London’s new Peninsula Hotel takes foodies on a fine-dining night out to Canton.
Surprisingly, The Peninsula Hotels never made it to London until this Autumn, when it opened its doors on Hyde Park Corner. The European world city now echoes to the dynamic of another world city, Hong Kong, where the Peninsula’ dynasty first started in 1928.
Staged as a ‘trait d’union’ between two cultures, the restaurant Canton Blue and the adjacent bar, Little Blue, have been inspired by the Keying, a three-masted, 800-ton trading ship which sailed between China and Britain between 1846 and 1848.
Designed by Hong Kong-based Henry Leung of CAP Atelier as a sartorial tribute to the East, the main space is divided into several areas with intimate booths closed off with intricate panels made of an accumulation of colorful Cantonese porcelain (mainly teacups and ornate plates), and a captivating ceiling panel that features a grand celestial navigation map.
The voyage to the East can start for, on the menu, chef Dicky To’s innovative Cantonese cuisine awaits, starting with a rich dim sum menu that features classics like har gow and siu mai, but also things like crab and cuttlefish, and scallop and Chinese black mushroom dumplings. Of course, the Silver Hill Peking Duck comes as a highlight but served deep-fried, with a barbecue sauce and black sesame it takes the connoisseur by surprise.
Some dishes also hint at British traditions like this Lo Hei salad served - as a starter - with grapefruit, radish, leek, bell pepper and Loch Stuart Salmon in a ginger, soy and choli oil dressing or the blue lobster braised with aged cheddar, Stilton, girolles and rice cakes. But don’t be fooled, exceptional Cantonese classics are also brilliantly finished table-side: picture a steamed sea bass steamed in lotus leaf with Chinese black mushrooms served to the plate, smoking hot XO sauce sautéed prawns or a decadent Wagyu fried rice, iceberg lettuce and oyster sauce tossed with one hand by an elegantly clad waiter.
The latter also pours a glass of Ambre de Savagnin, a rare bottle of Jura wine from Domaine de la Tournelle one doesn’t expect to find in London, let alone in a Cantonese restaurant. Bold in colour, the macerated wine reflects the philosophy of wine director Melody Wang, who worked on the largest selection of baiju – a Chinese rice spirit - in the UK but also on a tailored list of 200 wine labels from around the world. Pairing the orange cuvée with Cantonese dishes was phenomenal, adding tasteful dimensions to our dinner.
For those sitting in one of the two private dining rooms – The Silk Room and The Music Room – the immersive feeling is complete: building on the expressive Cantonese dishes, expressive dragons, flamboyant birds, and rich emblems come to life on the superlative curtains and tapestries.
One finishes the evening by heading to the ground-floor through a staircase covered in blue and white ceramic tiles that represent an impressionist dragon when one takes s step back. Striking. Inside Little Blue Bar, the walls covered in apothecary-style spice cabinets are, again, a nod to the spice trade routes the Keying junk took. Looking at the cocktail list means embarking on a tasteful journey: Timur unfolds as a negroni complemented by Timur peppercorns; Kaffir as a fun pisco cocktail rich with lemon, olive oil and verbena; Vintage as a take on a Kir Royal with hints of brioche, nutmeg, marzipan, and black trumpet. Traveling across the seas has rarely seemed that easy.
The Peninsula, 1 Grosvenor Place, London SW1X 7HJ