Hakkasan is a bit of an odd place. It must be one of the very few restaurants that attracts both a very fashionable crowd and some, who go for the food. This taken aside, Alan Yau’s flagship restaurant is quite a unique creature. The first thing that you might find odd, is the location. The restaurant lies at the end of a dodgy little street close to Tottenham Court Road. This street certainly doesn’t invite you to hang out after your dinner and enjoy the summer night. There is even a little sign saying: « Please leave Hakkasan quietly ». Second, the restaurant has a bouncer. Now, the guy never created any problem for me, but I do find this strange. It might tell you something about the previous points I mentioned, or about the whole concept of it. Thirdly, if you come here on a beautiful sunny day, like I did at my last visit, you will be transported to quite another place. Upon descending into the cool, dark, blue/black space that is the restaurant, you somehow feel like being in a movie, set in Hong Kong or Shanghai during the 20’s.
The hostesses are stunningly beautiful (which they are at Yauatcha too) and great you with a charming smile. Funny thing, I was there about a dozen of times now (in a few months) and you always get treated like everyone else. This must be the most impersonal restaurant I know. But, here, it fits in with the rest of the atmosphere, which is somewhat close to a night club.
Once you are being shown through to your table, or the bar if you’re early, you can have a beer. But think about it, as the beer here is the most expensive I have come across (£9.50). Not that there’s something wrong with that, but you can have a glass of the very pleasing Louis Roederer Brut Premier for a few pounds more, which I do find more pleasing. The cocktails are also worth trying, if that is your thing.
The design is very much to my liking. The place has its charm, which the photos might show. The only problems, which it shares with so many other London restaurants are the incredible loudness and the absence of light. When I stepped in, on this beautiful sunny day, I had trouble not missing the steps, as it was so dark. If you don’t like someone’s face, take him/her here, you won’t see him/her, nor hear much of what they say. It might be romantic, but a little more light couldn’t hurt.
Now, to the food. Just for your information, if you want to spend big money, you can do it here better than in any other restaurant: They have a couple of dishes that will set you back far more than £200. I for once don’t fancy that kind of stuff (in a place such as this), so I went for the dim sum menu today (only at lunch), seeing that I practically know the whole carte by now. Prices on this are refreshingly student-friendly, which is always a pleasure.
To kick things off, I had the pork and prawn shumai. Four little rolls of pastry filled with a well made mix of shredded pork meat and prawns came steaming hot in their little wooden steamer. This was a very nice start, especially if eaten with some soy sauce, as the filling wasn’t as salty as it could have been. Pleasant start.
Up next was, what was the dish of the day for me: A crispy smoked duck and pumpkin puff. Boy, this was good. Excellent is the least I can say actually. Look at the stunning beauty of these little things. The crispy coat hid a delicious layer of pumpkin puree and slightly smoked, braised duck meat constituted the centre. I always liked the food here, but this was just stunning for such a restaurant. The duck was nearly creamy and the smoke barely noticeable. The pumpkin provided a cushion for the whole thing and the fried batter was nearly greaseless and fantastically crunchy. If eaten with some chili oil, it was like heaven on earth. A touch more smokiness would have made this outstanding. Fantastic.
Next up was a thing I had on each of my previous visits here and at Yauatcha. It is something like the house signature dish, the scallop shumai. Some halved scallops sandwich crabmeat, are topped with Tobiko caviar and wrapped in pasta. Now, being a Chinese dim sum restaurant of relatively large size, you might expect the cooking not to be that precise, but here the opposite was true. The scallops were cooked perfectly. Very evenly cooked, juicy, plump and sweet. Beautiful quality of scallops and crab made this a lovely mouthful (if a very big one). The “caviar” provided some textural contrast, which gave the whole dish another dimension. Another excellent dish.
After a little break, I ordered another round of food. First up came the Fried Satay beef and bean curd roll. This was, yet again very pleasing. The beef was wrapped in some kind of thinly cut pastry ( a bit like kataifi pastry, but of different consistency) and then deep-fried. Inside it was some kind of slightly sweet bean curd. The whole construction sat atop a pool of Satay sauce and tasted, you might expect it, very well. I didn’t remember the food to be that good from my last visits. This was as good as dim sum gets, at least in Europe, seeing that I can’t speak for China or any far-eastern country. If not, make me better ones and I’m happily trying them. Very good.
The following ones were something I had had before: The classic Shanghai dumplings. Some steamed, then pan fried pasta parcels were filled with delicious pork and other things. I could have used a little more seasoning, but once dipped into the very good soy sauce, it was certainly worth eating. Maybe these were less great than the rest, but certainly still good.
The following little dumplings were back to were I wanted them to be, in terms of pleasure. They were fantastic. Oh yes, it were the Char chui buns. Filled with scrumptiously good braised pork, they were made out of an interesting dough. The dough was made out of rice flour and had a consistency, which I could only describe as being close to that of a marshmallow or some uncooked meringue. It worked marvelously with the relatively rich, subtly sweet pork. To get such stuff at £3.95 does make it even more appealing. Excellent.
But wait, what might have been the other highlight of the meal was about to land on my table. A pan fried mui choi bun was a second divine dish. The green pastry was stuffed with lovely pork (again, but again, it was prepared in a different way) and then fried to reveal a perfectly crisp bottom. This was probably the perfect textural interplay. It was simply stunning and definitely the dish of the day along the smoked duck and pumpkin puff. Excellent.
The food being that good, I had to order a bit more, again. So I went for the Vietnamese Spring roll. It was as good a spring roll as I ever had had in my life. Seriously, perfectly seasoned filling, delightfully crisp and nearly greaseless rice pastry accompanied by a pleasing little sauce. What more is there to ask for? Very good.
But something much better was approaching my table after a little break (they had to cook and then fry the rice, which took a couple of minutes). The sticky rice roll was another fantastic composition. The deep fried rice was wrapped around a number of things including shitake mushrooms, young onions, chicken and nuts. It was, yet again, delicious. I just really like this deep fried stuff, if it is as well made as it is here. Excellent.
And finally, another signature dish was about to arrive: The crispy duck roll. They wrap some chunky pieces of duck meat in rice pastry and deep fry it. The whole thing is then served with a nice hoisin sauce and is very, very good. Can’t say much more about this kind of food. It certainly isn’t as complicated or work-intensive as that you might find in a French starred restaurant, but it certainly is as good as deep fried duck rolls can be. Excellent.
You’ve read it, dear readers, the meal here was much better than I had remembered it. The products certainly weren’t as good as in some 2 or 3* restaurants, but for a Chinese restaurant of that size, they certainly were of decent quality. I didn’t like the fact, that the food arrived much faster than in a European restaurant (all in all, we were there for about 1.30hr). Obviously, I can’t compare it to Chinese restaurants in China, but my sources tell me, that this is nearly as good as the best Chinese places. It might even be, that some of the dishes here are “westernised”, I don’t care, as long as they are good. And good, they are.
The beautiful ladies served the food today with even more of a smile than usually, which certainly doesn’t hurt and knew a hell of a lot about it too. That did surprise me somehow, as I only expected them to be there to make the male clientele more willing to spend.
Another feature I like about it is the extensive wine list. This really is quite interesting for a Chinese restaurant as they have all of the big names from all over the world, but also feature some more unknown producers, all at healthy prices (unfortunately). I don’t quite see why you have to have trendy Voss water, but I guess part of the clientele does enjoy it and possibly even demand it.
All in all, a meal here can be quite a good surprise and much less expensive than at the other London * restaurants.