No better time than the last day of Chinese New Year to share with you my review of HKK restaurant, which was both my Valentines celebration (cheesy I know) and my second Year of the Snake meal out after the excellent Chinese hotpot at Weny’s Teahouse. From hearty home cooking to the rarefied peaks of Cantonese fine dining at HKK, my CNY 2013 has been a true food journey! [Spoiler: HKK restaurant was wonderful and no, it does not resemble Hakkasan at all- read more...]
A few weeks ago, somebody at work told me: “I had a look at your blog – it’s nice, but it’s very Asian”. I went through my most recent posts and I had to admit- it is more than a bit biased toward Asian food, supperclubs and restaurants. What can I say- I do love the food, so that’s probably natural, but I will be making an effort in the next few months to counterbalance the orgy of ramen, dim sum and Chinese hotpot. Like every other good intention, though, I will start some other time, as today I MUST share with you the culinary wonder that is HKK restaurant, the new East London outpost of the Hakkasan Ltd. group in Broadgate West, near Bishopsgate.
Starters: Four treasure Iberico ham wrap; 20yrs Gu-yue-long-shan drunken chicken. Beautiful and delicious gems of flavours and textures (cue shredded jellyfish)
Poulet de Bresse and dried scallop soup
We went for the 15- courses tasting menu (there is also an 8-courses option); if £95 is not exactly cheap (it certainly isn’t for me), it is still a bargain compared to the a’ la carte prices and for the quality and quantity of food, the offering at HKK restaurant it didn’t feel extortionate. Even though it was a “romantic dinner” for me, and I had promised to give a break to my endless tweeting/facebooking/instagramming which my partner founds irritating, I couldn’t help but spending too much time taking pictures and in general marvelling at the beautiful presentation as dish after dish of prettily arranged colourful food arrived.
This Lychee wood roasted Beijing duck was sublime- far superior to anything we ate in Beijing for sure. Wonderful presentation as well, starting with skin, followed by meat and finally in a pancake.
Although dishes had long names and lots of ingredients, I didn’t have to take notes or make an effort to remember the dishes, as every diner receives a sleek printed menu also including the wine ordered on the night ( a 2004 Riesling Grand Cru “Kanzlerberg” from Alsace). Nice touch.
Dim sum trilogy (my favourite- a crispy and spicy turnip dumpling); a dish of gai-lan, shemeji mushroom and lily bulb in XO sauce demonstrating vegetarian doesn’t have to be bland.
At this point it should be quite clear that food is good and well presented. What about the ambiance- an all-important point which recently spoilt my visit of John Salt? HKK restaurant definitely doesn’t have the sexy, murky, slightly “American Psycho” type of vibe as Hakkasan- it’s hushed, refined, a touch businesslike (it’s on the outskirts of the City after all) but in a good way. You get plenty of space for yourself and the service is attentive, friendly (chatty even, if you give them a chance) without being all over you as it sometimes happens in this type of places. The only risk, if you go on dates, is that your fellow diners may be swooning over the food and the sharply dressed, attractive staff rather than on you.
One of my favourite dishes of the night: wok-fried lobster with pan-mee. I have no idea what went into the silky, complex sauce (egg?) but I had to make an effort to not lick the plate. Right, the mini tea ceremony with palate-cleansing jellies and sweets.
The meal is a real tour de force for the chef - you can peek at a busy army of people in the kitchen and on the assembling table- but it flows impeccably for the diners and never drops in terms of quality or execution. It’s hard to say if I preferred the starters, first courses or mains (a glorious trio of fish, meat and vegetarian). Although some courses were more inspired than others, there were no weak dishes for me.
Fillet of monkfish with Louise Roederer champagne sauce was possibly my highlight for the night. The depth of the sauce, the texture of the fish, everything was perfect. The delicate toban of pumpkin tofu was a welcome pause in the sequence of rich dishes- whoever has tasted homemade tofu knows there’s no going back to supermarket stuff.
Jasmine tea smoked Wagyu beef rib with sweet potato crisps. Giving “melt-in-your-mouth” a whole new meaning.
Steamed razor clam with chilli, mui-choi glutinous rice. Another great dish- the only downside? it was the last savoury dish before desserts.
Overall, I can’t judge on how HKK compares to the original Alan Yau’s Hakkasan and to its more recent incarnation under a Middle Eastern ownership. I went there only once for drinks and nibbles at the bar and enjoyed the thrilling atmosphere (bar the Russian models) more than the food. The same group owns Chrysan, a Japanese high-end place which is nearby HKK and has a similar proposition - fine dining modern Asian fare. I wasn’t especially keen on it but after such a brilliant meal at HKK I am tempted to give it a go.
The dark square is due to my inability to take a picture of the pretty and fruity passion fruit first dessert. A pineapple fritter, salted lime jelly, vanilla ice cream ensemble followed, and finally very good petit fours (including amazing chocolate truffle with Szechuan peppercorn). I am not a sweet tooth so desserts were not a highlight for me, but certainly they were very good if not traditional.
I ate some very fine food in Hong Kong – although my heart was left on the humble Tim Ho Wan char siu pork buns- and HKK brought me straight back there and it was still (slightly) cheaper than a flight to SouthEast Asia. It’s true that the crowd is heavily skewed toward City types and wannabe City types but honestly I was not too bothered as I had plenty of space to ignore everything but the food (plus, the look-at-me dates of said City types were fun to poke fun at between the dishes). I left delighted, feeling as giddy as a child after a fireworks show, pleasantly full and only longing to go back; I couldn’t stop talking about it for a week – we eat out a lot, although not always in fine dining restaurants, but dinner at HKK was one of the best nights out of the last few months. Definitely recommended!
The day after, flying back to Italy, I found a short note about HKK on the BA inflight magazine- what a coincidence! It made me miss London even more.
Do you have a favourite “posh” Chinese restaurant to recommend? Let me know in the comments…