Gouqi (the name is a play on goji berry) opened in March 2023 just off Trafalgar Square. Chef Tong Chee Hwee has a long background in high-end Chinese food. He had cooked at the Happy Valley restaurants in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur before moving back to Singapore to cook at the Ritz Carlton. There he met Alan Yau, who recruited him to open Hakkasan in 2001. Within two years it transformed the perception of Chinese food in the capital and was awarded a Michelin star. In fact the very first Chinese restaurant with a star was Lee Ho Fook at 4 Macclesfield Street in Chinatown, way back in 1974, the inaugural UK Michelin guide, as pointed out to me by food expert Jonathon Tseng. Lee Ho Fook closed in 2008, though Michelin history buffs should be aware that The Oriental at The Dorchester also held a star from 1993 to 2000. Hakkasan continued to prosper, and in 2010 Tong Chee Hwee was appointed executive chef of the whole Hakkasan group, opening Hakkasan Mayfair and then the excellent but short lived HKK in 2012, a restaurant with lovely food but doomed by a difficult location. He continued with Hakkasan until 2019 – this is his first solo venture.
A tasting menu was priced at £118 per person, with a full a la carte selection and a weekday lunch offering at £50. There was even a duck menu at £75. Peking duck was priced at £120 and needs to be ordered a day ahead, with a £230 version if you add caviar. There were also dishes based on abalone, Wagyu beef and Norwegian king crab. With a baked crab claw coming in at £78 and baby pak choi at £23 it is fair to say that you are not in Chinatown. The dining room was split into a couple of main sections and was very smartly decorated. There are a few secluded booths and also a private dining room option. The restaurant can seat up to 92 diners at once including the private room and the bar seats.
The wine list had 118 labels and ranged in price from £40 to £650, with a median price of £80 and an average markup to retail price of 3.7 times retail, which is pretty outrageous even by the dizzying standards of central London. Sample references were Ktima Kir-Yianni Assyrtiko from Macedonia 2021 at £45 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £18, Trimbach Pinot Blanc 2021 at £66 compared to its retail price of £19, and Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 at £90 for a wine that will set you back £26 in the high street. For those with the means there was Château Montrose 2014at £420 compared to its retail price of £148, and Gaja Barbaresco 2004 at £575 for a wine whose current market value is £272.
We started with a platter of dim sum, eight pieces in all. Minced pork xiao long bao had a liquid stock centre, the dumpling not too heavy. Iberico pork steamed dumpling with and goji berry had pork with good flavour and some balance from the berries. The classic har gau steamed prawn dumpling was notionally flavoured with black truffle, though the latter was quite hard to detect, and it is a time of year when black truffles are hard to find. A seafood dumpling of squid, cod and shrimp had plenty of flavour. Morel dumpling with water chestnut was nice with the seasonal morels, while bean curd dumpling was a little bland. Yam and goji dumpling also had diced carrots and was pleasant. A final dumpling had king crab with XO sauce and this worked well, the XO sauce a good foil for the sweetness of the crab. In general, I would say that the dim sum could do with some refinement, the dumplings themselves not quite as fine and delicate as the very best versions can be. Nonetheless, these were certainly very enjoyable (14/20). I much preferred salt and pepper squid stuffed with minced prawn. These were very impressive, the squid tender and the seafood enlivened by some green chilli (16/20). Morel spring rolls were crisp enough but the morel flavour did not come through particularly well, so the overall effect was a spring roll with a vaguely mushroom flavour. I am a big morel fan and was hoping for more than this (13/20).
Peking duck is a speciality of the chef, so not surprisingly it was very good here. With just one person eating meat at the table I wasn’t able to go for the full duck experience with pancakes etc (minimum of 2 people), but the half duck served offered a tantalising taste. The skin was very delicate and the duck meat had very good flavour (easily 15/20).
Scallops with white asparagus had scallops from Canada whose flesh had been stuffed with prawns, served with seasonal white asparagus. The scallop flesh was naturally sweet and very precisely cooked, a light and lovely dish, while the white asparagus was also very good, simply cooked and avoiding either stringiness or hardness in texture (16/20). Gai lan with garlic was excellent, lightly fried and having excellent texture. The shoots were perhaps not quite as good as the most delicate tiny gai lan examples that you can find in Hong Kong but this was still very good (15/20).
Service was excellent, our waitress being patient and attentive. The bill came to £160 a head, with cocktails and beer to drink. Gouqi is clearly in the Hakkasan mould, offering high end Chinese food in a smart setting with classy service. The restaurant had only been open a few weeks and it was already very busy on this weekday evening.