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Hakkasan review by Lawrence Hunt
Being well acquainted with Hakkasan’s Bond Lair charms, travelling down its incense-bathed stairwell now seems less a journey of discovery than a palatial stock-check.
Ah yes, there’s the BMW by the entrance. There’s the Voss artesian lifestyle-water. There’s the besuited man with the pony tail laughing frivolously as his younger date searches under the table for her diamond earring.
But book your table before 22nd February and you’ll find discover an experience that demands your full attention: the Chinese New Year menu. I’ve always found great pleasure in the Chinese calendar. Just as you’re wondering what the hell happened to those new year resolutions, China’s putting an arm around your shoulder and telling you it’s only just begun, champ.
Much of the gilded elite who dine on their stock earnings won’t be feeling particularly amorous towards China right now, given the state of the markets. But then the clue was always in the name: Year of the monkey. The year of mischief, trickery and bad luck.
Our choice of cocktail, the 9 Hou, is surely the finest way to forget whatever woe the monkey’s inflicted – or indeed supplicate him if you’re the superstitious sort – with a delicious blend of Eldorado rum, banana and walnut, accompanied with a stylish little pendant, sneakily pocketed by my date. “It’s what he’d want,” she explains.
The place is alive with chatter and music, but we’re delighted at the prompt attentiveness of the staff as they emerge from the gloom with our first dishes. First, a tasty broth light on the chicken but which gives me my first encounter with ingredients like ginseng, bamboo root and something called a ‘wolfberry’.
It’s followed by a cluster of intricate and flavourful Dim Sum in prawn, crab and scallop variants, which really display the chef’s attention to detail. And our unexpected favourite from this course, a plate of crunchy shells filled with Japanese Wagyu Beef and pine nuts.
We spend the interim before the arrival of the main dishes sipping Julg, an exquisite German Pinot Noir, and pondering our additions to the Chinese New Year wishes strung up around us. There’s much to inspire – for your perusal, the deepest desires of London’s illustrious for the year ahead:
“I WISH I WIN BIG LOTTERY”
“WISH EVERYONE WHO LOVES ME OR I LOVES HAPPINESS + HEALTHY”
The main sharing dishes interrupt our thinking with exotic fanfare, each one a wonder of art and precision, and accompanied by a huge bowl of dried scallop and crab meat fried rice. The true showpiece is the wok fried lobster in spicy truffle sauce, which is every bit as rich and perfect as it sounds, prompting that closed eyes, slow-motion ecstasy face that your date never fails to call you out on.
Pipa Duck makes an interesting deviation from the classic Beijing Roast Duck/pancake combination, and the Grilled Chilean seabass in honey is the kind of taste you cling to, holding it in your mouth for precious extra seconds before swallowing, hoping to remember it in darker days to come.
The vegetables are a masterful side dish too, with stir fry Hericium mushroom mixing with crunchy lotus root, asparagus and lily bulb in black pepper.
For dessert we’re served a golden halo, a wafery soy caramel number with banana delice, chocolate and peanut. Be warned: thinking it was solid chocolate, my date got a little too excited and bit into the giant chocolate orb at such an angle that I found myself at ground zero of a chocolate doomsday scenario I do not wish to repeat.
As we sip Jasmine Tea/Mezcal (I needed something a bit more arid, being born in the Year of the Snake) we’re amazed its over – but equally at how much food the menu’s taken us through. At a solid £90 a head, let’s hope your new year’s resolution was not a financial one. But if you’ve been meaning to try Hakkasan’s definitive approach to Chinese, there’s no better time – you get more for your money than ordering from the regular menu, with a creative showcase of dishes which lingers long in the memory. And it’s gone after February 22nd, so book fast.
For more information visit www.hakkasan.com
words review by Lawrence Hunt