Thursday, December 5, 2013
Birthday Dinner @ Hakkasan Mayfair
Ok, Alan Yau. I get it. I take back all my former hesitations about selecting Hakkasan as my birthday dinner choice. You win. The food is utterly incredible. The atmosphere is ... meh ... but the food. Oh, the food. Can one even refer to it as food? I think it's deserving of a term that denotes a higher form of praise.
Just last week, as I was walking past Les Trois Garcons on my way back from the launch party for Hair: Fashion and Fantasy, I looked inside and thought, maybe I should come here instead for dinner on my birthday, instead of Hakkasan Mayfair. Who needs pretentious Chinese food when you could have pretentious French food instead? I know, good logic, right?
But I'm so glad I stuck to my guns, because dinner last night was simply exquisite. I've been to other Yau establishments: Cha Cha Moon (once a favorite haunt of ours because it offered dishes at 50% off for months and months after it opened), Yauatcha (a former favorite of mine until I realized that eating cheek to jowl with your neighbor was not a stellar dining experience), and Wagamama (no ... just ... no). But Hakkasan had been on my "must try" list since I moved to London over 7 years ago. It's so famous for its Michelin-starred Chinese cuisine, that even my parents (who are really sniffy about Chinese fine dining) are aware of the restaurant and speak of it in reverent, hushed tones as it is repeatedly name-dropped in their HK celebrity mags.
I accidentally booked the Mayfair location rather than the flagship on Hanway Place, but no matter - it felt somewhat apt to stroll past the beautiful windows of Stella McCartney, Isabel Marant, Miu Miu, and Tory Burch last night on my way to the restaurant.
We were seated downstairs in the black and blue-themed, dark (very dark - so dark that the servers rushing around behind your table were rendered virtually invisible), and modern dining room with a single, bright light shared between us - resembling an interrogation unit. So far, not so good. The glass of Bordeaux I ordered arrived perfunctorily but without announcement as to what it was, and there was much confusion over the fact that John wanted tea as his beverage of choice (you know, what Chinese people typically drink with their food?) but had to order from the dessert menu, etc. But hey. It was my birthday. And I was not going to pick up on these little details (well, except to make a mental note of them and record them here).
We ordered the dim sum platter to start, consisting of two pieces each of har gau (prawn dumpling), scallop shu mai, prawn Chinese chive dumpling, and duck dumpling. As soon as I took my first bite of the har gau, I understood why the restaurant deserved its Michelin star. The quality and attention to detail in crafting each individual dumpling was apparent: this was no reheated-from-frozen job from the typical London Chinatown restaurant fare (which, yes, I hate to break it to you Chinatown dim-sum addicts out there, but ever noticed how pink the pork is when you bite into your shu mai? It's because it came out of a freezer). No, these were fresh, quality ingredients through and through.
For the main event, we ordered the scallop and prawns stuffed with long beans (the long bean was tied in a perfect knot and cooked to the perfect consistency, encased in a prawn and scallop ball, of sorts, in a rich, almost lobster bisque-y sauce), pork belly wrapped gai lan (mouth-watering spicy deliciousness), and the Mongolian-style lamb chops, which were my favorite, of all the dishes. The lamb was perfectly tender and the marinade that was used absolutely blew my mind, as in, I couldn't comprehend how it could be so tasty. I was that impressed.
Of course, I had to order dessert to share (banana and chocolate souffle, served with a mini chocolate and nut dipped ice cream bar), which was beautifully presented (complete with a lovely birthday message written in white chocolate!) and tasted divine.
So, yes. I get it. I get why Hakkasan commands the level of eye-widening admiration and accolades as it does. The level of service may be so-so and the atmosphere might not have been quite up my alley, but the food - oh my god, the food - is absolutely worth it. Every penny. Or pence.