Considering that Adam took over 130 pictures of London restaurants we ate at, it was only natural that we start chronicling our thoughts and opinions about the food we eat. We've totally become accidental foodies. It all started out when Sheila started calling Adam "the human trash compactor"; since he eats almost anything. But somewhere along the way we started having discussions about food and seeking out culinary adventures when on travel. We bring a unique perspective to this arena as we're both vegetarians (no meat, poultry, or fish). I suspect we will both have varying opinions on the food, and hope to not only have a record for posterity, but provide some fun, useful if not amateur insight.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Hakkasan, high-end Chinese at it's best

This past New Year’s Eve, Sheila and I decided to try Hakkasan, the London-based high class Chinese restaurant from the same group as Wagamama. Their global “chain” of restaurants are located in New York, Dubai, Mumbai, Miami, and now San Francisco. Located at the corner of Market and Kearny on the second floor of this wedge-shaped building; the design is over the top and reportedly cost $7 million! You turn the corner from the elevator to a hosting station, which leads into a 1920’s Shanghai. Beautifully ornate design, gorgeous booth spaces, and some private dining rooms; but what impressed me the most was the stunning cobalt-blue bar gently lit and wrapped around the center to mirror the building contours.

The menu selection is vast, Chinese and Cantonese cuisine prepared elevated to match to this high-end establishment. This is not your Chinatown back alley joint to say the least. We made reservations through Open Table and had informed the wait staff that we were vegetarian. Our waiter having known this helped to craft a great selection of starters, mains, and desserts that was memorable.

Vegetarian Dim Sum - morel crystal dumpling, bamboo dumpling,
bean curd lotus roll, chive flower dumpling. A healthy portion of two each of the above list, the dim sum was expertly delicate and flavorful. Sheila enjoyed the bean curd one and I preferred the chive flower one. The most unique option was bamboo, which had a light earthy flavor. The variety was quite good and it was nice to see vegetarian options for this typical meat dish. This was definitely worth ordering as a starter.

Lettuce Wraps – stir-fry mushroom lettuce wraps with pistachios and pine nuts. This dish was surprisingly filing. Traditionally lettuce wraps can be messy, these were not. The filling was cut into bite-size pieces not drenched with sauce; and each lettuce was formed into easy to eat cups. The mushrooms were prepared well and the nuts added a great crunchy texture. This would be a great appetizer to share if you’re in for drinks.

Clay Pot Tofu – tofu, aubergine, and shiitaki mushrooms in a chili black bean sauce.  This was our least favorite dish of the evening. We felt that the pieces were too large, which gave them a slimy texture. We ended up cutting them down on our own plates. It’s not that the veggies and tofu weren’t flavorful or that the black bean sauce wasn’t spicy enough. However in comparison to the other this lacked the right balance.
Vegetarian Chicken – stir-fry vegetarian chicken in black pepper sauce. This was my favorite dish of the night. The sweet and spicy glaze was really good; hints of orange citrus provided a refreshing undertone for this elevated dish. Hakkasan’s take on mock chicken is once of the best we’ve had and is on most certainly on par with Loving Hut. For the main course, the portion size was bit small, definitely could have used some more as we both wiped the plate clean.

Chocolate Orange Mousse – chocolate hollow ball with candied blood orange chips with hot cocoa sauce poured over the top and gianduja (hazelnut paste) ice cream. A beautiful looking dessert that tasted decadent without becoming overly rich. The bitterness from the chocolate, the sweetness from the hazelnut, the citrus from the blood orange, and the crunch from the cocoa nibs worked amazingly well together. Our waiter recommended this dish; and it didn’t disappoint. Let that be a lesson to always ask from their views. 

All in all, Hakkasan is a destination restaurant with impressive Cantonese food. The service was attentive and excellent. At every turn the wait staff would refill water, re-fold napkins, and take away plates.. This made the experience even better. The food was modern and creative. There’s no doubt that the owner wanted you to experience being transformed into a world of Asian decadence. Our bill came to $140 with a few of drinks and tip. Not bad in a city of uber-pricy joints. This is a special occasion place and we certainly enjoyed it.