Friday, 30 November 2012


I have a lot of admiration for Alan Yau, the Restauranteur who gave asian food a makeover and made it sophisticated and chic. Born in Hong Kong, he moved to the UK when he was 12. He founded Wagamama in 1992, a chain that served Japanese noodles and other asian bites on communal tables. Yau has since become one of the most successful restauranteurs, turning his hand to finer dining, he opened Hakkasan, Yauatcha, Sake No Hana (Japanese). He also opened Princi (Bakery) and Busaba Eathai (Thai), both of which are similar to Wagamama conceptually-- reasonably priced food aimed at the masses. 

Since my university years in London I have been a die hard fan of Yauatcha, visiting sometimes as often as once a week because Dim Sum is what I grew up with in Hong Kong and I crave it, a lot. When Yau opened the first Hakkasan on Hanway place in 2001 however, I wasn't impressed. It lacked authenticity. There was nothing Chinese about the decor (designed by famed designer Christian Liaigre) or the food-- "It's catering for westerners" was the verdict and we brushed it aside in favour of Yauatcha. For a long time, we ignored the favourable reviews bestowed on Hakkasan, until early this year, when our mother claimed it was her favourite Chinese restaurant in London. She had been visiting the Mayfair branch, bringing every visiting friend from Asia there. It made us curious to try it out. Since our visit in April, we've been back no less than 5 times, taking over Yauatcha as our go-to place for our Chinese fix.

What we like:

The decor- the dark decor that was once seen as lacking in authenticity (Chinese restaurants, after all, are almost always blindingly bright) is now seen as stylish and moody. This shift in opinion is testament to the fact that tastes change as we age. Lanterns hang low on each table, acting as a spotlight for the dishes which deserve the star treatment.

The food- any Chinese will tell you that Chinese cuisine is one of the most varied of world cuisines. This is because china is a vast country, made of many different regions boasting their own dialects as well as local flavours. Hakkasan's menu offers diners the chance to try dishes from around china under one roof. Dim Sum is a Cantonese cuisine from Canton, a region Hong Kong is part of. Dim Sum dishes are often intricate and are served in bite sized packages, steamed, fried or baked. A friend of mine who is training to be a chef told me how much harder she found making dim sum compared to french pastries. The Dim Sum offered at lunch is one of the best we have had anywhere, surpassing even Hong Kong. What distinguishes Hakkasan is its creative reinventions of classic dishes, giving them a modern flair. One of our favourites, which is a best seller in both Hakkasan and Yauatcha, is the Venison Puff. Traditionally, the puff is made with barbecued pork. Replacing the pork with venison yields a richer taste. 
Venison Puff

Char Siu Bao is phenomenal there. Char siu is barbequed pork and is the primary filling in a white bun. This was a childhood favourite but as I grew up I got bored of it and phased it out in my teens, eager to leave behind the foods associated with being a child. In Hakkasan, the bun is light and airy, the filling has a hint of alcohol, giving this childhood favourite a grown up twist. 

Char Siu Bao

Yummy BBQ pork filling of Char Siu Bao
Cheung fun (rice noodle rolls) is done exceptionally well in Hakkasan. Traditional fillings have been jazzed up for more flavour.
Prawn and Gai Lan 
The layer of fried beancurd gives this dish a contrasting texture.

Mixed mushroom dumpling with black truffle
When biten, cheese oozes out of this ball of deep fried shrimp topped with a hazelnut
Baked Chicken and Vegetable Parcel
Spicy Dumplings
Prawn Dumpling-- the gelatin soup and thinly sliced cucumber was exquisite

Best Prawn Toast Ever
XO Scallop Dumpling-- you can vaguely see the chopped veg through its outer shell
Lunch or Dinner? We prefer the lunch menu because of the Dim Sum, but dinner is good too. The dim lighting, dark wood decor and asian flavoured cocktails make this a great place for dates or a boozy night out with friends.

The Duck Salad is a popular choice as a starter. The duck is tender, it's flavour contrasted with the acidity of the pomelo; slightly tangy but refreshingly sweet. 
Spicy Prawns with Cashews bursted with flavour (Warning: those small orange red chillies will burn!) 
Cod with honey and champagne
This is a plate of elegance. The cod is smooth as silk. it's lightly seared to give it a delicately crisp exterior. The honey brings sweetness while the champagne adds a subtle hint of fizz.

The Desserts we have tried:

Chocolate orange dessert
Pistachio and Plum tart

If you fancy something more traditional for your dessert, their steamed custard buns at lunch is a must! It is by far the best custard buns we have ever tried. Custard buns are not the kind of dessert we usually go for, as we tend to think they are overtly sweet and heavy. But not Hakkasan's, their custard buns are freshly steamed to perfection, the hot yolky custard oozes out after one bite, it creates this giddy feeling. Hakkasan uses salted duck egg yolks for their custard buns, this perfectly balances the sweetness of the filling. After shamelessly scoffing down the first one, you can't help but want to grab  the last one before anyone else does!

The filling is so good it deserves two close up shots

Hakkasan on Urbanspoon

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