Almost every time I go to a blogger event, the question is asked: “What’s your favourite London restaurant?” (Admittedly, it’s usually me doing the asking. It’s a brilliant question if I do say so myself, and works well as an all-purpose icebreaker.) Most people who like to spend their free time shoveling food down their face and then documenting it online have a good answer: usually either a lovely little restaurant tucked away somewhere with fantastic home-cooking – a ‘hidden gem’, if we must use that hideously overused phrase – or some fabulous but earth-shatteringly expensive affair, invariably Japanese.
My answer is always really boring, because everyone knows about Hakkasan by now and declaring it one of London’s best restaurants is only insider knowledge if you live under a rock or in Slough. But it’s hopeless: I love it. I am an incurable Hakkafan.
So imagine how pleased I was when Square Meal held a little blogger soiree at HKK, Hakkasan’s sister restaurant on Worship Street. (Clue: REALLY FUCKING PLEASED.) We were there to try some dishes from the tasting menu for which HKK is best known; indeed, at dinner time, it is the only option. Into the beautiful private dining room we went, which has a rather good view of the kitchen and a very specialist-looking bit of kit used exclusively for roasting Peking ducks.
We began with an amuse-bouche of prawn croquette with black truffle sauce, a deep-fried nugget of high-powered flavour, flecked with sesame and perched imperiously on a pretty pedestal of pickled yam. This is the sort of food I imagine is served on enormous platters, stacked high like Ferrero Roche in the ads, at the parties of Russian billionaires.
Bouches amused, we moved on to my favourite dish of the night, a pork belly mantou with more truffle and pickled lotus root. The mantou – or steamed bun – had been flash-fried to give it a thin veneer of even crunch while maintaining that fabled fluffiness inside. It was finger food – those Russian billionaires would be all over it – and was so shiny and firm to the touch it felt a little like those plastic Velcro kitchen play sets you give to kids. The perfectly square slab of belly pork wedged inside played off nicely against the natural sweetness of the bun, like a savoury doughnut. (See also: Duck & Waffle’s Ox Cheek Doughnut.)
The next course, Chrysanthemum Supreme Seafood Soup, was underwhelming. Some of my tablemates were quite taken with its delicate flavour and spoonful of pretty petals, but for me it was a dud.
Fortunately, we had the lots and lots of other goodies to come, including a trio of dim sum, two glistening and gelatinous, one my old mate Venison Puff. They were served with a charming but utterly useless paintbrush, for applying soy sauce, and, were, well. I don’t need to tell you how delicious they were. That’s what my Yauatcha review is for. 😉
At last we got to sample one of the ducks we’d been admiring; its shiny, mahogany skin glistening invitingly before being carved up expertly at the table. The duck is singularly delicious and served three ways: alone, in a pancake, and as crispy skin, like a sort of fabulous duck scratching, sweet and smoky from the cherry wood of the oven and silky with limpid fat that slicks over the lips like a balm.
The penultimate savoury course was wild sea bass, a satisfyingly meaty morsel nestling behind a veil of complex flavour from the accompanying black truffle balsamic.
And finally, the wagyu beef, which tasted like the offspring of an especially succulent cow and a pat of butter, and was served with kumquats and scattered with flowers. The portion was tiny – maybe the size of a couple of dice – but we’d already eaten rather a lot, so it was more of a small but perfectly formed finale piece.
Or, at least, it is if you don’t count the puddings.
Which were really at least 1.5 times more than I can manage. The lemon sorbet hit the spot – sweet and light, exactly what you need after a heavy meal. The pumpkin cake, however, did very little for me: it was like a carrot cake studded with Iced Gems. Its only saving grace was the segments of clementine, each bursting between the teeth with delicate but refreshing flavour.
I did, however, very much like the ginger truffle at the end, served in a rather over-the-top miniature bamboo steamer on a bed of cocoa nibs. (To be fair, it is an £88 tasting menu, so the over-er the top, the better.)
Is HKK worth the money? Certainly, for a special occasion, though with drinks and a tip your bill will almost certainly be lapping at the financially ruinous shores of £150pp. If you just want to get your lips around some of that luscious duck, though, try the Duck & Champagne menu, available on Saturdays 12-4pm at just £49pp, including a bottle of Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV between two.
HKK, 88 Worship Street, London, EC2A 2BE
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in Islington and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.