This summer in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui, House 1881 is offering a place of refuge from the sweltering temperatures of Hong Kong. Step out of the heat and into Café Parlour to enjoy a signature afternoon tea set (daily, 2:30–5:30pm; $588/2; +$380 for 2 glasses of champagne), homemade cakes and pastries, light snacks and Indian curries before heading back through the inner gardens to the Stable Bar. This hidden speakeasy above what use to be a home for police horses now houses the largest gin collection in Kowloon, with over 100 types of gin. It also offers an eye-opening gin-infusion experience ($800/person, to include a bottle of gin). We were invited to try both the signature afternoon tea set and the gin-infusion experience at House 1881.
The structure that housed the former Marine Police Headquarters was amongst the first former government buildings to be subjected to adaptive reuse. Refurbishment finished in 2009, five years before PMQ opened (which is, in my mind, the single most popular place for Hong Kongers that has been subject to adaptive reuse), making it amongst the first genuinely successful revitalisation projects.
Café Parlour’s verandah
House 1881’s gardens
House 1881 is one of the oldest surviving government buildings in Hong Kong, comprising a main building, a stables block and a signal tower. Its transformation into House 1881 means that now everyone gets to enjoy its period colonial architecture in addition to the various restaurants and bars inside (it also houses a small hotel on the upper levels consisting only of suites).
Afternoon tea and curry at Café Parlour
We were invited to sample the afternoon tea set on the verandah outside Café Parlour. Although we went on a day where it was pouring rain, we tried our best to imagine ourselves outside on a sunny afternoon, the warm sea breeze blowing past the arches, sipping tea and enjoying fancy finger food. The atmosphere of the verandah is breathtaking with its unobstructed views of Victoria Harbour and the Hong Kong skyline.
Let’s be honest here – presentation is key when it comes to fancy afternoon tea, so Café Parlour did not let us down when our tea sets were brought out in gleaming silver birdcages that had three levels of sweet and savoury one-biters. Overall, the experience was great, but let us point out a few standouts...
King scallop with caviar and mango salsa: the scallop was above par amongst the veritable smorgasbord of items. Here, the clean taste of the mollusc shone through and was not overpowered by the other components of the dish. The caviar brought a savouriness, while the mango salsa provided a lovely sweet-and-sour element.
Alaskan crabmeat in sesame basket with lime: this was our favourite item from the afternoon tea set. The light, crisp sesame basket was stuffed to the brim with chunks of lightly seasoned Alaskan crabmeat. The splash of lime further enhanced all the flavours. It was a well-balanced dish and perfect for the setting.
Homemade foie gras mousse quiche with fig: the mousse was light and creamy, atop a layer of crumbly shortcrust pastry – lovely.
Chicken curry: alongside the afternoon tea, our gracious hosts also served us a chicken curry. A fun fact told to us by our hosts is that the curries here are a tribute to the numerous officers of Indian descent who served in the Marine Police decades ago. We loved the homage to the building’s heritage and history as well as the flavours in the curry.
Gin-infusion experience at Stable Bar
After tea, we went around to the back of House 1881 where Stable Bar is located. Although it isn’t technically known as a speakeasy, Stable Bar has all the hallmarks of one. It’s tucked away in a corner behind a nondescript heavy wooden door and up a flight of steep stairs atop what used to be the stables of the former Marine Police Headquarters. Inside, it’s an intimate affair with around 20 seats – a few stools next to the bar and a couple of large leather sofas and armchairs.
Greeting us behind the bar was Tony – he’s the man in charge. Tony immediately brought out three gin-based cocktails developed at the bar: a barrel-aged negroni ($198), the Pearl of Oriental ($168) and the Teaspresso ($168). Our favourite of the excellent trio was Pearl of Oriental.
Pearl of Oriental cocktail
Later, Tony led us through our gin-infusion experience where he demonstrated how various aromatics such as citrus peel are infused into gin. We won’t give too much away – you’ll have to find out for yourselves! It is well worth the price, and as a bonus, the bottle of gin infused with your choice of aromatics is yours to take home.
We think that the afternoon tea set at Café Parlour features some great items and that the location and atmosphere are genuinely one of a kind. Additionally, the gin-infusion experience at Stable Bar is incredibly eye-opening for people who aren’t familiar with the workings of gin making – a feast for the stomach and the mind. Those who are looking for a bit for unique history and experience should check out Café Parlour and Stable Bar at House 1881.
1881 Heritage, 2A Canton Road, TST, 3988 0000, firstname.lastname@example.org
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.
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