Friday, 10 August 2012

A romantic meal for two at Hakkasan

The entrance is fashionably discreet: stepping through an unobstrusive doorway on elegant Bruton Street, you are waved past the bouncer down a short corridor to the reception desk, where you are greeted by a veritable swarm of pretty girls*, dressed to the nines in fuschia and black frocks (and causing the attire of the up-market clientele to look almost shabby in comparison**).

Hakkasan - owned by Alan Yau of Wagamama fame - has a reputation as one of the best Chinese/dim sum eateries in London, and being a huge fan of his other restaurants (Yautcha, for fantastic dim sum, cocktails, pastries, and a stunning aquarium; Busaba Eathai for Thai food with a twist - great if your group is large enough to commandeer one of the large 'communal ' table; and of course Wagamamas - quick, cheap, and reliably good ) I was extremely excited to finally go there.

Led to our table by one of the well-dressed waitresses, we were quickly served with our drinks. The service was incredibly attentive - in fact, everything was served and cleared away so efficiently that there was perhaps less time to linger over our meal than we would have liked...(although I would have been the first to complain if we'd been left I'm not saying the good service is a negative!)

A photo of the fancy bathroom (I was too embarrassed to start snapping pics of the restaurant itself!)

We had planned to sample one of their tasting menus, but unfortunately these are available only for parties of three and above. Instead we ordered as varied a selection as we could from the A La Carte menu.


We started with the dim sum platter, which consisted of four types of dumplings: scallop shuimai, shimeji dumpling, Chinese chive dumpling (with prawn and crabmeat), and har gau.
I've tried the scallop shuimai before at Yauatcha: while those were good, Hakkasan's version were exceptional. Enormous scallops, tender and sweet, encased in a delicate 'pasta' wrapper, and topped with a sprinkling of red roe eggs.

The shimeji dumplings were also fantastic: tasty shimeji mushrooms in a rich, intensely umami brown sauce, with chopped vegetables (perhaps water chestnuts?) adding texture and crunch. The flavour was so meaty that I could have sworn it contained duck - but apparently it is vegetarian.

The Chinese chive dumpling (in the green wrapper) was also excellent, with a generous amount of sweet, tasty crab meat, and a lovely flavour.

And finally, the prawn dumplings (aka har gau). These were delicious (you can't really go wrong with har gau) but less adventurous than the other dim sum options - I would love to see something a bit more exciting - such as the prawn cheung fun*** (my favourite Yautcha offering) - on the menu in their place.

The only issue with the dim sum was the size - they were very large (bigger than the usual dainty mouthfuls) and it was hard to work out how best to eat them in an elegant fashion! Pick them up, daintily, with chopsticks, then cram the whole thing into your mouth, hamster-style? Or 'chopstick' them into two, messily spilling and smearing their contents onto the plate, for a more mouth-size portion? I tried both (and I'm sure the suave troop of waitresses were judging me for my dim sum ineptitude...)

Main Course
Black pepper beef with merlot sauce was my favourite main - chunks of beef in a darkly glistening sauce, with a flavour reminiscent of my all-time favourite dish at Busaba Eathai, the tamarind duck. The dish was served with the beef pieces spilling out of a nest of deep-fried noodles. Please note: these are decorative only. I made the mistake of trying to eat them - not tasty (and I was not elegant in my attempt either!)

Roast chicken with satay sauce was also delicious. Succulent slices of roast chicken breast with perfect shiny-crisp golden brown skin and a gorgeous peanutty satay sauce: a very posh take on this classic dish!

Silver cod in champagne sauce was our most expensive main - and at a hefty £39 we were torn as to whether it was worth the price tag. The cod itself was flawless: juicy and moist, it seperated out into the delicate flakes that are the mark of a perfectly cooked fish. However, while my boyfriend loved the champagne/honey sauce, I prefer miso cod [which I make at home with white miso paste, sugar and mirin using a Nobu-imitation recipe I found online - I'll post the recipe next time I cook this dish].

And, finally, our side dish. Pak choi with ginger sauce was good, but at a not insignificant £11 for what was effectively a plate of steamed vegetables, it is probably better to spend your money on something where the Hakkasan flair is more apparent.


We were fairly full at this point, but the quick service meant we were not quite ready to leave, so we decided to stay for dessert. Good decision! The desserts were fantastic - my boyfriend insisted that they were the highlight of the meal, and despite having given my heart away to the beef in merlot sauce (<3), I have to agree that they were exceptionally good.

Chocolate souffle

I struggled with the dessert menu - everything sounded so fussy and with so many components that I couldn't find anything that took my fancy. So, throwing 21st Century feminism to the wind, I let my boyfriend choose both sweets.

The chocolate souffle was served alongside a creamy scoop of vanilla icecream (topped with a tasty dark chocolate curl) and three blobs of gorgeous creme anglaise sprinkled with dehydrated raspberry, all arranged artistically on a piece of grey slate. The souffle itself was light and pleasantly moist with a strong chocolately flavour, and the accompaniments complemented it perfectly.

The chocolate cherry pot - a sumptious mix of rich chocolate mousse and juicy cherries - arrived in a large glass tumbler topped with a thin disc of dark chocolate, over which our waitress proceeded to pour a hot cherry sauce (melting the chocolate disc and oozing into the dessert below...mmmm). Absolutely amazing.

All in all, a fabulous meal, and (for a special occasion or a one-off treat) well worth the cost.

*There were literally 5 or 6 - one even seemed to have been asigned the task of opening the door to the toilets. Service indeed!
** And when I say "up-market clientele" I of course mean me, in my 'best' jeans...
*** Long steamed rice noodle rolls, filled with huge firm king prawns and crunchy vegetables, drizzled with sweet soy sauce and chopped into three with a spoon at your table.

Square MealHakkasan Mayfair on Urbanspoon