Much like the Star Ferry or the Noon Day Gun, the afternoon tea served in the lobby of The Peninsula is a historic Hong Kong institution, a rare point of continuity amid a churning sea of change. It's not without its points of contention though—the lobby, with its majestic proportions and ornate ceiling, has a tendency to minimise the individual in the way that grand spaces do; while in pre-pandemic times, a snaking line of excitable tourists queuing for the afternoon tea made for an unwelcome audience of gawking eyes for those tucking into the famed scones with jam and clotted cream.
Perhaps in a sign of the times, The Peninsula is opening a cafe and boutique space in the basement level of its shopping arcade, offering a more discreet alternative to the bucket-list afternoon tea upstairs. (Discreet is certainly the right word: until this writer was invited to preview the space, he was entirely unaware of the existence of this floor.)
The space is intimate, extremely low-ceilinged, and—in a marked break from the rest of the baroque hotel—resembles a sleek cocktail bar crossed with a Wes Anderson film set. Designed by Conran & Partners, the interior is rendered in dark emerald marble, brass, and juniper green lacquer, with the occasional pop of millennial pink. Retail takes up most of the footprint: on one end is the brightly-lit Assouline bookstore, its walls coloured a cheery sunshine yellow to serve as a backdrop for the bold graphic design of the French publisher's many coffee table tomes. Meanwhile, the rest of the floor space is dedicated to patisserie counters, tea displays, and Peninsula-branded gift items like hampers, figurines and teddy bears.
Towards the far end resides the cafe, a 25-seat affair whose alcoves could as easily function as a pit stop for a tai tai doing her rounds of the luxury boutiques as it could be a weekend destination for a gaggle of OLs (office ladies) looking to savour The Peninsula's culinary wares at a more accessible price point.
The highlight of the menu is, of course, the Afternoon Indulgence tea set, which does away with the traditional three-tiered cake stand for a porcelain Peninsula page hat that houses the scones (one with raisins, one without) and the jam and clotted cream, accompanied by the customer's choice of sweet and/or savoury bites, and macarons on small porcelain stands in the shape of Peninsula page bears.