Ask me my favourite restaurant in Hong Kong and The Peak Lookout comes close to the top of my list. It’s not so much the food – though delicious, it’s nothing to get excited about – more the location, the ambience and the heritage of place. It has an unhurried old-time elegance, plus obligatory stunning views, that make it the perfect place to while a way a few hours on the Peak.
In a place where restaurants come and go practically before you’ve finished your starter, The Peak Lookout is actually a site with history. Back in the day, it was a resting shelter for the poor sods that had to cart about rich expats on sedan chairs whilst the building we know became an eaterie, called The Old Peak Café, in 1947. This was before the days of the two giant malls that now hold fort at The Peak and it was practically the only (decent) place to eat there for a good fifty years. The Old Peak Café was listed as a Grade II Historic Building in 1981 following a petition against its demolition and Café Deco lost the lease of it in 1989, whereupon it was renovated and re-opened as The Peak Lookout in 2001. Oddly enough, Café Deco’s eponymous flagship restaurant now sits in The Peak Galleria nearby (with a near identical menu), whilst their Peak Café resides near Central’s Mid-Level Escalators.
Peak Café, in the 1960s, from Gwulo.com
The Peak Lookout is now owned by the Epicurean Group, who also own that other famous long-standing Western restaurant, Jimmy’s Kitchen. The building itself is still recognisable from its 50s and 60s heyday and has been faithfully restored with a faintly colonial décor. It’s all rattan chairs, timbered high ceilings and sepia photos… I say this and I don’t even think there were rattan chairs but that’s the vibe they’re going for and it definitely works. Floor-to-ceiling windows look onto the terrace outside, complete with stone walls, shrubs and stunning vistas over the rest of Hong Kong. The suited-up staff come from the more reverential age of dining and the ambience is pleasant, genteel and relaxed. I particularly love the building lit-up at night, where they somehow manage to turn what are essentially fairy lights into the first word in sophistication.
The menu itself “takes inspiration from” various cuisines i.e. is a bit all over the place. It basically does classic dishes and does them very well, even if it’s at premium prices. However, The Peak Lookout, or whoever is the chef there, will forever hold a place in my heart for knowing what gravy is. I have been at supposed steakhouses and had requests for ‘gravy’ met with blank stares and no, I do not mean mushroom jus or garlic sauce or black pepper. I mean gravy. It’s on the menu here, as ‘gravy’, and that makes me very happy indeed.
I find it very difficult to not order the 8oz filet steak from their ‘garden charcoal barbeque’ when I’m here ($328, plus potato, side, sauce of your choice and coleslaw). This is because, in addition to knowing what gravy is, the chef knows how to cook a steak. I don’t even want to think about the number of cows that have died in vain when, on requesting a medium-rare steak, I’ve been met with a bloody blue mess or a dry tasteless brick. Here, it’s always been cooked superbly – perfectly pink in the middle, juicy, beefy and not oozing so much liquid that you just know it hasn’t been rested.
I’m also a big fan of the risotto balls ($108), something a little different that I’ve not seen on many other menus in Hong Kong. Crispy breadcrumb-coated balls of creamy, rich risotto in a tangy tomato sauce, these are absolutely divine but definitely too filling for one or even two people. I’ve also had the nachos, which are probably the nicest I’ve had in Hong Kong thus far (and at $108, they bloody well should be!). For me, the key to good nachos is to cover them in as much cheese, guacamole and sour cream as their little tortilla bodies can take without burning them – it sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how many places get it wrong. The chicken quesadillas ($98) are also amongst the tastiest I’ve tried.
I had high hopes for the escargots ($98), as the soft garlicky buttery ones at Jimmy’s Kitchen are divine, but these were buried under far too much mashed potato and not served in their shell, which always means they’re going to be the wrong side of rubbery. And a Caesar Salad ($126 – and that’s without chicken!) will always essentially be a Caesar Salad.
As I never stray from my steak, I can’t comment first-hand on any of the other mains. My boyfriend had the chicken vindaloo ($166) and gave it 7.5 out of 10, saying it was infinitely better than Jimmy’s Kitchen’s famed curry (which he likened to the boil-in-a-bag English variety). My mum had the vegetable curry ($152), my auntie stir-fried mixed vegetables ($146) and whilst had no complaints about the taste, they had plenty to say about the inflated prices. Whilst I think you can justify paying a few hundred for quality pieces of meat (especially as these are usually imported cuts), I’m not sure you can charge that much for well-dressed vegetables.
But in the end, you know you’re not actually paying for the food itself (sorry, I’ve not once managed to have enough room for dessert). You’re paying for the ambience, the environment and the views – and they’re totally worth it. With the birds twittering, the sun shining and HK’s harbour just being its usual beautiful self, it takes some beating. And if you face that way, you can pretend the two ugly malls on The Peak don’t exist either.