Dark wood and polished marble frame the subterranean descent into Hakkasan’s Mayfair restaurant. I shiver, resisting the impulsive urge to prostrate myself and beg for forgiveness as I tiptoe into the gloom. The lighting is ephemeral and seems to flow, casting a strange, sultry light across the entire venue. If the finishes were cheaper, or the tables slightly dustier, this would have a slightly sleazy, unsettling vibe, a bit like the Emperor’s petting salon.
There are no such flaws here. Hakkasan is immaculate. The staff are straight-backed and effortlessly smooth, the music has been tuned to a precise decibel, calibrated for optimum listening enjoyment, and I can see my slightly haggard complexion in the table. This is a premium, gold-leaf venue.
We’re here for Golden Week – the Chinese semi-annual national holiday. A week-long binge in China; in the underbelly of Mayfair, it’s a chance for Hakkasan to throw some flamboyant punches. Duck pancakes have been a staple of anglicised Chinese takeout for decades. Usually deep-fried and scattered with a few lacklustre, drab shreds of green cucumber and spring onion. Hakkasan has ideas of its own, and its the equivalent of flying first class as opposed to economy. A formation of perfectly quadrilateral assemblies are presented to us – they look like they’ve had a protractor taken to them – topped with a small helping of Qingdao caviar. A layer of golden-red duck-crackling provides the roof, the rest of the pancake assembled beneath.
The first bite is outrageous. The crackling breaks like a brandy-snap within my mouth. There’s no cheap, sugary plum sauce here. I’m so glad there’s no plum sauce. I devour my first pancake before I’ve even noticed, throwing bewildered glances down to the plate and trying not to shed a tear for the loss. I take my time with the second, and it’s more than worth it. Sweet, savoury, complex, this is a rollercoaster, a keg of gunpowder that rolls around my tongue, threatening to detonate on each section of my palate before benevolently allowing itself to fade away, like a beautiful, poultry sunset.
I’m still trying to get over the loss of the duck when the mains arrive. Silver cod in honey and champagne sauce doesn’t win any prizes for appearance; it arrives swimming in a yellowish, opaque ichor that seems to have seeped from the slain sea beast lying before me, but the texture is wonderful. Soft, delicate, with a distinct structure, it dissembles beneath my tongue, giving me the god-like impression that my tongue is a gilded wrecking ball.
I turn my crane-like gaze to the next supine victim – ‘crispy’ chicken with wild mushrooms in oyster sauce. I swing my articulated taste-weapon and groan with delight. I can only assume Hakkasan has struck an infernal bargain – its command of skin is unmatched. The chicken skin is gloriously curved, almost parabolic, with a dark, shining hue that can only come from either satanic auction or dedicated practice.
By the time the dessert arrives, I’m in savoury meltdown. If I were in an office chair, I would swivel contentedly. I’m tempted to ask the waiter if they have a cat for me to stroke – it wouldn’t surprise me, the drinks list is longer than my university dissertation. The final mountain to tackle is the dessert – Golden Macaroons, purportedly a traditional Golden Week finale. Flavoured lightly with champagne, and stuffed with a thick wedge of rich, chocolate truffle, the slight crackle of the popping candy finishes me. I collapse backward and groan with plump delight. Golden Week may be over, but Hakkasan is certainly worthy of a golden evening.
17 Bruton Street
Tel: 020 7907 1888