Top restaurants team up with luxury brands to enrich dining experiences

Top restaurants and luxury brands team up to cater for those with an appetite for the finer things in life, writes Bernice Chan

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 February, 2014, 10:29am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 February, 2014, 10:29am

A long line snaked from the ground floor of the Landmark Prince's in Central to the lift lobby and up to the entrance of Sevva. Customers were queuing to sample the "Lanvin Loves Sevva" afternoon tea set, with a price tag of HK$680 for two and an extra HK$250 for a glass of Veuve Clicquot Rose NV Champagne.

Sevva owner Bonnae Gokson was amazed by the response to the collaboration, which was offered each Saturday in December. "Our staff had to open service from the terrace and [both sides of the restaurant] to accommodate eager guests. Mostly right after lunch, we needed more time to clean up after the lunchtime service first before tea service, but the lines were so long that we needed more staff to manage the crowds."

Apart from the fact that you can't really drink them, perfumes work a lot like wine
Matthieu Bonnier, french window

The afternoon tea set featured round placemats with whimsical designs by Lanvin designer Alber Ebaz, and a three-tiered tray resplendent with sandwich rolls, truffle scrambled egg on toast poilane, foie gras mousse and onion marmalade on a waffle, petite finger rolls of French ham and Brie cheese, and minced chicken sandwiches for savouries. Sweets included snowflake coconut chiffon sponge, French vanilla crème, pineapple crème cake, and macarons decorated with Elbaz's cartoon caricature.

Customers also received a voucher that could be exchanged for a small mirror or USB by visiting the Lanvin boutique nearby on Ice House Street.

The overwhelming response to the promotional afternoon tea sprung from a niche market of well-heeled Hongkongers who are so obsessed with luxury brands they want, literally, a taste of them.

MO Bar at Landmark Mandarin Oriental also engages in collaborations with designer labels on afternoon tea sets, the first one in 2009 with fragrance brand Jo Malone. The hotel's culinary director, Richard Ekkebus, says the collaborations are driven by the hotel's public relations team, which works directly with each brand to explore a unique angle. While the designer afternoon teas not only invite enthusiastic customers keen to sample creative bites aligned with their favourite brands, they are an exercise in cross-promotional marketing that is a win-win for both the restaurant and brands.

On the food side, Ekkebus and his team approach each project differently. "If it is a fragrance, we inspire ourselves from the ingredients used in the fragrance, such as flowers, spices, citrus, and so on. When associating with a fashion brand, we seek inspiration from the brand's image, a collection as well as personal preferences of the designer in terms of food and taste," he says.

Of the many collaborations MO Bar has done, including with Jimmy Choo, Marc Jacobs, Ladurée and Apitiva, the chef says the afternoon tea set with Stella McCartney was one of the more challenging.

"We agreed with Stella that the tea would be vegetarian, and with Hong Kong people loving their protein we felt that was a great one to overcome, but the tea was a huge success," Ekkebus says. He adds that getting the sexy, sleek look of the stiletto heel for the Jimmy Choo chocolate shoe was also difficult, but was enthusiastically received.

The combination of the taste and look of the afternoon tea sets has made them extremely popular at MO Bar, says Ekkebus, who adds that they sell out quickly, with queues of 80 people waiting outside.

Elsewhere, Elie Saab Parfum has teamed up with The French Window restaurant in IFC mall to create a set dinner around a rose-honey perfume that is available until February 20. There are three degustation menus to choose from, two for Valentine's Day, and dishes include honey-glazed monkfish filet with creamed spinach and crispy ham; and a rose-scented soufflé. The dinner costs HK$498 per person and guests receive a fragrance sample gift set.

Carrie Choi, brand manager of Elie Saab Parfums, says the collaboration is a "partnership" in the taste of French luxury and couture. "As French cuisine is famous for its delicate and exceptional experience for customers, French Window is serving high-end cuisine, just like Elie Saab fragrance, which is premium and feminine in terms of the scent, the bottle and packaging," she says.

The project was started three months ago with Choi and her team explaining the brand's story, background and scent of the perfume to French Window executive chef Matthieu Bonnier. "Apart from the fact that you can't really drink them, perfumes work a lot like wine," Bonnier says. "We did sessions to smell it; taste it if you like. The menu came after that." He adds that diners have responded well, and the experience is enhanced by a spray of perfume at the table before the meal, allowing diners to sample the scent and see how it matches with the dishes.

Across the harbour is one of the most premium partnerships in the city, between the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong and Graff Diamonds. It is so exclusive that the afternoon tea is held by appointment only in The Ritz-Carlton Suite, a private, luxurious space for customers to try on multimillion-dollar baubles and nibble on delicious treats priced at HK$10,880 for two. The cost includes a bottle of Louis Roederer Cristal Brut 2004 and a half bottle of Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes 1998. Those with slightly smaller wallets can shell out HK$5,580 for the Carlton Suite and afternoon tea for two that includes a bottle of Dom Pérignon Brut 2003 and half bottle of Recioto Classico Brunelli 2009.

Arnaud Bastien, president and chief executive of Graff Diamonds Asia, says there is no better venue in Hong Kong to host the "Most Fabulous High Tea in the World". Guests can indulge for two hours in the most fabulous suite, savouring the most delicious gourmet foods and viewing extremely valuable and rare jewels. This is an experience for life."

The hotel's executive chef, Peter Find, says Graff Diamonds has a good relationship with the hotel. It has a shop in the hotel and founder Laurence Graff has stayed there.

"We had talks about doing an afternoon tea and they suggested the idea of a trunk that opens up with the jewellery in it. So we, the public relations and marketing team, as well as myself, threw in ideas and every few months we would meet up. They showed us their signature Butterfly Collection and some of their important stones. We then incorporated the colours and designs of the gemstones, and we wanted the afternoon tea to be very high end, using premium products and making them look like mini jewels, elegant and small but also super tasty."

Find says the jewellery had many small details and this aspect was reflected in the tea set. There was also an element of surprise that impressed Bastien, since customers wouldn't know if the nibbles were savoury or sweet until they tasted them. Some of the delectable morsels include one in the shape of an apple, while inside is foie gras mousse with black truffle paste, Alaska crab mille feuille with a lemon crust, and vanilla panna cotta with bird's nest and gold leaves.

The hotel has had one guest experience the exclusive afternoon tea so far and Find says she was very impressed.

Though Ritz-Carlton is getting requests from other companies to collaborate, the hotel has been careful about not overdoing it.

"We need to space the afternoon tea promotions out every few months to make sure we are not doing the same thing every month," Find says.

The aim, he adds, is to make sure that the food with each partnership is special and matches the brand's image. It's a process, from conceptualisation to designing to putting out the product, that takes month.

"We have to see what the benefits are, and it has to be a win-win [situation] that fits with our clientele."