Hakkasan is now a mini global empire of glitzy fine dining Chinese restaurants and lounges, but it all started with just one restaurant, the original Hakkasan in Hanway Place, off Oxford street. When it opened in 2001, a “glamorous night out” and “going for a Chinese” were concepts with little or no overlap but, overnight, Hakkasan changed the perception of Chinese restaurants in London and the UK. Offering lavishly designed, glitzy interiors, a cool lounge bar, and soon-to-be Michelin starred high end Chinese food, it attracted both foodies and fashionistas, rapidly becoming one of the venues of choice to impress a date (just as Hugh Grant did there in the film “About a Boy”,) With such a winning formula, it was no surprise that another London restaurant was opened in Mayfair, with further openings around the world in New York, Mumbai, Dubai, Shanghai etc.
The culinary mission of these restaurants was “to produce contemporary dishes with the essence of traditional Cantonese cuisine,” and in this they succeeded admirably. With both of the London restaurants holding one Michelin star apiece, a further restaurant, HKK opened recently on the edge of the City of London. While at first seeming to be a slighly odd location, right on the borderline between City suits and Shoreditch hipsters, this little area around Shoreditch station is thriving, with new hotels such as the Ace and the Boundary aiming to attract a cooler breed of finance workers, as well as the usual breed of Macbook-wielding creative types inhabiting their lounge bars. The HKK restaurant is notably less glitzy than its West End cousins, still expensively designed, but in a much more low key style- the relatively neutral decor makes it a comfortable place for diners from both the pinstripe and hipster brigades (a pinster venue?)
After passing through a long counter bar area, we were led into the relatively relaxed and informal main dining room. At lunchtime, there is a quite a selection of set menus and tasting menus available, as well as the full A La Carte menu. We chose the 4 course Seafood lunch menu, comprising:
- Minced lobster in home-made black bean sauce
- HKK Supreme seafood soup
- Monk fish in Italian white truffle sauce with egg rice
- Almond brûlée tart with wine poached plum
It quickly became apparent that the HKK kitchen, led by head chef Tong Chee Hwee, had more lofty ambitions than its fellow brethren- while they execute largely traditionally-based Cantonese menus extremely well, the HKK dishes were clearly more adventurous in exploring new combinations of flavours and textures, while still using core Cantonese ingredients. The first three dishes were all surprising, in a delightful way, because not only were the flavours new and exciting, the dishes were actually delicious too- sometimes more radical chefs seem to forget that cooking is more than a chemistry experiment, and that the cleverest molecular gastronomy isn’t much use if the results don’t taste fantastic. The Monkfish was a particular standout dish here, and one of my favourite dishes so far this year- the fish itself was very fresh, meaty yet tender, and the unexpected marriage of Cantonese ingredients and spices with Italian truffle sauce yielded magnificently tasty results.
HKK was awarded a first Michelin star within a year of opening, but if they consistently execute their menus this well, then surely a second star will follow in the near future, since this is surely not a one star restaurant. Speaking to the manager later, he confirmed that they aim to be the culinary flagship of the global Hakkasan group, with more adventurous dishes, and that many customers say that they should be awarded two Michelin stars soon- I too may be counted as one of them