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Friday 20 February 2015

Hakkasan: For A Very Festive (& Glamorous) Chinese New Year!

Words & Photography by Matthew Brown and Luiz Hara

Name: Hakkasan

Where: 8 Hanway Place, London, W1T 1HD, http://hakkasan.com/

Cost: The number eight is lucky in Chinese culture - and Hakkasan’s Chinese New Year dishes are all centred on this number. The 9-course Signature Sharing Menu is priced at £88.88 per person, including a special festive treat, and is available for groups of three or more. Other New Year dishes are priced comparatively with the a la carte menu, with starters and small dishes from £12.88 to £18.88, and a main dish of Abalone and Dried Scallop Fried Rice, £23.88. 

Hakkasan has an impressive and varied drinks selection - most cocktails from the room-length bar are £12.50, and a New Year special, the Kumquatcha, is £11.88. Most wines are priced at £40 and above, but thankfully many are also available by the glass, both 175ml and 250ml. 

About: The Hakkasan Group is a formidable force in Chinese cuisine, with restaurants in New York, Las Vegas, Mumbai and Shanghai, as well as London. Opened in 2001, Hanway Place was the first Hakkasan, awarded a Michelin star in 2003, it has always been my no.1 favourite restaurant for dim sum and Chinese fine dining in London (reviewed here). 

Hakkasan’s design is as striking and innovative as when it first opened 14 years ago. The Christian Liaigre interior is atmospheric, with beautiful wooden screens and hanging birdcages. The 16-metre bar supplies great cocktails, and gives the dining room a glam atmosphere.

Tong Chee Hwee, Executive Chef at HKK, whose Chinese New Year Menu we reviewed just a week ago (see review here), has also been in charge of Hanway Place since its launch. Thankfully, this means that the two New Year menus he has created are very different, but equally delicious. As you enter the restaurant, the handwritten wishes of other diners hang above you, and the Celebration Menu includes a special secret element! 

What We Ate: Our meal began with a Dim Sum Platter, featuring a scallop shumai and dumplings made with Chinese chive and celery and prawn. We rank Hakkasan as one of London’s best Dim Sum venues, and this trilogy was a reminder why. The scallop was soft and flaked away on the tongue, a rare achievement as they can so easily turn hard and chewy. Elsewhere, the chive and celery flavours gave their respective dumplings a light and fresh flavour, ideal for a first course.

These were followed by a Spicy Lamb Lupin Wrap, served with Hakkasan’s own Hoi Sin Sauce. This was a special alternative to traditional Peking duck and pancakes for 2015, the year of the goat/sheep. The crunchy wrap was cut into easy-to-share pieces, and the lamb filling was mixed with spring onion and chilli, giving it a gorgeous aroma.

The third and final starter, golden fried soft shell crab, was served with an incredible nest of egg floss that added to the crab’s delicate bite. This dish, glistening with a sweet glaze and topped with a curry leaf, is exactly the kind of thing you leave the house to eat - complex and satisfying at the same time.

The five different main courses arrived at once, and were served to share. Spicy prawns, served with almond and lily bulb, were thick and fleshy. The curry sauce in which they were served was just enough to give them a creamy but intense heat.

Stir-fried black pepper beef was soft and untextured, lacking the bite and crunch of the prawns. The merlot and black pepper sauce was rich and sweet, however, and the beautiful vermicelli cone in which it was served add some needed texture.

Better still was the grilled Chilean sea bass in honey, its soft flesh glistened under the marinated skin. The stir-fried lily bulb and garlic shoot was a great accompaniment, it was crunchy with fried chilli and salty with soy; utterly addictive.

The best, though, was the abalone and dry scallop fried rice. Beautifully creamy, and with the clean, salty flavour of the scallop and the softness of the abalone, this is a very special dish indeed. If you visit and don’t opt for the Celebration menu, then don’t fail to order a bowl of this succulent rice to accompany your meal.

The theatricality stepped up a gear with dessert. A wishing tree arrived with two bright orange caramelised macadamia nuts hanging from it and an envelope containing a gift from Hakkasan to each diner!

The plate itself was decorated with a dusted cocoa tree, alongside servings of chocolate ganache, kumquat sorbet and cocoa rocks. The mixture of cocoa and citrus works beautifully, and the kumquat flavour and biscuity cocoa are truly innovative elements.

What We Drank: We began the meal with a Kumquatcha, a cocktail made with Brazilian cachaça, campari, kumquats and lime. This is the perfect drink for lovers of caipirinhas, with the kumquats adding a whole new level of flavour and colour.

For the wine, we ordered a 2013 Albarino “Marinero” Terras Gauda from Rias Baixas in Spain. The combination of roundness and acidity makes the Albarino grape a suitable match for both seafood and Chinese cooking, and it is no surprise to find it on the wine lists of many top Chinese restaurants.

We ended with a dessert wine - a glass of the Tokaji Late Harvest ‘Bodvin’, with a wishing tree on the table, we couldn’t resist the urge to celebrate! This is a complex glass, and the notes of oak, honey and apricot added new elements to an already fantastic final course.

Likes: This Chinese New Year Celebration Menu is a fantastic chance to try some of Hakkasan’s best dishes (the dim sum and garlic shoot and lily bulb especially) alongside an incredible new dish, the abalone and dry scallop fried rice.

Dislikes: None. 

Verdict: The Chinese New Year Celebration Menu is a great way to experience Hakkasan, with the atmosphere at its warmest and a strong selection of its best dishes available to share. It’s a fantastic insight into the power of the traditional elements of Chinese New Year, from kumquats to abalone, to public wishes and surprise presents, all of which combine to offer real festivity. 

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