If you are new to Hong Kong or seldom venture to Kowloon you may not know that the grande dame of Hong Kong’s hotel scene, the venerable Peninsula in Tsim Sha Tsui, hosts within its confines a Swiss restaurant decked out with floor-to-ceiling dark wood panels to conjure the mood of a snowy mountain lodge somewhere in Switzerland.
The dining room at Chesa
Yet, Chesa has been serving generations of Hong Kong families for over 50 years since it opened in 1965. Like the Peninsula’s French classic Gaddi’s, Chesa is the kind of place where you may witness a wedding proposal in action.
My personal experience with Chesa; however, is a little different. I last dined there in 2009, exactly one year to the day after I married my then-husband during a window of opportunity that existed in California at the time. That happy occasion was marred early the next morning by my discovery of an unfortunate correspondence between said husband and his lover that set in motion a series of events leading to my early experience with same-sex divorce.
Neither marriage nor divorce, however, has dimmed my memory of the rich delicious melted cheese fondue that is the highlight of any visit to Chesa, which drew me back this recent weekend in anticipation of the cooler months ahead. The Swiss-inspired menu features appetisers, both cold and hot, along with fish, meat and poultry mains, but it is truly the cheese specialties that are the reason to come here.
The fondue comes in two varieties and I selected the Fondue Moitié-Moitié (HKD270) on this recent visit. This “half-half” variety of fondue consists of two bubbling melted cheeses, Gruyère and Vacherin Fribourgeoise, blended with an ample quantity of white wine and kirsch liqueur. The hearty, slightly salty flavour of the alcoholic cheese combination is a beautiful accompaniment to the plain torn pieces of baguette as they are dipped into the pot and coated with the delicious mixture.
To accompany the fondue, we also ordered the Raclette du Valais (HKD190), served with boiled new potatoes, pickled onions, and piquant gherkins. Raclette, which derives its name from the French word “racler” (to scrape), is a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese. A large wedge of the cheese is heated and, when sufficiently softened, its melted surface is then scraped onto the diner’s plate. Much of the flavour in the dish is owed to what is scientifically referred to as the Maillard reaction, a non-enzymatic browning which deepens and enrichens the flavours of cheese, toast, and roasted coffee.
If ordering raclette is too much cheese for one meal, a similar if not even more delicious example of the Maillard reaction can be enjoyed by waiting until the fondue in your pot is almost gone and then using your fork to scrape those bits of cheese that have melted and started to harden and stick to the bottom. This delicious semi-burnt cheese taste is reminiscent of the rice that sticks to the bottom of the rice pot that is also used to great effect in Chinese, Korean and Japanese cuisines.
Beyond dairy, I recommend from the appetiser menu the Assiette Chesa (HKD250). This is the restaurant’s signature mix of dried meat delicacies imported from Switzerland’s largest and easternmost canton of Grisons. The thinly sliced variety of Swiss cold cuts is a lighter way to start your much heavier meal.
Assiette Chesa (HKD250)
For those who don’t love cheese, there are also, as mentioned above, a number of other main menu items available. The Veal Zurichoise, (HKD400) sliced and served with mushrooms in a light cream sauce (HKD400), for example, was a good, traditional and heavily sauced main but, at the same time, it was hard to discern the quality of the veal under the cream. That said, the veal was tender and the accompanying mound of grated potatoes was quite tasty. Certainly, non-cheese eaters will not be unsatisfied here.
The petits fours
But again, the reason to come to Chesa is for the cheese and also for the experience of inhabiting the relaxed and convivial dining room that is a respite from the crowds of Tsim Sha Tsui and the space-constrained hip restaurants of Hong Kong Island alike. The meal ended with a complementary serving of two petits fours, a dark Peninsula chocolate decorated with the Chesa brand and a tasty little piece of gingerbread to keep your full belly warm. With this experience and a few extra calories under my belt, I am certain I won’t wait until my next wedding or divorce to come back to Chesa, and neither should you.
Chesa, 1/F, The Peninsula Hong Kong, 9-21 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui (Google Maps)
About the Hungry Lawyer: Marc Rubinstein, born in Baltimore, USA, has been in Asia for nearly 20 years with 13 of those in Hong Kong. He has split his career between banks and law firms, and is currently the general counsel of an Asia-based real estate and alternative energy investor. Marc is a co-founder and co-chair of the Hong Kong Gay & Lesbian Attorneys Network, and previously chaired the Nomura Gay & Lesbian Network, Asia. In addition to being a hungry lawyer, he has run three marathons, eight half-marathons and completed the Hong Kong Oxfam Trailwalker.
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