Hakkasan caused quite a stir when it opened in 2001. Up until that point Chinese food in London was mostly to be found in Chinatown or Queensway, in big restaurants with long menus and frequently grumpy service. Hakkasan, under Alan Yau’s initial guidance, relaunched Chinese food to London in fine dining form. The dining room was sleek and elegant, the service silky smooth, the menus carefully devoid of any “tricky” dishes like chicken’s feet. To be sure, you paid a premium for this, but despite the unpromising basement location down a quiet alley near Tottenham Court Road the place was a rip-roaring success. Mr Yau sold up and moved on to other formats, as his way, and Hakkasan gradually expanded into an international empire stretching from Mumbai to Miami and from Dubai to Doha.
The carefully lit dining room, seemingly dark but with clever individual spotlights illuminating each place, looks as good as ever. We started with a classic dim sum selection, featuring har gau made with luxurious langoustines rather than humble prawns. Also in this selection were pan-fried lamb dumpling, pan-fried wagyu beef dumpling, abalone yam puff, morel radish puff king crab dumpling. and cobia (ling) shu mai. These were all very enjoyable, the langoustine making an interesting change from the usual prawns, the steam dumplings suitably light and having good texture (15/20). Salt and pepper squid had crisp batter and very good squid, entirely devoid of the rubbery texture that can happen with this ingredient in less skilled hands (15/20).
We had pre-ordered a whole duck special. This was served in two stages, initially the meat topped with skin on a sliver of pancake and garnished with caviar, then a separate serving where duck meat was stir-fried with Sichuan peppercorns, onions and vegetables. This was certainly an elaborate dish , though the caviar seemed to me a little out of place and seemed there mostly to justify the considerable price of the dish. The duck skin was not as thin, crisp and delicate as you find at a top place in Beijing like Made in China, though it was certainly pleasant. I preferred the second serving of the duck, as the meat itself had good flavour and went well with the spices (14/20). On the side, baby bak choi with garlic was delicate though quickly became tepid in temperature (14/20). For dessert, I really liked yuzu tart, which had good pastry and a nicely balanced amount of citrus flavour to provide refreshing acidity without being too sharp (15/20).
The bill came to £148 each including some cocktails and beer, the total boosted by the £220 duck special. A more typical cost per head might be around £85. Service was very friendly, the only minor quibble being that it took a while to get the bill. However the overall experience was very pleasant indeed, as it always seems to be both here and at its sister restaurant in Mayfair. Hakkasan glides on, seemingly as successful as ever.