Hakkasan Mayfair is an elegant restaurant. The seating, the ambiance, the staff and, above all, the food. It presents a modern, Cantonese cuisine which earned the restaurant a Michelin star in 2011. Invited to review the Chinese New Year signature menu, I shared a leisurely few hours enjoying lunch with Simon Narracott from London Unattached.
This limited edition menu, created by Executive Head Chef Tong Chee Hwee, was designed to celebrate the Year of the Monkey. It was served as a 4 course meal and contained 9 dishes.
We began with cocktails – Simon chose the alcoholic version with rum, sherry and fruits which was called 9 Hou. It contained 9 ingredients to represent the monkey’s ninth position on the zodiac.I tried the Fruit Blend. Called Shéng Fizz, it was a refreshing mélange of mandarin, guava, peach, lemon, agave syrup and ginger ale.
With exquisite attention to detail, the cocktail stirrers came in the shape of a golden monkey. A cocktail does rather set the tone for a relaxed meal and always provides a little frisson of excitement for what lies ahead.
Before the food was served we were invited to write down our wishes for the year on a pretty red and gold card with a gold ribbon. These were hung up alongside others in the restaurant adding a decorative and traditional touch that references the Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees in Hong Kong.
The first course was a soup served in dainty white china bowls which framed the delicately flavoured broth. It was a double boiled fresh ginseng and chicken soup with bamboo pith and wolfberry. Pieces of bamboo pith , ginseng and chicken floated in the clear soup each contributing their own distinct texture. The wolfberries added colour to the neutral palette of the dish. The waitress informed us that wolfberries are good for the eyes and the skin and ginseng promotes general health. An appropriate way to usher in a new year and to ward off the bugs that proliferate in the winter.
Small Eats followed. These were small in size but packed with flavour. Top quality ingredients were allowed to shine through without being too fussed about with. Japanese Wagyu beef with pine nuts in a golden cup was quite beautiful to behold. It was served on a slate platter alongside a floral display that was delicate and pretty. Tiny cubes of deeply flavoured beef nestled in a golden cup. Colour was provided by pine nuts, spring onion and pomegranate seeds. It was a memorable mouthful – actually two since there were four golden cups to share.
The second of the Small Eats was a Dim Sum Platter served in the traditional steamer. I relish the moment when the lid is lifted to reveal the jewel-like dumplings that nestle within. We began with the har gau – a shrimp dumpling which was packed with a large prawn inside a translucent wrapper. The next was a scallop shumai, an open faced dumpling. The perfectly cooked scallop was topped with orange caviar, colourful and dainty. The third offering was a duck and yam bean dumpling which had an attractive, mustard coloured wrapper. It contained tiny cubes of peppery duck and carrot. The final mouthful was a Chinese chive dumpling which was splendidly encased in a bright green wrapper with a delicately flavoured filling. It was so pretty that I would gladly have had a dress made up in fabric to match.
The main courses arrived together as is the custom. A tureen of dried scallop and crab meat fried rice accompanied four enticing platters. The first contained wok-fry lobster in spicy truffle sauce. A generous serving of lobster, artfully cut into twists, was topped with shavings of black truffle and sensous black mushrooms. Thinly sliced onions and asparagus pieces added extra flavour and colour. It was a luxurious dish, both rich and delicious as the ingredients suggest.
Next was Pipa duck. Thin slices of tender duck with a crispy skin were laid out on a white platter accompanied by a purple flower. The simplicity of the presentation belied the complexity of the flavours. I failed to do this dish justice as the portions were so generous that my appetite was beginning to wane by this stage.
Despite being rather full, I could not get enough of the next dish which was one of my favourites. Grilled Chilean seabass in honey was perfectly cooked, the fish just set. It sported a glorious warm rust colour and a slightly smoky flavour.
The final dish would make a vegetarian very happy and pleased me too. Stir-fry Hericium mushroom with lotus root, asparagus and lily bulb in black pepper introduced me to a host of new vegetables all of which were a delight. The dish was vibrant and fresh. It had a crunchy texture and was visually appealing, the lotus root in particular looking most artful on the plate. It provided a fresh foil to the rich lobster, duck and seabass.
I have quibbled about this before when writing about restaurants that bring many dishes to the table at once and will mention it once again. It is impossible to eat one’s way through all the delights set before one without some of the dishes growing cold. This is such a shame, especially when the food is of such top quality. Could not restaurants provide an elegant table warmer on which to keep the food at a comfortable temperature while other dishes are being eaten?
We took a short break before moving on to dessert which was called Golden halo – described on the menu as soy caramel, banana delice, chocolate, peanut. That description does not do it justice. A golden ring formed the base of the dessert, a cake made with peanuts and banana. On top of this ring were a host of shapes and colours – like a merry-go-round on which were balanced a group of tasty treats. One was a golden orb which the waitress informed us was a chocolate shell filled with a chocolate soup. She advised us to break open the shell and allow the soup to seep out and envelop the ring. Other delights on the ring were a quenelle of banana ice cream, chocolate discs, gold leaf and caramelised peanuts. Despite the obvious sugar content the whole was not too sweet which, for me, made it a most successful end to the meal. It looked gorgeous and was a pleasure to eat.
This was a memorable lunch with a well-balanced menu. The ingredients were top quality as one would expect from a Michelin starred restaurant. The pace of the meal was leisurely with the attentive staff asking when we were ready to move on to the next course. The staff ensured that the customer’s comfort and enjoyment was paramount. Water glasses were constantly refilled, wine replenished. Polite but non-intrusive service was impeccable.
The dishes on this celebration menu were chosen to bring joy, luck and prosperity to all those fortunate enough to dine at Hakkasan over the next month. If one begins a year as one means to go on then this menu, in celebration of the Year of the Monkey, is sure to be one to savour.
The New year menu is priced at £88.88 per person, for minimum of two people, and is available from 22 January to 22 February 2016.
Hakkasan Mayfair, 17 Bruton Street, Mayfair, London W1J 6QB