Thursday, 18 July 2013


HKK (@HKKLondon)
88 Worship St, EC2A 2BE

There's a lot of history between me and Hakkasan. My first trip to the Hanway Place branch was a housewarming present from my family when I started at UCL - and my first Michelin starred meal. It started a long-standing love affair with the groups restaurants, particularly Yauatcha, their informal dim sum patisserie in Soho (easily top 5 restaurants for me). When I heard that former head chef Tong Chee Hwee was designing a bespoke tasting menu at this City-based outpost, I just had to go.

First things up, the decor. This was a key component of the experience at the other venues, particularly at Hanway Place, still I think the most fantastic use of space (it used to be an underground warehouse) in London. HKK is certainly more subdued and more professional. The target audience seems to be high powered local business types. Personally, I would say that the food is more the focus of the attention here than at the other branches.

Orchard Tasting Flight
We both ordered the 8 course tasting menu, with a tasting flight of juices (Orchard flight), an intriguing alternative to a wine flight. It worked really well, particularly the palette cleansing take on the gin and tonic that matched the prawn starter. See above for some more examples!

Bai hua prawn
The bai hua prawn (w/ 1724 Tonic water, saffron and grapefruit zest) was the first of our courses. I'm really not a big fan of the prawns you get in Europe as I don't think they come close to what I've had in East Asia and the subcontinent, but the prawn was very good. It was succulent and robustly flavoured, a world away from the defrosted ones you get in many Chinatown dishes. They were matched with a lightly tangy goji berry (trendy much?) sauce.

Dim sum trilogy
The dim sum trilogy (w/ grapefruit, red pepper, peach and elderflower) is certainly a more sophisticated offering than that of Hakkasan and Yauatcha - we loved the paintbrush for applying soy sauce! - with one topped with caviar and one filled with pata negra, a third one containing... turnip. It gave rise to an interesting variety of flavours (sweet, sour, salty) and textures - one was steamed, one pan fried and the other wok fried. I wouldn't say the more elaborate ingredients put the dish above the more straightforward (if you can call it that) dim sum at Yauatcha but it's certainly on that level quality-wise.

Me inspecting the duck
The next course was the cherry wood smoked peking duck. I love the theatre of this dish. We were invited up to a table in the middle, where the dish was finished and presented (using some pretty advanced chopstick skills) and received an explanation of the ingredients. We were explained through the cooking method and were encouraged to interact and ask questions. I thought it was a great touch.

The duck (sourced from Ireland) was slow cooked overnight over cherry wood chippings, and finished with a fan oven to crisp up the skin. I haven't tasted real ''Peking'' duck - I'd have to defer expertise to my brother there - but I've eaten plenty of duck in Hong Kong and I have to say this is one of the best duck dishes I've had anywhere in the world. I had the pancake wrapped shredded piece first, which was fine, but the real star was the fillet piece, covered in rich fat and delightfully juicy. A crisped piece of skin was served alongside, and it was remarkable too, picking up the slight hints of cherry wood (even Nathalie ate the crispy skin and that's really saying something). It was served with a kind of lychee (I think) / hoi sin sauce with a little bit of palm sugar for the full umami-sweet-and-sour effect. The end result was very authentic in its flavours and textures, whilst managing to attain a level of refinement rarely seen for this type of dish. It was exquisite.

Poulet de bresse and ginseng soup with silken bean curd
After the rich, complex delights of the duck, this one was a bit more straightforward. It consisted of a soup with a yellow colour presumably imparted by the famous corn-fed poulet de bresse with a ladleful of (again) goji, dried ginseng (I think) and silken tofu on the side. The juice on the side was white grape, prunes, apple, cloves and home-made spice syrup. It wasn't the highlight of our meal, but the flavours were nicely balanced and evidently the quality of the ingredients used was very high.

Gai lan, shimeji mushroom and lily bulb in XO sauce
This was another highlight for me. I love how confident these guys are with vegetables - matches every bit with the meat for me, which is tragically so rare in London. The gai lan - a kind of chinese broccoli -was superb. Really tender and slightly caramelised, cooked just as well as the superb purple sprouting we had at Roganic. It was complimented with delicate, savoury shimeji mushrooms as well as lily bulbs, which had the texture of raw onions but a surprisingly sweetly perfumed aroma. It was matched with honeydew melon, celery and ginger juice.

Jasmine Tea Smoked Wagyu Beef with Water Chestnut
This dish immediately made me think of the jasmine tea smoked ribs at Yauatcha. The meat was (of course) sous vide cooked, appropriate for the level of marbling and finished at a high temperature, presumably with the tea smoking. The meat was very tender, with no sinew or connective tissue evident. All the fat had evidently melted away into the meat. I'm not overall a massive fan of wagyu but I enjoyed this dish as the quality of the meat was very high indeed. I think the ribs at Yauatcha are the still the best though. It was matched Korean style with a sweet potato crisp with a more traditionally chinese caramelised water chestnuts and rice on the side. The juice here was Tamarillo, basic, cinnamon, pineapple and saffron.

Mandarin sorbet with pandan sorbet and Jasmine meringue
The first of the dessert courses was the mandarin sorbet. It was a refreshing hit of citrus after the strong, meaty (but not overpoweringly so) flavours of the previous course. I've only had pandan in thai food as a wrap for deep fried chicken, but I really enjoyed it in this context as a sorbet. The jasmine meringue gave a similar aromatic lift as with the previous course and did well to add to the complexity of the flavours without making the dish over-muddled. The juice for the desserts was ginger, papaya, apple and eucalyptus.

Pineapple fritter, salted lime jelly and vanilla ice cream
I enjoyed the second dessert course even more. The pineapple fritter was surprisingly light and yet substantial enough to hold its own as the main component of the dish. The vanilla ice cream matched it well, and the lime jelly added a nice salty and sour sharpness to balance the rich sweetiness of the other components. Chinese food isn't really reknown for its desserts. I do love some of the pastries but not the red bean soups and the like, but this is a really original idea and stood out alongside the other courses. The Hakkasan group have always been dab hands with sweet courses (the Hakkasan black sesame ball, now defunct, was one of my favourite dishes in London, sweet or savoury), and the tradition continues here.

I really, really enjoyed HKK. The attention to detail and service is just as good as the fantastic food. It's an unbelievably slick operation and we were very well taken care of, without it feeling too professional. I wish we could get the name of our waiter to single him out with praise but the whole team deserve full credit for a great experience. The food shone, in a way that shouldn't surprise us anymore (remember when Hakkasan was the first Chinese restaurant to win a star? Seems so long ago...) but still managed to put a smile on both our faces. Top ingredients, cooked by one of London's very best chefs, combined with the sophisticated cosmopolitan dining experience that the group excels at.  Sublime stuff. I'll come back just for the duck...

HKK on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Photos by Nathalie.

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