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Wednesday 28 February 2018

Yauatcha City's 2018 Chinese New Year Menu Reviewed - The Year of the Dog

Name: Yauatcha City

Where: 1 Broadgate Circus, London EC2M 2QS, http://www.yauatcha.com/city/

Cost: The special CNY menu is served a la carte, and includes special dim sum at £8-9, mains priced at £17-30, and desserts at £2-9. 

About: Michelin-starred Yauatcha is one of my favourite Chinese restaurants in town, with the first branch in Soho, and this glamorous spot in the City opened in 2015. Building on the Chinese dim sum teahouse concept, Yauatcha City has two bars, two outside terraces and a large main dining area, and on the weekday evening we were there was as usual packed with an after-work crowd.

The Chinese kitchen is led by Chef Tong Chee Hwee, and offers authentic Cantonese dishes with a modern influence, while the drinks menu has a staggering 38 types of tea plus cocktails inspired by Chinese ingredients and a large wine and Champagne list. The restaurant also has an Executive Pastry Chef (Graham Hornigold), who is responsible for the sumptuous array of macarons, petits gateaux and chocolates you will pass at the entrance to the dining room. 

I am a regular visitor to Yauatcha City, and was keen to try their Year of the Dog CNY menu, available only until 4 March 2018. 

What We Ate: The CNY menu is à la carte, with a choice of two dim sum, five main courses, one special CNY dessert or macarons.  They all looked incredibly tempted, so we opted to try the whole menu. 

The Chilean seabass rolls (£9) came with wood ear fungus and Chinese green vegetable, all wrapped up in rice pastry and delicately tied with a single Chinese chive. The combination of ingredients was well judged, and the fish was rich and creamy.

The serving of three salted egg yolk custard sesame balls (£8) was graceful, on a fine disc of raw carrot over a jade serving bowl in the shape of a lotus leaf. It was as much a feast for the palate as for the eyes, and the molten salted custard was transcendent.

From the CNY main course menu, first came the Golden fortune prawn in lime sauce (£17). Five huge, fresh and surprisingly tender prawns were served with salted egg yolk, crispy fried lotus root and a topping of tobiko eggs. I really enjoyed this, although the prawns were a tad sweet for my palate.

The steamed scallops (£30) were big, juicy, unctuous and richly flavoured, served in black bean sauce with glass noodles. They worked out at £5 a piece, which I thought was a touch on the high side. 

The braised pork shank with lotus seed, water chestnut, star anise and shiitake mushroom (£23) came in a clay pot, served with goji berries, water chestnuts and a sauce rich in star anise and five spice. The transformation of this humble cut of pork into a rich and unctuous delicacy reminded me of Pierre Koffman's fabled pigs trotter and morels.

Stir-fried duck breast with hazelnut in mala sauce (£21) came with shimeji mushrooms, sugar snaps, red peppers. The duck was again surprisingly soft, indeed almost spongy in texture. The mala sauce, a mouth-numbing spicy condiment made from Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, cardamom, salt and sugar mixed with vegetable and sesame oil was a heady blend, and tasted like it had a generous slug of belachan. I thoroughly enjoyed it with the duck.

The seafood braised rice in lotus leaf (£22) had a generous serving of fresh prawns and a lovely “wok breath”, but was for me the weakest link in an otherwise solid CNY menu.

From the regular menu, we ordered a dish of spicy aubergine with sato bean, okra and French beans with peanut (£13). This is one of my favourite dishes at Yauatcha, and I order it every time I return. In my experience, it never disappoints. 

Returning to the CNY menu for dessert, the special Haoyun lantern (£9) combined soy caramel mousse with mandarin confit, topped with gold leaf, served over a sesame sable base. Served with sesame brittle and a mandarin sorbet, this was a complex and thought-provoking dessert, beautifully presented.

The selection of macarons including kumquat cashew and raspberry Szechuan pepper, priced at £2 each, were as soft and delicious as I could wish for.  

What We Drank: We started with cocktails, priced at £12.50.  The Hakka combines Belvedere vodka with Akashi-tai sake, lychee, lime, coconut and passion fruit, and was headily aromatic, strong and delicious.  The Kumquatcha had Germana cachaca, Campari, mandarin, lime and Prosecco, and I really enjoyed the astringency and complex fruit flavours of this long, refreshing drink.

With our main courses, we shared a bottle of Hatzidakis PDO, from the volcanic soil of Santorini 2016 (£44). The winery was founded in 1997 by pioneering Greek vintner Haridimos Hatzidakis, who sadly died in 2017 at the age of only 50. The first maker in Santorini to use indigenous yeasts, he also promoted indigenous grape varieties like Assyrtiko, Aidani and Mavrotragano.  This wine was made from 100% Assyrtiko, and was a wonderfully crisp yet powerful, with peach and apricot flavours and flinty minerality, making it a fitting swansong for poor Mr Hatzidakis.  

Likes: For me, the outstanding dishes were the Chilean seabass rolls, the wonderful braised pork shank and the “Haoyun lantern” dessert. The cocktails and wine list include some of the most interesting drinks to be found anywhere in town, and there is an outstanding selection of top quality teas. 

Dislikes: None

Verdict: For high quality Cantonese cooking, beautifully presented in a glamorous setting, there are few places to rival Yauatcha City. Their CNY menu is always worth looking out for, and the 2018 Year of the Dog menu is available only until 4 March 2018 so there is no time to waste!

Sunday 18 February 2018

Hakkasan’s Fabulous Year of the Dog Chinese New Year Menu

Where: 8 Hanway Place, Fitzrovia, London W1T 1HD

Cost: The Chinese New Year (CNY) menu costs £88 per person. The suggested Happy Daisy cocktail is £13.50. 

About: 2018 is the Year of the Dog in the Chinese calendar, and Michelin-starred Hakkasan is offering a special CNYs menu for a lucky £88 per head at its flagship and Mayfair branches. This special celebration meal is available for a limited period, between 29 January and 4 March, and as in previous years I was keen to give it a try. 

Hakksan Hanway Place is one of the very few Chinese restaurants in London to hold a Michelin star, and it always seems to be heaving, as indeed it was on the Saturday lunchtime when I sampled the CNY menu. In my experience it offers good customer service and almost flawless cooking, so it is perhaps no surprise that it is perennially popular.  

What We Ate: The 2018 CNY menu starts with a selection of small eats. The Szechuan oyster with lotus root with crispy rice in mantau bread had a magnificent flavour of the sea, complimented by a scattering of pine nuts and Chinese chives.

Wonderfully tender braised beef tongue rolls came next with crunchy caramelized walnuts, served on a bed of fine baby asparagus, with mustard and mint.

The final “small eat” was scallops, served with sweet plum sauce and mango in a "golden cup" of crisp rice pastry, on a bed of green pea shoots, goji berries and Chinese chives. The pastry shell gave a lovely crunch to the dish, contrasting with the unctuous scallops.

The main courses followed, served simultaneously. Wok-fried native lobster came gorgeously presented in light stock with edamame beans, red and black caviar and edible flowers. This was a sumptuous dish, as good to eat as it looked, and the lobster pieces were succulent, ultra fresh and tender.

For me, the weakest link in the meal was the Rhug estate organic lamb in seaweed soy with celery and enoki mushroom. The lamb was medium rare, tender and delicious, but it did not in my opinion live up to the quality of the other dishes in this part of the meal.

Best of all though was the baked Chilean sea bass with kumquat glaze. I have prepared and eaten a great deal of Chilean sea bass in my time. But Hakkasan’s version was sensational, with magnificently tender, creamy flesh in a well-judged, zingy kumquat reduction.

To accompany the main course, there was a generous serving of abalone fried rice in a fine bean curd wrap with Chinese sausage, shiitake mushroom and choi sum. I enjoyed the unusual presentation of the rice, concealed within a fine layer of tofu, and the rice was richly flavoured and more than a match for the meat, fish and seafood main courses.

Dessert was described as ‘Golden Fortune”. Hakkasan is famous for its desserts, and this more than lived up to the billing. Made with ginger caramel, roasted macadamia and wafer-thin chocolate, this was exquisite patisserie, a feast for the eyes and palate, skilfully partnered with an intensely flavoured lemongrass ice cream.

What We Drank: We started with the Happy Daisy cocktail (£13.50), which is suggested to kick off the CNY menu. With Tanqueray No.10 gin, Chartreuse Yellow, lemon, spiced mandarin jam, egg white and soda water, with a lemon thyme garnish. This had a good depth of flavour and bittersweet herbal astringency.

There is an extensive list of 'dry' alcohol-free drinks, including cold brewed teas, sparkling juices like quince and apple, or an alcohol-free Australian Shiraz. 

We opted to take a pot of high-mountain Taiwanese tea, which I thoroughly enjoyed (£8 per person). 

Likes: The lobster, Chilean seabass and ‘Golden Fortune’ dessert were, for me, the highlights of an excellent CNY meal.  

Dislikes: None 

Verdict: Hakkasan is one of the finest Chinese restaurants in London. If you are looking for a great food, cocktails, service and atmosphere to see in the CNY, then I cannot think of a venue I would recommend more highly. But hurry as this celebration meal is only available until 4 March 2018!

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