Year, we went and had a blast - well, literally.

If you ask me to name one local restaurant that's good enough to impress while casual enough for everyday dining, Chesa could be one of those I had in mind. And whether you are a regular customer or an occasional one like us, you always feel like you are treated like royals - something of a rare breed these days, even for many top-notch hotels or restaurants around town.

The day we came fell on the second day of the Chinese New Year, so they are running this special festive menu, both to celebrate this important holiday in Lunar Calendar, and also to coincide with the firework display that lighted up the Victoria Harbor in the evening. And I was impressed that they did try their best by putting together a menu utilizing many of the ingredients considered auspicious in Chinese culture and presented them in classic Swiss dishes. I must say the culinary team at Chesa did execute that successfully, beyond just a mere marketing ploy as I feared that might become before I came. 

Our appetizer - suckling pig confit with hoisin sauce - was a clever play of the classic Cantonese dish usually found in banquet as the first course. But here, it's made into a pate en terrine and plated like one with cucumber salad, dried parma ham strips and hoisin sauce as garnishes. The result was a combination of familiar taste and totally different presentation, which I found enjoyable.

The second course followed a similar trait of Chinese ingredients-Swiss cooking. Abalone - a symbol of luck and wealth - was made into a clear consomme with shellfish and served with fish quenelles mixed with black moss - a dried weed grown in the northwest Chinese desert region with the name in Cantonese (fat choy) sounds similar to "getting rich". The rich and umami flavors unassumingly came through the clear soup and I also like the texture of the quenelles.

The main course turned back into a more traditional affairs, but not without a hint of Asian touch. Chicken breast was cooked sous vide and served with deep-fried chicken leg confit and five spice sauces. It's not the best chicken dish I have ever had, but still decent and presentable. I especially liked the chicken leg with its meat minced, breaded and deep-fried. In addition to the set menu, we also ordered a few from the a la carte menu as supplement - including cheese fondue, air-dried meat, sliced veal with mushroom cream sauce rosti and their signature and my favorite raclette du Valais. I still couldn't quite believe how we managed to finish all those after our original 4 courses we each had but they were any bit as good as I expected. We ended our evening with the dessert of lemon cream with marinated red berry in samba tea and mascarpone icecream.

Each of us brought some wines to share with the entire table, and without much collaboration of who's bringing what beforehand, we ended up having quite a coherent flight for the evening, surprisingly. There's some unintended new world vs old world comparisons (in both champagne/sparkling wines and young cab) and a horizontal tasting of 1990 vintage going on - purely by coincidence. Of which my favorites of the evening were the always elegant Ruinart Non-vintage Rose champagne, which brought our dinner to a fine start, and the powerful 2008 Opus One, which went well with our meat dishes later on (especially the air-dried meat and veal), and the welcoming nose and deep dark cherry and smokey flavors with hint of earthiness and black truffles made that a perfect wine to be enjoyed on its own too.

Oh, apart from the many food and wine, the highlight of the evening was certainly the firework display we got to enjoy watching on the Garden Suite at the hotel, overlooking the harbor front. Every year on the second day of Chinese New Year, fireworks light up over our Victoria Harbor as part of the traditional celebration. And guests of the hotel had exclusive access to the Garden Suite on the 7th Floor at the hotel with unobstructed view of the harbor front so we all could enjoy magnificent view of the firework display while enjoying a sip of champagne. It's been a while since I watched the Chinese New year fireworks live and I wouldn't think of any better or more comfortable place to enjoy such a show than here inside this posh venue away from the people crowding both sides of the harbor.  

As much as we love the evening of spectacular fireworks and all the impressive food and service, I don't think we can repeat that any time soon unfortunately - tables are already booked up for next year's Chinese New Year fireworks night. Yes, we asked, and were told there's no more table available. Well, as a close alternative and consolation, we booked the table for the evening of October 1st, the night with the National Day fireworks. And we are already looking forward to it.

More pictures can be found in my flickr page: www.flickr.com/photos/g4gary/sets/72157632744425077/

When? February 11 2013
Where? Chesa, The Peninsula Hong Kong
Menu highlight: Suckling pig terrine with cucumber salad, Parma ham chips and hoisin sauce
Drinks:
Champagne Ruinart Rose NV
Domaine Ste-Michelle Blanc de Noirs NV
2011 Mansion House Bay Sauvignon Blanc
1990 Chateau Camensac (our contribution)
1990 Chateau Rauzan-Segla
2008 Chateau Durfort-Vivens (our contribution)
2008 Opus One
Inniskillin Sparkling Vidal Icewine
Web: http://www.peninsula.com/Hong_Kong/en/Dining/Chesa/default.aspx

 

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