A dinner visit to Hakkasan back in 2005 made me seriously question the Michelin ratings as I found the food woefully average, service haughty and prices extortionate. That experience left me with little interest in a second encounter, but it has been quite a few years so a couple of Sundays ago we decided to return and put the dim sum menu through the paces.
The decor was as grand as I remembered it, albeit a little tired (the signage in particular has seen better days) and the front of house had thankfully lost their snooty air. In fact our ever attentive waiter was rather lovely. We ordered water, a pot of Pu-er (some find their extensive tea menu pretentious, but I did like having more than the usual suspects to choose from) and more dim sum than really necessary.
The restaurant wasn’t that busy so we didn’t have to wait long for the first dishes to arrive. The Fried Golden Cuttlefish Mei Si Roll with XO Sauce was an odd creation of bland celery-specked cuttlefish cake rolled in crispy vermicelli and crowned with a spicy dried scallop mixture. The flavours themselves weren’t bad, but the towers lacked moisture and would have been much improved with a dipping sauce of some sort.
A trio of Fried Chive Dumplings didn’t get enough time in the fryer and arrived looking sad and pale, when they should have had an appetising golden hue. Its contents were tasty but measly and like the previous dish, was a very dry mouthful – more of the moist filing would have easily rectified the problem.
Next was the Steamed Corn-fed Chicken Bun with Abalone and Crab Meat; a large soft, pillowy and slightly sweet bread cocooning a delicious savoury filling. I generally overlook steamed buns at dim sum (they take up too much valuable eating space) but this was pretty good and the big chunks of crab were a nice surprise.
First impressions of the Braised Beef Brisket that followed were good; the meat was fall-apart tender and packed with flavour. However as I ate more the sweetness of the sauce got a bit much for me, and the rice noodles nestled beneath the slow-cooked meat was over-cooked and mushy.
An unusual Char Siu and Miu Choi Cheung Fun suffered from similar issues – noodles so soft that they disintegrated in the mouth, and a filling and sauce that were both overly sweet. A shame, as the combo sounded great on paper.
It wasn’t all bad though. The Scallop Siew Mai, which I never fail to order at sister restaurant Yauatcha, was perfectly executed and showcased the juicy plump scallops perfectly. Tiny vibrant pearls of flying fish roe resting on each added colour and an interesting textural contrast.
The Steamed Crabmeat Xiao Long Bao were equally tasty, with a good amount of luscious broth in each delightful parcel. Arguably the dumpling skins were on the thick side but that didn’t detract too much from our enjoyment.
A last plate of Grilled Shanghai Dumpling looked promising but the pastry turned out to be flabby and chewy despite being well-browned, and all I could taste was stale grease. I took one unpleasant bite and left the rest – it was pretty awful.
Strangely I didn’t feel short-changed upon leaving the restaurant. Perhaps it was the improved service, stylish interiors or fairly reasonable bill (£50 for two, and we were stuffed). Whatever the case, it was only on reflection that I realised how patchy the cooking was. Michelin-starred dim sum it certainly isn’t, but I wouldn’t dismiss Hakkasan totally – there is an intriguing varied selection on offer and even the best yum cha places have their off days.
8 Hanway Place
London W1T 1HD
t. 020 7927 7000