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Restaurant Review: Hakkasan, Hanway Place in London

Hakkasan, Hanway Place in London

Words by Bradley Edwards

It had been a long day of hurried meetings and humid underground tube journeys, and the day was slowly becoming unwelcome. But my dining partner, Nigel, and I had a bright, tantalising light at the end of the tunnel – a late lunch reservation at the home of modern Cantonese cuisine in London.

Opened in 2001, Hakkasan, in Hanway Place, is the original root of what has now become an international celebration of oriental fine dining. The eatery’s name is now spoken in great cities all over the world: London, New York, Las Vegas, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai to name but a few.

Its menus are famed for hosting flavoursome dishes that bring a modern flair to traditional Chinese food. And, in Hanway Place at least, these menus have helped to retain a Michelin Star since 2003. It is because of the Hakkasan’s reputation that I was able to make it through the day and step excitedly into the restaurant to sample the creations of Head Chef Tong Chee Hwee.

Tong has been with Hakkasan since its inception. He has previously been instrumental in creating memorable dishes, such as Peking duck with caviar, and grilled wagyu beef with king soy sauce. Today, Nigel and I would be sampling the delights of Tong’s Chinese New Year menu.

Hakkasan, Hanway Place in London
Hakkasan Hanway Place is the original restaurant of Hakkasan that opened in 2001 in London.

From the moment I stepped through the Hakkasan’s entrance, I became aware of its class. Sleek, black tiles led me down a stairway that was illuminated by a passionate red light. At the bottom, a heavy-set double door awaited and the smell of Chinese incense lingered in the air.

Among the first things I noticed inside the restaurant were the dim, relaxing lights and the impressive dark English oak bar that stretches 16-metres in length.

Nigel and I were quickly shown to our seats – a jet-black table that evoked privacy thanks to the black and gold panels that hugged either side of it. Famed designer Christian Liaigre created the restaurant’s image, and his belief that “comfort does not lie in trivial affluence but in delicacy and rareness” can be seen throughout. Ultimately, that’s what the Hakkasan’s appearance and atmosphere creates – a rareness that is not easily achieved amongst the thousands of other modernistic restaurant designs of today.

After a brief period of appreciation for the décor, it was time to sample the delights of the menu. Hakkasan’s Chinese New Year menu will cost you £88 (or £108 per person for parties of two or more people) and features a mixture of traditional dishes and modern, technical masterpieces.

The meal began with a cocktail called the Waltzing Collins. Baijiu, sake, mandarin, lemon, grenadine, cucumber and sparkling wine combined to create a vibrant cocktail with a pinkish colour.

hakkasan food
The restaurant is headed by Head Chef Tong Chee Hwee, who has been with Hakkasan since its inception

The cocktail delivered a satisfying clout as citrus sours entwined themselves with a freshness that I assume came courtesy of the cucumber. However, an aftertaste that reminded me of cloves meant the tall cocktail was a little too much for me, especially as I would be driving within the next several hours.

While the cocktail battled with my taste buds, I turned my attention to the triad of dishes that our waitress had placed upon the table: a double boiled fish maw and chicken soup, a dish named Fortune Tale, and a braised Chilean abalone.

After the draining morning I’d experienced, the warmth of the soup was very welcome. The chicken was succulent and melted in my mouth, while the broth was well seasoned. The double boiled fish maw added a textural element and absorbed all of the flavours from the chicken and the broth. Strips of coconut added a crunch to the soup, as well as a freshness that helped to cleanse my pallet. But (for me) there seemed to be an abundance of coconut. Bite-by-bite, this certainly distracted me from the other interesting elements.

Next, I was presented with a vibrant dish called Fortune Tale. Crispy, shredded chicken, jellyfish, mooli, carrot, cucumber, melon and a sweet plum sauce all combined to create a textural phenomenon. The plate was piled high with fresh ingredients. This was the sort of dish you could eat over and over again without getting bored, or feeling guilty. The crispy skin of the chicken offered a saltiness that left my mouth salivating, especially against the sweetness of the melon and plum sauce.

I also enjoyed the long, grated strands of carrot and mooli that entangled to give the illusion of traditional noodles. Black sesame seeds completed the plate’s already impressive appearance.

hakkasan food
Hakkasan holds a coveted Michelin star

We finished our sampling of the small eats with a braised Chilean abalone, with wind-dried oyster and gold leaf.

Until now, I had never tasted abalone. I was able to push the sea snail apart with the back of my spoon thanks to its braised flesh – it was so tender. In contrast, the accompanying oyster was a lot of effort. Its wind-dried effect had left it deliberately tough, but this was made more manageable by the rich oyster sauce that had been carefully drizzled on top.

Long-stem broccoli, served al dente, added a little colour to the dish, as did a speck of edible gold leaf. It is this attention to detail that left me surprised by the seriously small bowl that the dish was served in. Now, I’m not the smallest of men, and have often been told that my clumsy paws aren’t made for dainty delights, but I found it surprisingly difficult to cut at the food, and my dining partner Nigel agreed.

Small eats settling nicely in my stomach, I acquainted myself with a delightful Argentinian red wine from Hakkasan’s award-winning wine list.

Ampakama had a rich, elegant structure that came from its use of Shiraz and Tannat grapes. It featured flavours such as blackberry and blackcurrant. While I enjoyed sampling the red, Nigel got friendly with a bottle of Falcoaria – a light Portuguese white wine that’s creamy to the taste and emits peach flavours.

After the wine, our waitress filled our table with a selection of main courses: stir-fried lobster in white pepper sauce, steamed turbot in supreme stock, sautéed duck breast in spicy bean sauce, and a salted egg fried rice with spring onions – my trousers felt tight just looking at the mountain of food.

hakkasan food
A stunning dish from the Chinese New Year menu

I’m a lover of shellfish, so naturally I was excited to tuck into the stir-fried lobster in white peppercorn sauce. But, while the lobster was perfectly cooked and incredibly tasty, what really caught me by surprise were the crunchy kumquat croutons that were mixed in amongst its white meat. Their sweetness against the peppercorn sauce was incredible.

The presentation of this dish was immaculate as well. A lobster shell was formed into a basket from which everything cascaded. Spring onion shoots added a fresh, vibrant colour to the dish, as did a scattering of red peppercorns.

On a culinary high from the lobster, my fork floated into the next dish.

A bamboo leaf housed my favourite main of the day: the sautéed duck was succulent and tender from the first bite. Its sticky, spicy bean sauce wrapped itself around every tangy mouthful and set my taste buds alight. Red, yellow and green peppers added layers of colour and sweetness to the dish, while long slices of pickled lotus root provided an oriental crunch. I accompanied this dish with fluffy egg fried rice. The rice had a richness that came courtesy of the duck eggs that had been used to create it.

After a breather, Nigel and I started on the steamed turbot. Like most white-fleshed fish, turbot has a mild taste. Therefore, I was expecting a little more punch from its stock. Instead, I was greeted by an abundance of saffron, and – as far as my taste buds could tell – very little else. I felt the dish lacked any serious oomph, and Nigel added that he believed it to be ever so slightly under seasoned. It was a shame, especially considering the plate’s striking appearance: the saffron had given the broth a gorgeous amber colour, and the dark cloud ear fungus looked stunning against it.

Hakkasan, Hanway Place in London
The restaurant serves up contemporary dishes that retain the essence of conventional Cantonese cuisine

With our stomachs reaching capacity, a minute of composure was required before facing the wonders of the dessert menu. Nigel and I sampled three sweets: deep-fried sesame seed balls, steamed custard and red bean rice cakes, and a dessert called Golden Feather.

The sesame seed balls were warm and doughy, with a satisfying crisp and a rich, gooey custard inside. The rice cakes were shaped like koi fish (a fun touch) and their consistency reminded me of jelly sweets, without the artificial sweetness.

By far the most impressive meal of the entire menu was the Golden Feather. For me, this exquisite dessert really highlighted why the Hakkasan has retained its Michelin Star for 13 years in a row. It perfectly represents the restaurant’s theatrical talents, as well as Head Chef Tong Chee Hwee’s attention to detail.

A deep bowl laid host to a delicate chocolate egg that was cradled by an edible hay nest and mandarin segments. Scattered around the egg were small, golden feathers made of caramelised white chocolate. The feathers melted on my tongue like sweet snowflakes. At first, the careful craftsmanship of this dish had me fooled. Without the sweet smells of chocolate, ginger, and mandarin pervading through the air, I could honestly have believed that this was a real chicken’s egg. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

hakkasan cocktail
The restaurant offers a fantastic cocktail menu

Cracking the egg with the back of my spoon was incredibly satisfying, and revealed its sumptuous fillings: a ginger panna cotta acted as the egg’s white, and a thick mandarin sauce hid inside that as the yolk – like a rare set of sweet, edible Russian dolls.

The white panna cotta was light, silky, and a real treat for my taste buds. It was spiced with ginger and possessed a warm kick at its heart. It was very welcome, especially in late winter. The bitter sweetness of the thick mandarin sauce finished off the dessert perfectly and added a moist element that was worth every effort to mop up from the depths of the bowl.

Overall:

Expect a well-balanced menu that boasts large portions, a combination of impressive skills, theatre, and an oriental culture and understanding. The front of house team is well informed and only too happy to answer any questions you may have, which makes for a meal that feels incredibly welcoming. I would recommend a visit to the Hakkasan any day.

Address: 8 Hanway Pl, Fitzrovia, London W1T 1HD / 020 7927 7000

hakkasan.com/locations/hakkasan-hanway-place/