Caterers Quick to Tap Demand for Al Fresco Feasting
High summer and prospects for autumn turn minds to field and forest fare; innovative firms make sure diners are spoilt for choice.
15 August 2018
With summer in full swing, to be followed by a balmy autumn, it means only one thing for Hongkongers who love the great outdoors – ’tis the season for barbecues and picnics.
Warm weather pairs perfectly with beautifully grilled steak or seafood, or a luxuriant hamper. And with endless country parks to explore, or kilometres of waterfront promenades, residents can pick a different scenic destination every weekend.
Hong Kong has a wealth of fresh-produce markets and gourmet grocers, so the fun begins with choosing your supplies. Or, you can sit back and have the meal catered by experts.
To walk off the lunchtime indulgence, there’s always the option for a hillside hike: as the Hong Kong Tourism Board notes, a beautifully rural world awaits within a hiking boot's throw of Hong Kong's downtown.
Or take a leisurely bike ride. The city’s myriad cycling paths include the slowly winding route around Tolo Harbour, which lets riders catch a cooling sea breeze.
Venues for Hire
Reaching your barbecue spot is easy. Websites of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department have a comprehensive map of areas with barbecue facilities, including beachfront sites.
But for an occasion when somewhere special is in order, the online platform VenueHub HK is the answer. Its website and concierge service connect private and corporate bookers with event spaces in Hong Kong, including many beautiful outdoor sites.
VenueHub HK was established by a trio of entrepreneurial expatriates in 2013, and has grown rapidly since entering the Cyberport Incubation Programme as a promising start-up. “We are now the biggest online venue booking platform in Hong Kong with over 1,100 venues listed,” said Frederik Schipper, Managing Director.
“The wide range of venues we offer is what really makes us stand out,” he continued. “Ranging from theme parks to five-star hotels to yachts, but also small party rooms and even an indoor soccer stadium – we have it all.”
Million Dollar Views
Imagine, for instance, a barbecue penthouse party on an expansive rooftop overlooking Victoria Harbour. This amazing outdoor space in Kwun Tong includes a bar, cocktail table and barbecue grill, Mr Schipper said, along with “hanging chairs, an outdoor sofa and lounge bed for chilling”.
Heading to the countryside, JK Club on Lantau Island offers 20,000 square feet of pet-friendly, bucolic surroundings, suitable for different kinds of events such as a wedding, team building or private gathering. It also includes a caravan campsite, so guests may stay overnight if they wish.
Or for a traditional, Hong Kong-style barbecue venue, Mr Schipper suggests Whitehead Barbecue, Ma On Shan. Enjoying a magnificent view of Tolo Harbour and Pat Sin Leng, this venue is popular for adult parties and family get-togethers, he said.
The founders find that many of their clients who book a venue for professional use (perhaps a company annual dinner) will also use the platform in a personal capacity, such as for a birthday party. “We therefore cater to all types of venue bookers which is one of the keys behind our quick growth,” he said.
With the summer school holidays well under way, family-friendly venues are popular with parents looking for interesting ways to entertain their children. “We expect that the demand for barbecue venues will increase sharply in autumn when the weather cools down and the humidity drops, making for ideal barbecue weather,” Mr Schipper said.
For the most delectable outdoor feast imaginable, catering company Invisible Kitchen has devised a choice of barbecue and hamper menus.
Founded by Tom Burney in 2014, Invisible Kitchen is the second Hong Kong business for the British-born executive chef, after Hong Kong Personal Chef – a private chef service established in 2011. Today the two businesses run concurrently with Mr Burney as Managing Director and Chief Executive; his team of 10 to 15 staff includes four fulltime chefs.
Mr Burney set up the second business after fine-dining clients asked if he could do gourmet catering, too.
During his eight years living and working in Hong Kong, Mr Burney has noticed a growing trend for people to enjoy the great outdoors – especially with weddings. “There are also many more options now catering to bespoke individual picnics,” he said, adding that Invisible Kitchen’s picnic baskets for families and couples are popular.
“Our seven-course sharing basket has been used as the culinary backdrop for many a wedding proposal (and then for anniversary celebrations) over the past few years,” Mr Burney said. Following the courses of a western dinner party menu, it includes starters, entrees, mains, a dessert, petit fours, a cheese platter (spanning the gamut from black pudding Scotch eggs and mini Croque Monsieur sandwiches with black truffle to luxuriant salads), and green tea or coffee macarons – with an option of champagne. Baskets can also be tailor-made to individual requirements.
The company’s barbecue menus cover essential (HK$200), classic (HK$250) and deluxe (HK$350) price points, and include seasonal barbecue festive menus such Chinese New Year seafood. “We often make bespoke menus to match our client’s event theme, such as Korean or Surf & Turf,” Mr Burney said.
Barbecues are popular with corporate clients, and can be staged anywhere from an office terrace to a beach, clubhouse, garden, or junk boat.
Mr Burney believes outdoor dining is a growing trend because “there are so many beautiful locations in Hong Kong” and all so accessible from the city. “The expat community in particular are looking for any excuse to have a barbecue or picnic,” he said.
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