By Madame Lapine | The Foodie World Contributing Blogger

Hakkasan is a seductive Cantonese experience, with a twist. Starting from the extraordinary lighting on the staircase, through to the cocktails and food, everything underscores temptation at this one star Michelin restaurant in London.
Let’s start with the cocktail menu, which is divided into adjectives – elegance, strength and grace, and character – and dotted with lots of Asian theming for example Yuzutini, Silk route, Plum sour and Chinese mule to name a few. My friend the ‘Token’ (one of the few senior females in a conservative male-dominated workplace) settles on the rose martini from the elegance category.  She says the gin is overpowered by the sweetness of the rose and she would have used a stronger one.

Restaurant reviews Hakkasan London

Rose martini

She moves on to a strawberry and basil martini. I take a sip and class it in the deadly category; so delicious you could skull it in a minute and keep wanting several glasses more. It’s certainly an impressive cocktail list and has a page and a half of vodkas, almost the same for tequila, and a page devoted to gin. There’s also an extensive list of sake, whiskey etc.

The same can be said for the wine list, although I’m not terribly impressed with the reds by the glass, which seem to be expensive and average. After asking for a small taster of three, I take the Stellenbosch Merlot which seems to be the smoothest and just happens to be the most expensive (a Rioja and Portuguese choice my other options). Token warns me that she has never been impressed by the Stellenbosch and after sipping it over the course of our dinner, I end up agreeing with her.

The big tick on this wine list is one of my all-time Australian favourites, the Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Diana Madeline (2010). Overall, there’s a decent selection of global wines ranging from the £30 price point right up to a Rothschild for £4,888 a bottle.

We kick off our meal with a generous dim sum starter of eight pieces which tastes just as good as it looks (see the picture at the top of this blog). The skin – the hardest thing to make in Cantonese dumplings – is translucent, elastic, silky; a perfect case to hold the fillings. We have a combination of har gao (prawns), vegetable and prawn, duck and the classic dim sum topped with scallop and flying fish roe. The ingredients are fresh and balanced. Other things on the starter list include classic Cantonese dishes like salt and pepper squid, then some with a twist, such as prawn toast with foie gras (our neighbours had it and it looked amazing) and I wish there had been more of us to sample a broader range of things.

Over to the main menu, there’s a good array of meat, vegetarian dishes and set menu options. Some eye-popping meals include Peking duck with Beluga caviar at £280, the braised dried Japanese abalone dish for £350 and black truffle roast duck. There are also various set menu options at differing prices similar to big Cantonese restaurants ranging from £35 to £128 pp. One thing I notice is the decent range of vegetarian options – they make a real effort on this front, for example half the set menu at £35 per head are vegetarian.

We settle on a conservative Cantonese ordering option and have crispy fresh water prawns (Token’s tip), beef hor fun King soya, and pak choi with garlic. Our meal is served piping hot, and every dish is simply delicious. The prawns are sweet and pick up the aromas of cashew and heat of the red chilli with which they’re cooked, the hor fun (flat rice noodles) taste homemade and are of perfect texture, the beef is tender and the crunchy bean sprouts offset nicely, while the pak choi has a hint of Chinese rice wine. The only small flaw with our meal is the last dish, where the chef is a little heavy handed with the corn flour, so that when it cools down, there are some gluggy bits in the vegetable.

Restaurant reviews Hakkasan London

Crispy freshwater prawns

Restaurant reviews Hakkasan London

Beef hor fun

For a fourth generation Australian born Chinese of Cantonese background who has had countless family and Cantonese restaurant meals in her Sydney youth, this experience is impressive. I have never had such a high quality Cantonese meal in London. At Hakkasan Mayfair, the ingredients are fresh, and cooked with skill and finesse. It’s rich, but how special occasion Cantonese food is meant to be. My grandfather used to say “You get what you pay for” and I agree that sometimes it’s worth it!

The dessert menu is the one thing I feel to be out of place. It’s uninspiring with choices being nearly all standard French fare – think tarte tatin, soufflé, vanilla and pear brulee. I am a traditionalist when it comes to food so when I eat Chinese food, I want it all Chinese, but I acknowledge I’m a hypocrite because fried ice-cream is a great invention. Token and I can’t fit in anything else so we pass on desserts. This is because we started with the dim sum and on reflection I would recommend this dish for four or more only, or be a Cantonese traditionalist and drop it altogether and stick to dim sum at lunchtime only.

Our bill totals £155 – half is grog, another 13.5% is a ‘discretionary’ service charge which I find to be rather cheeky. Really?

The furnishings and atmosphere are decadent yet sophisticated, a little dark, a little noisy but on balance – perfect. The lower ground floor section where we eat is packed but Token and I don’t have to shout at one another, our neighbours are very close, yet we can’t hear a word of what they say. (Australian restaurants please take note). Another thing I like about this restaurant is the high level of cleanliness. Honestly it’s one of the cleanest places I’ve been to in London – there is absolutely no trace of lingering food smell in the dining room from previous sessions and no smells wafting from the kitchen. And the attention to detail in the bathroom – again it’s clean and there are quality Aesop toiletries.

Restaurant reviews Hakkasan London

The dramatic staircase

Restaurant reviews Hakkasan London

The moody interior

The service is generally good. Three times at least we are asked if everything is OK, are we enjoying our meal and wait staff are generally prompt and food quick to arrive. We do however have a 6.30-8.30pm slot (yes, just like Sydney) and for a moment I curse restaurant slots, globalisation and capitalism.

My experience at Hakkasan hints at the near perfect seduction. The overall quality and care with which our food has been prepared, combined with the surroundings and service makes me think I’ll certainly be back again when I’m feeling rich and want some deluxe Cantonese food in London. And if I’m broke and desperate for a quick fix, I’ll arrive between 6-7pm to order the set menu at £35 per head.

This restaurant certainly deserves its Michelin star.


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17 Bruton Street, London

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