Big City Banquet: HKK London
The tech hub of London’s been needing a decent Chinese. HKK is happy to deliver.
Normally, when everyone universally agrees something is great, it means everyone is wrong. Yes, ladies, Bradley Cooper is a shark-toothed freak. Sorry. Normally, restaurants never get the kind of consensus of approval that the gurning, goblin-faced freak evokes in female kind. Yet no one dislikes Hakkasan. No one. Even the most curmudgeonliest misanthrope, with an ear infection and a gout flare up would raise a perky smile at the thought of dinner at everyone’s favourite suave Chinese. Though very much originally Alan Yau’s baby, much of the credit for the initial success of what was on paper not a sure-fire concept should go to chef Tong Chee Hwee. First as the Head Chef of the original restaurant at Hanway Place, before gaining its Michelin star in 2003, and then Executive Head Chef for the group globally, Chef Tong is rightly considered one of the finest Eastern chefs in the world.
Now he’s gone back to the burners to launch HKK, a Black Am-Ex flick away from both Silicon Roundabout and the City. A brilliant concept combines the long-standing Chinese banqueting tradition, with a ladle of Heston, to offer a single, ever revolving tasting menu at lunch and dinner. Dishes with a modern flair, bringing freshness and vitality are promised.
And good lord, are they delivered. Authentic wok and barbecue cooking methods are utilised alongside modern sous vide techniques, using local, organic produce and coastal seafood from the British Isles, where possible. We are to dive into the 15 course tasting menu, which comes with wine pairings for £95 a head. The gratifying thing is that you can taste every fiver in every delicate dish/glass. Yep. It’s worth it. And you never have to have that annoying Chinese menu argument again. They’ve done the thinking for you.
Degustation menus, when transcribed by the swooning restaurant reviewer, often descend into travelators of luxurious posturing. Literally movable feasts reduced to a mere glittering, gibbering list. The reader is thus left to salivate in a jealous stupor, wracking their faltering imaginations to summon any semblance of the reality described. And this review is no different, suckers. So what I had for me dinner was: Four treasures vegetables wrapped with Iberico ham, (a symphony of texture), lychee wood roasted Peking duck served with sesame pancakes, which is brought in fanfare to the room’s central serving station and the great man himself takes the most glistening bird you ever did saw and, well, saws – surgically – two delicate tissue samples. The rest of the roast is dispatched and Chef Tong is gone. It lap-danced on my mouth and I proposed marriage. Then it too was gone.
A dim sum trilogy of truffle har gau (aroma-orgy) pan-fried Szechuan dumpling (in which micro flakes of dried tuna shimmy in a thermal curtain like a silhouetted temptress in a Maurice Bender Bond title sequence) sour turnip puff, Wok-fried lobster in yellow bean sauce with braised pan mee (ggrrrr), Deep-fried fillet of Monk fish with goji berries with champagne and rice wine sauce (running out of adjectives here – but I’m going to plump for ‘food-erection’), and Jasmine tea-smoked Wagyu beef (shall we just recycle awesome?) all in no more than three mouthfuls tell you that your tongue has been under sexed for years.
Cocktails inspired by Chinese ingredients included a fabulous pink Floating Lotus and something like an oriental Dark’n’Stormy. Some of the other alcoholic highlights included an angel from the Barossa, a 2009 Charles Melton Nine Popes – with Grenache, full-bodied Shiraz and the addition of Mourvedre. A very rare and silky smooth Shusen Honjikomi saki was decanted and sat there both civilised and dangerous. The lychee pudding and petit fours were accompanied by a 2009 G.D. Vajra Moscato d’Asti, generously offering pear, honeydew and hints of citrus. Summer in a glass. Bespoke teas are dispatched from a dedicated infusion section for a tea ceremony, if you’re in the mood.
A first for the company, the interior of HKK has been completely designed and project managed in-house by Hakkasan’s design team. Essentially, it is minimal, befitting the location in a ground floor of an anonymous glass development off City Road. A delicate, luminous net drape lets the light in and the prying eyes out. Maybe flowers would feminise the space. But visually the food is the star. They could hang those ducks from the ceiling and it would make the space perfect. The kitchen is the working showcase, visible from every table in the restaurant. The centrepiece being the custom-made glass wood-fired duck oven set into the front section in full view of all guests. I loved it. A more sumptuous 10-cover private dining room features walls adorned with delicately hand-painted gold chinoiserie wallpaper and a direct view into the kitchen.
Wherever one chooses to sit, the view will soon become secondary to the main event.