Get ready for US$750 truffled Alaskan king crab and chicken soup with Viagra-like fungus
by Matthew Kronsberg
Five hundred lanterns. A mile-plus of twinkling red lights. Thousands and thousands of willow branches. And 1,000 paper pigs adorning the place.
The Temple House, a luxury hotel in Chengdu, China, has put in hundreds of hours of labour in advance of the Chinese New Year (CNY), an indication of the effort hospitality organisations devote to the holiday — and the returns they stand to gain.
Feb 5 kicked off the CNY holiday, marking the transition from the Year of the Dog to the Year of the Pig.
Festivities will continue through yesterday, when the Lantern Festival brings a close to the celebrations.
During the holiday, hotels and restaurants worldwide mark the period with opulent decorations and decadent meals, all laden with symbolism, invariably for health and wealth.
The price tag for Chinese consumers last year, including sales at restaurants and shopping malls, was US$146 billion (RM594.22 billion).
“CNY is the Temple House’s top performing week of the year,” says Kurt Macher, GM of the property. “We are expecting to grow these (2018) numbers this year, with an increase of around 8% to 10%.”
Those numbers exceed overall projections made by Ctrip, China’s largest online travel agency in its Travel Prediction Report for the 2019 CNY.
“Chinese people are expected to spend more than US$74.2 billion (around 500 billion yuan or RM300 billion) on domestic tourism during the holiday this year,” a slightly greater than 5% jump over last year’s US$70.5 billion, and an estimate that doesn’t factor in retail sales.
America’s hospitality industry is becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of going big for CNY as well.
Mandarin Oriental properties in Washington, Miami and Boston have deployed Rolls-Royce’s first SUV, the Cullinan, in lucky red for guests to celebrate the holiday.
At restaurants, the New Year means splurging on special holiday menus and pull-out-the-stops dishes.
Each day, Wing Lei at the Wynn Las Vegas goes through around 300 jiao zi dumplings — whose shape is likened to gold ingots, symbolising prosperity.
The restaurant also offers US$268 bowls of double-boiled black chicken soup with cordyceps, a very pricey type of Himalayan fungus that is thought to have Viagra-like virility powers.
At Crustacean in Beverly Hills, the US$198 holiday menu includes an “eight-hour massaged suckling pig” with “good luck” sticky red rice, green onion confit and truffle ponzu.
At RedFarm on New York’s Upper West Side, dumplings generally average four for US$16. The holiday menu features a US$20 pair of black truffle chicken soup dumplings and — more spectacular — an 8lb (3.63kg) Alaskan king crab with truffled cauliflower sauce for US$750.
Nearby, at Atlas Kitchen, a recently opened, art-inspired, modern Chinese restaurant, special dishes include udon noodles with crumbles of golden fried dough and foie gras for US$48. (Numerologically, 48 symbolises a lifetime of wealth, while the long noodles represent long life.)
In Midtown at Hakkasan, the US$128 prix fixe menu boasts such items as wok-fried lobster with spinach and lily bulb. That is, if you can get a table.
“In New York, the spike to a regular busy week is 9%,” says Gert Kopera, Hakkasan Group’s executive VP of global restaurants, regarding the relative increase in bookings.
“In Las Vegas, it’s a 10% to 12% spike. And in San Francisco, it would be 37% — although in San Francisco, we are chock-a-block every day. Instead of the first diners coming in at 5pm they come at 3pm, so dinner starts at 3pm and ends at midnight.”
Do extra revellers bring prosperity to the restaurant? “That’s easy,” says Kopera. “The answer is no. People do spend more because they drink more. But we spend much more. We spend more on uniforms. On decorations. We spend more on the macarons. But we do it for the party.”
Indeed, from a reputation standpoint, a high-end Chinese restaurant such as Hakkasan can’t afford not to participate and can use the opportunity to double-down on its brand.
The delicate French cookies that close out a meal in place of fortune cookies are indicative of the flash that helps makes the holiday such a hot ticket.
The restaurant group hires notable figures to write fortunes for the cookies at each of its 12 worldwide locations.
In New York, this year’s author is “Sex and the City” creator Candace Bushnell (“Every woman needs not just a room with a view, but her own penthouse that she bought with her own money”).
London has novelist Will Self (“You are about to come into a considerable sum of money — if, that is, you’re paying by card, and your companions in cash”); and in San Francisco, the restaurant group tapped former Mayor Willie Brown, with a prediction appropriate for a year in which symbolic decor tilts toward flying pigs: “You will live long enough to buy real estate in San Francisco.” — Bloomberg