Lunch at Hakkasan.

Here’s the thing about Alan Yau’s Soho restaurant Hakkasan: there’s a no-photo policy.  Normally I don’t ask when I’m about to photograph my meal, but Keith had read about the policy; since I am a self-conscious ninny, I asked him to double-check with our server, who backed away from our table with his hands up.

hakkasanSo please, instead be satisfied with my words, your imagination and the only picture I was able to take: the discreet sign lighting the way.

Speaking of things discreet, Hakkasan’s location is nothing but.  In order to descend its sleek steps, you first have to stumble around Tottenham Court Road looking for Hanway Place, which is little more than a glorified alley.  Then you have to scratch your head curiously since, from the foot of the alley, it appears as though the street dead-ends.  Upon closer inspection, you’ll see that the alley does in fact come to an abrupt dead end, but that the dim light glowing from one of the doorways — which you won’t have noticed until that very second — is the restaurant’s entrance.  After you make your way down into the foyer, you’ll find yourself peering into what just might be the most highly stylized dining room ever.

Décor-wise, Hakkasan is beyond chic; even the coolest of the cool will be impressed with its sleek combination of modern and traditional Chinese designs.  It is dark, moody and undeniably sexy, with atmospheric lighting casting a flattering glitter on each surface.

I could go on about the interior — the intricate paneling, for example, deserves mention, as does the streamlined restroom and its graceful trough sink — but what I really want to discuss is the food.

Oh, the food.

Hakkasan offers à la carte options for lunch, but Keith and I specifically were interested in its dim sum; it’s a more affordable way to experience the restaurant’s inventive cuisine.  We decided to split six orders, all of which I wish I could have photographed to share with you all:

  • xo pork noodles (£12.50)
  • char sui bun (£3.90)
  • sticky rice lotus leaf (£4.50)
  • crispy duck roll (£6.50)
  • mango spring roll (£4.20)
  • baked venison puff (£4.20)

We also each ordered a juice; I chose the Red Monsoon (£5.50), a mix of strawberry, raspberry, watermelon and guava spritzed into ginger beer.  It was incredibly refreshing not only in flavor, but also in seeing a selection of non-alcoholic beverages on the menu.

If I had to pick one of our little plates as being the most traditional, I would select the char sui bun without hesitation.  Does that mean that it was boring?  Of course not.  It was familiar, and something that I’ve mentioned loving before, but it was still altogether sweet and tangy.  Also on the more conventional side was the rectangle of sticky rice steamed inside a lotus leaf, but like the barbecue-stuffed bun, it was still immensely tasty.

The most creative of our choices were certainly the baked venison puff and the mango spring roll; both took elements of the new and blended them with elements of the old.  The spring roll, for example, not only featured the delicious addition of a tropical fruit but also the surprising combination of aïoli, adding a wonderful sweetness and zip to each bite.  The puff, on the other hand, brought to mind the idea of a shepherd’s pie — but one that could be held in the hand, or clasped between two chopsticks.  The pastry enveloped a meaty center which, when bitten into, immediately conjured up thoughts of warmth and comfort.

It’s incredible to believe a restaurant as glamorous as Hakkasan was created by the same mind behind Wagamama, but there you have it.  Regardless, the two couldn’t be more far apart.  In one you’ll find noodle-based dishes and a frenetic pace, and in another you’ll find a mixture of Eastern and Western flavors against an upscale, highly-polished backdrop.  I know which one I prefer.

8, Hanway Place
London W1T 1
+44 020 7927 7000

Hakkasan on Urbanspoon

Breakfast at Hei La Moon.

It’s been a while since I’ve had dim sum, so when Beth asked me to meet up at Hei La Moon this past Sunday I almost felt as though I had no say in the matter. As I was running a little late — I blame the Sunday subway schedule! — by the time I maneuvered through the throngs of tourists and market-goers crowding Chinatown’s streets, more than a few carts had rolled past my friends’ table.

Truthfully, I can’t even fully describe the sheer amount of food we plowed through. Yes, there were six of us — Alyssa, Beth, Dan, Guillaume, Kristy and me — but frankly, the food came and went so quickly that not even a diner with photographic memory could recall it all. Heck, not even my camera could capture it all. There were the shrimp folded into rice noodles, char siu baau (barbecue pork dumplings), the spring rolls, the sticky fried rice, jiaozi (steamed pork and vegetable dumplings), meatballs rolled in rice, dou hua (silken tofu with sweet syrup), dumplings stuffed with bean paste…

My favorite, hands down, were the char siu baau. The sweet barbecue cradled inside the steamed buns is delicious, but that’s not the only reason why I like them so much. It’s sentimental, since the flavor brings to mind two things — sho pao (also spelled sio pao), a similar Filipino item, and the long strips of barbecued meat that hang in the windows of Hong Kong take-out shops — that both remind me of my maternal grandfather, who died less than three weeks ago. He was a great lover of food, and just as great a lover of travel; from when I was a little girl up until my late teens, it was mostly with him that I traipsed around Asia, eating everything that looked interesting, or at least smelled good. Walking through Chinatown to get to Hei La Moon made me think about him too, and how difficult it would have been, towards the end of his life, for me to push his wheelchair past the hunchbacked Chinese grannies haggling over the price of bok choy. I don’t think I would have minded, though. He would have loved the dim sum.

But back to the topic at hand…

One thing that is absolutely amazing about Hei La Moon is its sheer size. Like so many other restaurants in Chinatown, the space is cavernous. And like a cavern, sound echoes. In this case it’s the sonance of waitstaff trying to tempt diners with the contents of their carts, children teasing each other across the table, chopsticks clicking and the raised voices of your tablemates. Trust me, you’ll be shouting.

A big plus about breakfast at Hei La Moon? Our meal came to twelve dollars a person, including tip. That’s pretty tough to top, considering we almost ate our collective weight in dumplings. How I would love to have my own little dim sum cart to wake me up each Sunday — a very dangerous thought indeed. It would be far better for my waistline to take a walk down Beach Street.

Hei La Moon
88 Beach Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02111

Hei la Moon on Urbanspoon