Posts Tagged ‘Hakkasan’

dim sum platter (£12.50)

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.

silver cod in champagne sauce (£35)

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.

tofu, aubergine and mushroom claypot (£12.50)

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 Duke of Berkshire pork belly (£15.50)

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.

sauteed morning glory (£10)

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.
Hakkasan Hanway Place on Urbanspoon

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Hakkasan restaurant exterior

While at Sake No Hana, Jon and I found ourselves saying things like “the food here isn’t as delicious and exciting as it is at Hakkasan.” And then it occurred to me that I hadn’t been back to Hakkasan in well over a year. (My last two meals at Hakkasan were in November and December 2006).

While both those meals were pricey, I remember thinking at the time that if we ordered a little more carefully (i.e., cut back on the cocktails and £35+ main courses), Hakkasan would still be a great-tasting and far more affordable experience.

So last Sunday, Jon and I took my in-town-for-the-week parents to Hakkasan, hoping the food was still as good as we remembered and looking forward to trying the Sunday dim sum menu.

Hakkasan prawn and gai lan cheung fun

Of course we ordered up a storm – everything from traditional xiao long bao (with a nice, crab-tinted pork filling) to dishes with a twist, like the prawn and gai lan cheung fun pictured above (£4.50). The crunchy gai lan added contrasting texture to the silky, sticky rice noodle, as well as a pretty green color to go with the pink juiciness of the prawn.

Hakksan scallop shu mai, London

Another standout were the scallop shu mai topped with salty roe (£5.20). The scallops were plump and sweet (and oh, how pretty!). I shouldn’t have been surprised that these were so good, considering how much Jon and I love to order them at Yauatcha, Hakksan’s dim sum-only sibling.

Turnip cake was another example of how Hakkasan takes a classic dish and adds just a little something to make it special. The turnip cake was beautifully pan fried so that it had the nice brown crispy bits on the outside, and then it was topped with a layer of delicate, fragrant, crunchy garlic chive blossoms.

Unable to resist ordering main courses as well as dim sum, Jon and I revisited our favorite, the Duke of Berkshire pork belly clay pot (still deliciously salty and tender), and we enjoyed the garlicky sauteed morning glory and tofu-and-mushroom claypot, too. The tofu was so slinky and rich that at first bite, I thought I’d bitten into a layer of pork belly fat. What a nice surprise to figure out that it was, in fact, tofu.

We ordered a few pots of tea, and the best value one, hands down, was the “four seasons oolong,” which had a tangy, leafy scent.

Service was attentive and helpful, recommending the tasty morning glory after apologizing that the restaurant didn’t have the sauteed snow pea leaves we wanted. Tap water was no problem.

Most of the dim sum were £4-6 each, and we stuck with mains that were £10-15, so six dim sum, three mains and tea totaled £85. Not a bad total for four people dining at a very chic restaurant serving high-quality food. Next time, I won’t wait a year to go back.

Hakkasan, 8 Hanway Place, W1T 1HD, 0207 927 7000; closest Tube station: Tottenham Court Road
Hakkasan on Urbanspoon

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Hakkasan interior

Jon and I ate at Alan Yau’s Hakkasan yesterday night. I tried to come up with some kind of American restauranteur analogy (“Alan Yau is the Danny Meyer of London”), but no analogy is quite right. The guy started the big London noodle soup chain, Wagamama, where you sit at long, sleek communal tables and slurp up big bowls of Japanese udon noodle soup on the cheap. And then, building on the success of Wagamama (whose soups are so-so, if you ask me, but whose Tower of London location is definitely the most scenic of the bunch), he launched Hakkasan, which serves high-quality Chinese food in a beautiful, glam dining room.

Hakkasan, by the way, has a Michelin star, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good, but when the Frenchies give a star to a non-French restaurant, it’s worth checking out, no? That’s what we figured, anyway, and we were craving Chinese food.

The restaurant is just off busy Tottenham Court Road, in a scary-looking alley called Hanway Place. Despite the dingy darkness (the rain didn’t help, either) and the sense that this alley couldn’t possibly be where Hakkasan is, the big guys in black guarding a small doorway (or maybe the lone silver Mercedes that squeezed its way into the alley) marked the spot. Finding Hakkasan is like finding a cool club. Alan Yau is a marketing genius, for sure. The bouncer-looking guy at the door even asks you if you have a reservation, and then he checks a list to “make sure” you have one. I assume he’s just for show because given how gorgeous the restaurant bar is, there must be tons of people who come by for drinks only.

Past the gatekeeper, you walk down three flights of dimly-lit, slate stairs, and then voila – double doors open onto a view of a so-dramatic-it’s-almost- like-Epcot-Center (a really chic Epcot Center) dining room with a heavy Chinese influence. The room is dark so that the pinpoint lighting can work its magic. Carved floor-to-ceiling dark-wood screens separate the otherwise enormous dining room into smaller dining areas. The restaurant has the noise and energy of a major social scene, but it also turned out to be surprisingly easy to have a conversation.

Hakkasan martinis

Jon and I were a little nonplussed that the maitre d’ couldn’t find our reservation in her book, but we hung out at the bar for just half an hour before a hostess actually pushed her way through the crowds to find us and tell us our table was ready. And the bar was definitely worth a stop – drinks were strong, creative and not-too-sweet. Jon especially liked his “zesty martini” (which used coriander syrup as the mixer), and I never say no to anything with star fruit in it (see photo).

Now to the chow: We ordered three appetizers (scallops, soft shell crab and duck) and three mains (sea bass, pork belly and snow pea shoots). (It was 10:30 pm before we started eating, so we were hungry.)Scallop in black bean sauce

Technically, the scallops counted as two orders, because each order came with one lone scallop. Allowed to customise the sauce, we asked for a black bean sauce, and looking back, the scallop was bound to disappoint given how much it was hyped up. At £7 per scallop, I wouldn’t order it again. Although the scallop was sweet, and I did enjoy the salty je ne sais quoi that only black bean sauce imparts, it was slightly overcooked, making it not worth the money.

Fried Soft Shell Crab

The fried soft-shell crab didn’t look like much (see above), but it was so well prepared, we devoured it seconds after I took my photo. [Brief aside – not only do I look incredibly lame whipping out my camera to take these photos, but also it turned out the restaurant has a strict no-photo policy. So I hope you all appreciate my heroic covert efforts here, despite my crap macro lens setting and poor photography skills, generally.] But back to the soft-shell crab – crispy, light breading and deliciously juicy, hot crab. A dish this good needs no dipping sauce. Perfect.

Roasted mango duck in lemon sauce

The roasted mango duck in lemon sauce was entirely forgettable. The irony is that it looked the prettiest of our three appetizers, what with the uniform slicing and alternating colors and all. The duck didn’t taste like much, possibly because it was overwhelmed by the sour crunchiness of slightly-unripe mango and lemon sauce.

Roasted sea bass in Chinese Honey

We did much better with our main courses. I’d say we hit three out of three. Jon’s favorite was the “roasted seabass in Chinese Honey,” which arrived at our table steaming hot with a beautiful red-colored char sao crust. The flaky smoothness of the sea bass was infused with the sweet smokiness of the “Chinese honey,” and overall, it reminded me of that ever-present miso cod at Nobu. The fish was served with batter-fried mushrooms, which were extraneous and not particularly flavorful. But this plate was unarguably good stuff and worth the splash-out of £36. (New Yorkers, I don’t want to hear any more complaining about the rise of the$40 main course, please).

Snow pea shoots in garlic

Snow pea shoots sauteed in garlic had been so carefully chopped up (well, the stems, I mean) that the dish was even smoother and more tender than it normally is. I can’t get enough of that vegetal sweetness you get from snow pea shoots, and while you can get similarly-tender snow pea shoots at most divey Chinese restaurants, Hakkasan took some care with what could have been a throwaway dish. And at £9, the dish didn’t cost more than what you pay at a dive (in London) anyway.

Duke of Berkshire pork belly, salted fish, dry chilis, szechuan peppers and baby leek in clay pot

My favorite, hands down, was the “Duke of Berkshire pork belly with salted fish, dry chilis, szechuan peppers and baby leek” cooked and served in a clay pot casserole. A humble dish, normally, but raised to new heights here. (By the way, what goes through the Duke of Berkshire’s mind when he sees his name attached to the pigs his estate raises?) The pork belly was tender and not overly-fatty, but just fatty enough to have absorbed the sweet-and-salty goodness of the brown sauce (presumably the salty part of the sauce comes from the salted fish, of which you do not see any sign in the casserole).

The peppers gave off a subtle kick, and the baby leek were similarly subtle in their onion-y-ness. In fact, it never occurred to me to use baby leeks as a sturdy stand-in for scallions, which is how I think they functioned in this dish. What can I say – a humble dish for a humble girl. I’m looking forward to going back and getting me some more pork belly.

Service was efficient and neither friendly nor unfriendly. Mostly you go for the decor and food, both of which were excellent last night.

Our meal was a pricey £190 with wine and a few other bells and whistles, but I’m pretty sure you could go back and eat for a a third the price (for example, if you limited yourself to a mere two appetizers and just ordered the snow pea shoots and pork belly). And going back is something we will surely do.

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