Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful…
There’s just something about Chesa in The Peninsula Hong Kong that makes me want to sing Christmas carols whatever time of year it is. (Luckily, we’ve now hit the festive season full-swing, so I sound somewhat less of a loon.)
One of the only Swiss restaurants in Hong Kong, Chesa has been going strong for over 40 years – and once you’ve stepped into its cosy chalet surroundings, you’ll understand why. It feels like a secret Alpine escape, not just from bustling Tsim Sha Tsui, but the whole of Hong Kong itself. With its dark wood panelling, rustic furniture and cute mountain chalet details (think cross-stitch cushions and cuckoo clocks), it’s a gorgeous little grotto that just begs for curling by the fire with a cup of cocoa and comedy Christmas jumper.
The menu is filled with Swiss classics that are the cockle-warming equivalent of a warm welcoming hug. One absolute must-have is the Raclette du Valais; cheese fondue? Old news! Raclette is where it’s at, people. (Although Chesa do serve fondue too, just so you know). Chesa’s version is delicious enough to excuse a lifetime of cheese-induced bad dreams – a thin layer of bubbling molten cheese, with baby potatoes and other pickles to wrap your melting cheesy strings around. It’s salty, it’s tangy, it’s incredibly addictive; simple but oh-so-good.
The other starter I tried was an onion and mushroom clear broth with pork dumplings. It feels rustic and homely – the kind of food I imagine Snow White cooking for the seven dwarves in a woodland cottage – but managed to be deftly light too.
For mains, I tried the beef cheek pot-au-feu with root vegetables, a dish that couldn’t get more wintry unless you sprinkled snow on it. I wasn’t mad on this as I’d been (wrongly!) expecting a thicker stew more like a goulash, rather than a clear broth similar to my appetiser. That said, the beef itself was good stuff, and so tender that it practically melted apart at the sight of a fork.
I would never have picked out the salmon from the menu – but I was very glad my dining companion, the lovely Carrie of The Peninsula Hong Kong, did because it was probably one of the best salmon dishes I have ever eaten. Slow-cooked, it was near translucent blush-pink in the middle and melted in the mouth in a way that I didn’t even realise salmon could. The zing of citrus from the rich lemon butter sauce lifted it even higher… and how on earth did a bed of sliced carrots end up tasting so wonderfully moreish? If most of Chesa’s menu feels autumnal, then this salmon is pure spring on a plate – fresh, light, divine.
All the desserts sounded so good that I almost ate the menu itself in my excitement, but we managed to keep our order to *just* three. The Swiss chocolate mousse was Carrie’s favourite and on any other dessert menu, it might well have ended up being mine. Chocoholics will find themselves in a very happy place, with a mousse so rich that it’s nearing ganache levels of gooey indulgence. I could have done with a different texture, for instance a crunchy tuile or some cocoa crumbs, to add a contrast though.
Nevertheless, the chocolate mousse was beaten into third place by our two other desserts – the baked apple tart and the chocolate Swiss chalet. The tart was a golden caramelised daydream; I absolutely loved the accompanying yoghurt ice-cream, which had a beautifully creamy consistency and a mellow tang that rounded out the dish nicely.
As for the Swiss chalet… well, I see all your Christmas gingerbread houses and raise you this! Why is this not the most Instagram-ed dessert in the city yet? It couldn’t get any cuter unless there were little marshmallow snowmen sitting outside (now there’s an idea!). If Chesa’s mousse put you in a chocolate happy place, then their chalet will all out shuttle you straight to cacao nirvana. Made up of thin sheets of chocolate (quality chocolate, needless to say, not any of that too-sweet Cadbury’s crap) with scoops of vanilla ice-cream inside, it’s then up to you to make it rain – or in my case, pour! – with the accompanying rich dark chocolate sauce. The flavours might be simple, but the playful presentation really makes this a showstopper of a dessert.
I also have to mention Chesa’s little extras: the breadbasket at the start of your meal that includes a magical roll which tastes exactly like a pretzel (yes please!), and the cute petit-fours at the end which featured an apple pie in the form of a biscuit (yes please x2!).
Chesa is a bit of a rare bird in Hong Kong, elevating homely, hearty and rather humble food to fine dining standards. It’s at The Peninsula and so, of course, doesn’t come cheap (mains are around $300 and desserts are $180; there’s also a three-course set lunch for about $350) but given the top-notch service, high quality food, unique ambience and cute-as-a-button surroundings, I think it’s well worth it. Admittedly, I’m a hot tea and woolly jumper sort of girl these days but have to confess, I’d far rather spend my dollar on the cosy comfort of Chesa than the contemporary cool of say, Akrame.
For a country that alleged only produced the cuckoo clock (circa Orson Wells’ great line in The Third Man), I found myself falling rather unexpectedly in love with Switzerland by the end of my meal. Cheese, chocolate and cuteness? Bring it on!
Chesa, 1/F, The Peninsula Hong Kong, 19-21 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, +852 2696 6769
Note: this meal was by invitation