Hakkasan, London’s stylish Chinese restaurant, is an express route to food heaven. From the inventively delicate morsels of food to the impeccably stylish service, the entire experience seduces. The food is so good that hours (even days) later, when you’re back at home moodily chewing your own (rubbish) culinary creation, your taste buds can still recreate that magical taste. From memory, they continue to pinpoint every flavour. I mean, it really is that good. From the signature roasted silver cod with champagne and chinese honey to the stir fry Chilean seabass, and the pan-fried wagyu beef to the exquisite lotus and gai-lan stirfry, the menu offers pearl after pearl. And I haven’t even started describing the dim sum yet. For that, the menu is genuinely staggering: parcels of heaven including tender Alaskan snow crab wrapped in crisp fried vermicelli and xo sauce, puff-spiced with cardamom and fennel seed and mooli spring roll with bean curd puff and yam roll to longingly list just a few. Never has dim sum been so sophisticated and original. All the Chinese takeaways you’ve ever consumed (and there are a lot of them) gradually line-up in embarrassment, hanging their greasy heads in shame. For Hakkasan serves Chinese cuisine with a twist of fusion- updated, enhanced, and turned on its head by westernized flavours. It’s by no means authentic Chinese food, but neither is the fare offered by your local takeaway store (yes tourist prawn toast, I’m looking at you). Instead, Hakkasan’s culinary creations are a salute to one of the best-loved cuisines in the world – proof that Chinese food can be just as stylish as its Japanese cousin.
You only need to breathe in the subtly-spiced incense and admire the sleek wooden décor to understand where Hakkasan’s owners are trying to go with their franchise. We ate downstairs, in the Mayfair branch on Bruton Street, a subterranean vault with mellow nightclub lighting and relaxed background music that seemed perfectly calibrated to the restaurant’s insistent chic. Delicately carved lattice screens separate this space into intimate dining areas- ancient China smuggled into the 21st century. The New York nightclub feel is wonderfully reflected in the cocktail menu (what meal is complete without a good drink?) The rose-petal martini was offensively girly (it was served complete with an actual flower, but I don’t care- it was delicious) as is the pink Mao-Mao –a wonderful concoction of watermelon, strawberries, Belvedere vodka, Akashi-tai sake, and strawberry liqueur that was delicious but, unsurprisingly, incredibly pink. One not to try is the curiously-named Sushi Bartender’s Breakfast- that was a rookie error - a meal in itself, it nearly filled me up before the food had even begun. Curiosity killed the cat.
It isn’t difficult to see why the newer, shinier Mayfair branch trumps over its original, older sibling in Hanway Place. I found the staff to be much friendlier, and I always felt the dodgy alleyway entrance to the original Hakkasan behind Tottenham Court Road to be more seedy than it was sexy. In the end, though, both serve the same epicurean delights – meaning that whichever of the two branches you choose, you and your tastebuds will be blown away. Just make sure you can dig deep into your pockets- those who complain about the prices aren’t telling you a lie. But, then again, you will be paying for heavenly quality that won’t disappoint - making Hakkasan a firm favourite amongst those who enjoy an all-round dining treat.