db Eats: Hakkasan Hanway Place

db’s resident foodie, Lucy Shaw, heads to Hakkasan Hanway Place for plum sours, fuschia pink dim sum, truffled duck, and a heavenly Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.

The concept: Opening down a Dickensian backstreet close to the maddening crowds of Oxford Street in 2001, Hakkasan Hanway Place is one of the grande dames of the London restaurant scene and wears her age well.

Specialising in high-end Cantonese cuisine, Hakkasan is the fruit of a collaboration between Wagamama founder Alan Yau and executive head chef Tong Chee Hwee. Its success has spawned a sister site in Mayfair and spin-offs in far flung lands, from San Francisco and Shanghai to Abu Dhabi.

The décor: Hakkasan’s luxurious subterranean lair is that last thing you’d expect to find at the end of Hanway Place. The quiet cobbled side street is a charmingly dilapidated and slightly seedy spot where strangers skulk in the shadows.

The vivid supreme dim sum selection

The first thing that hits you when you pass the doorman and begin the descent down a dark staircase into Hakkasan’s belly, is the lung-filling scent of incense. The nightclub feel is enhanced by low lighting, thumping music and front of house staff in matching blue dresses.

The vast interior is a maze of cosy spaces compartmentalised by oriental screens. Packed to the rafters on my visit, the place has a Sex and the City vibe harking back to the unashamed decadence of the early noughties before the financial crisis hit.

The food: Head chef Tong Chee Hwee has retained the venue’s Michelin star since 2003, repackaging traditional Chinese flavours for a contemporary audience with precision and flair.

As is often the case with Chinese restaurants, as the menu is divided up into seafood, meat and vegetables rather than starters, mains and desserts, I felt an overwhelming urge to order far more than I should.

Chef Tong is a fan of the finer things in life, and weaves luxury items like caviar, lobster, truffle and abalone throughout his menu, while additions like pomelo, yuzu, mango, kumquat and lily bulb add a touch of exoticism to proceedings.

There wasn’t a dud dish among the plentiful patters we ordered. From the savoury Singapore noodles whose glossy strands shimmered like angel hair, to moreish crunchy bites of sweet and sour pork refreshed by ruby-hued pomegranate pips.

Also on point were fat, juicy, fresh water crispy prawns whose sweet meat was enlivened by slivers of dried chilli, and a generous portion of black truffle roasted duck, which was every bit as decadent and indulgent as it sounds, the tender meat hidden beneath glistening shards of crispy skin.

Signature dishes: There are so many standouts at Hakkasan it’s hard to single them out, but the roasted silver cod with Champagne honey is a must try on your first visit, particularly for those who don’t mind a bit of sweetness in their mains.

The Smoky Negroni with an Ardbeg spritz

Another show-stopper is the supreme dim sum platter, the star of which is a vivid fuschia pink lychee and lobster dumpling served piping hot and topped with gold leaf. The jade green king crab dumpling is also exemplary. The abalone and chicken shumai less so.

The drinks: There is a lot to love about Hakkasan’s drinks offering, from Asian accented cocktails to a delight of a wine list lovingly put together by Christine Parkinson, who has worked for the company since its inception.

Our feast began with a ethereal plum-laced twist on a whisky sour that married Suntory Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve whisky with Akashi-Tai umeshu, lemon, lime, egg white and tiki bitters in a clever union of East and West.

My companion’s Smoky Negroni was served in a large tumbler with a giant globe of ice. Its signature smoke came from a generous spritz of Ardbeg mist. On the wine front, a golden glass of Ramey Chardonnay 2014 from the Sonoma Coast proved so appealing, with its notes of peaches and cream, we ordered a second.

Switching up its by the glass offering often, Burgundy lovers can currently enjoy Marc Morey Puligny-Montrachet Les Referts 2009 for £23.80 a glass. More commonly associated with Piemonte, Gaja’s Brunello di Montalcino – Pieve Santa Restituta 2012 – offered traditional Tuscan notes of sour cherry, raspberry, earth, spice and a hint of tobacco.

Who to know: Mustachioed head barman Kostas is worth seeking out while you’re propping up the bar with an apéritif or digestif, depending on how well the evening has gone…

Last word: In an increasingly cutthroat restaurant scene in London, Hakkasan has stood the test of time and seems as popular today as when it opened in 2001. The capital is now awash with cool contemporary Chinese restaurants, but Hakkasan was one of the first to bring its high-end Cantonese concept to London.

The venue won’t be for everyone – the loud music and low lighting may dissuade diners seeking more subdued surroundings, but for those looking for tasty Cantonese cuisine and exciting wines in a buzzy basement, Hakkasan is hard to beat.

Hakkasan, 8 Hanway Place, London W1T 1HD; Tel: +44 (0)20 7927 7000

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