I am not an anxious person, but I do get a deep feeling of unknown dread every time anyone asks me for a restaurant recommendation. The fear is that someone will go somewhere I suggest, and hate it. After all, eating out in London isn’t cheap, and I’d be mortified if someone dropped their hard-earned dollar on something they didn’t rate.
(Fortunately, everyone thus far has been much too polite to come back and tell me my recommendation was no good. Thank Christ for the very British aversion to any sort of awkwardness whatsoever.)
One restaurant – or set of restaurants – I often include in a recommendation for a special occasion is Hakkasan, or one of its sister dim sum restaurants Yauatcha, because they are all dependably excellent. So dependable, in fact, that to suggest it to a veteran London foodie is a bit of a faux pas; it’s like telling someone, in the tones of one imparting state secrets, that it may be worth opening a window on a very hot day. Stating the bloody obvious, is what I mean. It’s hardly a hidden gem. But I do think their Dim Sum Sundays are a bit of a find.
Set menus are a great way to try more exclusive restaurants without bankrupting yourself, but I’m always wary that expensive eateries have expensive wine lists, which can push the bill up dramatically. And, frankly, I’m not going to be washing down my scallop shumai with tap water. Dim Sum Sundays are unusual in that they include enough booze to see you through the whole meal but without being so gauche as to go bottomless; the £62/head ‘Signature’ option comes top and tailed with two different cocktails – get the 10th Emperor if you like gin – and a half bottle of champagne per person. (Though I have noticed in the past that if you’re an odd number, they do tend to round up to the nearest bottle…)
The menu is very limited, but that’s okay because it’s pretty much all fantastic. You begin with a crispy duck salad, which is shredded at the table by a waiter wielding two forks. There’s a good proportion of juicy flesh to crispy skin (my god, like Chinese duck bacon), and the dish is punctuated with chunks of tangy pomelo, which tastes exactly like a grapefruit but not quite as bitter.
The dim sum comes in two waves: steamed and baked/fried. The former is a platter of soft, delicate shellfish, all squidged comfortably into a rainbow of translucent casing. Special favourites included the Chinese chive dumpling with prawn and crabmeat, and the open-topped scallop shumai, which was an absolute unit. (Side note: have you ever seen a scallop swim? It is WILD.)
The baked and fried selection reads like the world’s most delicious heart attack. Save the spicy mooli and crabmeat pastry, with its delicate ridges and pretty sesame-seeded bottom, until last, because it is not only the most beautiful thing on your plate but also the tastiest, proving that you really can have it all (providing, of course, that you don’t mind being a miniature crab savoury pastry).
The venison puff – basically a tiny game pie, with gravy – is a Hakkasan classic, but by the time someone came to clear our plates Mike and I were having a fairly heated argument as to which puff was best: the aforementioned venison, or the pumpkin and duck, presented as a teeny, weeny little gourd.
There’s only one choice for the main course, which is a bit of a shame because some people – strange people, or vegetarians – might not fancy chunks of luscious black pepper rib-eye beef, stir-fried to devastating effect. There is a veggie option of pumpkin tofu, but it doesn’t have quite the same effect (i.e. the mere thought of it doesn’t make me involuntarily drool out of my eyeballs). It comes with a massive sharing dish of stir-fried veggies and a big pot of rice too.
I’m ashamed to say I couldn’t manage pudding (though I could manage a delicious Seville 33 cocktail – basically a chocolatey rum Old Fashioned, phwoar), but I did try some of Mike’s Jivara Bomb, basically a chocolate Rice Krispy cake in its posh trousers, with popping candy, hazelnut praline and a little jug of molten milk chocolate.
It’s a LOT of food, and if you’re prematurely middle-aged, like me, a lot of booze for the daytime too. (Alas, my days of getting utterly twatted in the middle of the afternoon are long behind me. I’ve got shit to do.) But the nice thing about the dim sum deal is that it’s on until 6:45pm on a Sunday, which means you can have it for dinner, which is much more civilised. And they do it on bank holiday weekends too, if you’re one of the poor sods who get really nasty champagne hangovers.
(There’s one coming up soon, actually. I’d get on that, if I were you.)
Hakkasan Hanway Place, 8 Hanway Place, W1T 1HD.
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 East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.