Hakkasan is well known for its sleek Christian Liaigre-designed interior and its sky-high prices. The place has done well enough that there’s now a Mayfair location, as well as outposts around the world. And with Alan Yau no longer the man in charge, you can’t help wondering if the food and service are still any good.
I have a slightly different image of Hakkasan, though, as a place that serves up very good Chinese food using quality ingredients at reasonable prices. Hakkasan’s menu is huge and diverse in price and style, and the cost of your meal can very enormously depending on what you order.
Several times a year, Jon and I drop by for what can only be called a casual dinner. The only thing that keeps us from going more often is the effort it takes to dress up a bit (though jeans and a black T seem to go over just fine on a Sunday or work week night).
Last Sunday night, for example, we were too lazy to cook and wanted to bring my visiting-from-the-US mom someplace good. And she has a weakness for Chinese food. So off we went to Hakkasan.
Normally, we don’t bother with starters, but we broke our own rule last Sunday and got the dim sum platter, which was overly steamed. The rice flour wrappers on all four types of dim sum were gloopy and smooshy, and the reddish-colored one didn’t even taste good. I think it might have been a tomato wrapper filled with tomato gel. At least the scallop filling of the shu mai was good.
We did much better ordering mains, as always. The one pricey dish I get sucked into at Hakkasan is the restaurant’s signature “silver cod in champagne sauce.” I know it’s the equivalent of ordering Nobu’s miso cod, but it really is pretty tasty. Silken shards of cod in a citrus-perfumed champagne sauce. I look forward to it every time.
Silver cod aside, in general, I love the humble claypot dishes at Hakkasan. Maybe you’re paying a couple quid more than you would at a divey Chinatown place, but at Hakkasan, you get top-notch ingredients and a skilled, consistent hand at the stove. The tofu and aubergine claypot is a star, with both main ingredients cooked to silky-smooth perfection, and the umami-rich mushrooms boosting an already powerful flavor mix. Eaten with plain white rice, it’s the best.
Twice-cooked pork belly is now available seemingly everywhere, thanks to the growing popularity of Szechuan cuisine, but Hakkasan’s is spiced and flavored just right every time. There’s just enough kick from the citrus-scented, tongue-numbing Szechuan pepper corns to cut the fattiness of the pork belly, and the medium-firm tofu and cabbage add great texture. This one is another favorite of mine with white rice.
Hakkasan always seems to be out of the sauteed snow pea shoots (yet it’s always on the menu), and I always end up with sauteed morning glory as a substitute. Crunchy, slightly sweet, doing its wonderful vegetable thing. You can’t have a Chinese meal without greens, yes?
With three bowls of rice at £2.50 a pop and just lots of tap water, our dinner for three people totaled a perfectly-reasonable £105 with service charge. If we’d avoided the £35 silver cod, I’d say £70 for three people would have qualified as a particularly reasonable cost for a filling and delish dinner. Point is, you can go to Hakkasan for more than the scene and pricey cocktails. You can go for the food! So try to ignore that raucous party of Russian oligarchs nearby and just enjoy the cooking. There are some real gems on the menu.
Hakkasan, 8 Hanway Place, W1T 1HD; 0207 927 7000; closest Tube station: Tottenham Court Road.