Lucy Lord samples the ‘absolutely exquisite’ Chinese New Year menu at Hakkasan Hanway Place
Hakkasan Hanway Place is the original restaurant of Hakkasan that opened in 2001 in London.
Designed by famed designer Christian Liaigre, Hakkasan Hanway Place embodies the Hakkasan design ethos of the modern ethnic now found in Hakkasan restaurants around the world. Wooden screens and latticing made of dark English oak is the same material used for the 16-metre bar, and the Ling Ling dining area evokes traditional Chinoiserie decadence, punctuated by black and gold traditionally-drawn panels. An open-plan kitchen is visible from the restaurant, making the activity in the kitchen part of the restaurant’s theatre.
In celebration of Chinese New Year, Hakkasan is reinventing the classic fortune cookie. In collaboration with London-based novelist and journalist Will Self, the fortune macarons will feature 88 fortunes penned by the writer, exploring the comedic, satirical and often dark side of modern day life in the city.
Hakkasan is also paying homage to the wishing tree tradition inspired by the Lam Tseun trees in Hong Kong. Guests are invited to write their wishes for 2019 on the red ribbons and hang them on the wooden latticework in the restaurant.
When you first arrive at Hakkasan you wonder if you’re in the right place: it’s wonderfully unprepossessing outside, situated at the end of a grimy, derelict cul-de-sac, a red light indicating its presence like the old-fashioned Soho brothel of your father’s imagination. Only the uniformed doorman suggests that there might be something special inside. And special it certainly is. You walk down the stairs and find yourself in a completely different world – a huge room, all dark wood lattices, black and gold Chinoiserie, long bar, sexy low lighting, gorgeous waitresses in slinky shift dresses, uplifting (but non-intrusive) funky house music and a whole load of people having a really good time.
On a Monday night it’s packed – but then we are here on Chinese New Year’s Eve. ‘It’s like a dark, oriental version of Sa Trinxa,’ says my husband Andy, name-checking the coolest beach bar in Ibiza – which probably says more about him than about Hakkasan. But I know what he means – there’s a fantastic vibe, an electric atmosphere, a sense that you’re in exactly the right place, at exactly the right time. Pretty impressive for a restaurant that opened nearly 20 years ago.
Over 50% Chinese, the night we visited – again, this might not be the case at other times of the year – mainly large groups of jolly young people, clearly not deterred by the £88 set menu (not including booze). Part of the large, wealthy Chinese student population in London? Pure speculation. Several well-turned out gay couples. A Kanye West lookalike with a ludicrous companion in skin tight silver sequins, waist-length hair extensions tumbling down her back, pouting for endless selfies. Given the prices I’d imagined more rich Arabs and hedge-funders on expenses, so was pleasantly surprised by the crowd. It’s a good place to people-watch.
Absolutely exquisite, the best Chinese I’ve had by a long chalk. From the Chinese New Year set menu, we start with a duo of dim sum: seafood sesame jian dui and shacha chicken puff. These are dim sum like no other, the jian dui plump with scallops and prawns, pliant, translucent dough crunching with sesame seeds. The shacha chicken is puff pastry exploding with spicy breast meat, a couple of bites of heaven.
Next up is Peking duck with crispy bean curd and mango, fine slices of perfectly pink meat, zesty slivers of deliberately under-ripe mango cutting through the richness. Superior soup with Chilean seabass and bamboo pith is a lovely clear broth, delicately flavoured, substantial flakes of first class fish and satisfyingly chewy bamboo pith lurking in its depths.
Next: Wok-fry lobster with spinach and lily bulb; Rhug Estate lamb with shiitake; crispy suckling pig with sticky rice; stir-fry pak choi with eryngii and pioppini. Yes, you read that right. And these are not tasting menu portions – the CNY set menu price is starting to look reasonable. The prime ingredients are treated with due reverence too, succulent lobster the star of its own show, sweet lamb lively with almost surreal quantities of ginger, suckling pig… Well the suckling pig deserves a sentence of its own. This baby did not die in vain, its infant flesh meltingly tender beneath crisp, oozily fatty crackling, somehow imbuing its accompanying rice with deep, sticky umami. The veg were very nice too.
The lovely Sardinian manageress Rita deserves a special mention for her charm and professionalism. She tapped open our Wealth Pot puddings – spherical chocolate shells brimming with hazelnut, cocoa and mandarin lava, really just as yummy as one might imagine – with a smile, before handing us the red ribbons on which to write our wishes for the year. Andy’s were lovely, mine less so (more political, aargh), so I rewrote mine and we both felt happy and optimistic as we handed our ribbons over. It’s that kind of place.
Will Self’s macaron things were really very pretentiously wanky, but hey, that what he’s known for, so the restaurant can be forgiven.
Our cocktail on arrival was a pale grenadine red, not sweet, hints of lemongrass – ‘arrestingly smooth’ say my notes, but I might have been getting carried away already. We had a couple of bottles of fine pinot grigio, and I imagine the wine list, to which we only gave a perfunctory glance after getting stuck in, is extremely good. Because everything else here is.
8 Hanway Pl, Fitzrovia, London W1T 1HD; hakkasan.com
Lunch Monday – Friday – 12pm – 3pm
Dinner Monday – Wednesday – 5:30pm – 10:30pm Thursday – Friday – 5:30pm – 11pm
Daily Saturday – 12pm – 11pm Sunday – 12pm – 10:30pm