A reservation at Hakkasan, Mayfair, on a Saturday night was considered to be a validation of your status inLondonsociety or so I was told by a foodie friend who wanted to eat at the Michelin star wielding restaurant, come rain or shine.
He reserved a table two months in advance and his experience was worth the wait. Of course, as a student back then I couldn’t afford the dinner at this restaurant that was one of the 50 best restaurants in the world but I did enjoy a meal at the eatery thanks to a generous friend who also tagged me along to another one of the many feathers in Yau’s chef-hat —Yauatcha, a dim sum place in London’s Soho.
Naturally, meals at Yauatcha and Hakkasan became a part of a bucket-list for the day I earned myself a salary that left me a luxurious allowance after paying the rent and the bills. Moving to Mumbai meant that the allowance now had to be luxurious enough to include the price of a plane ticket. So you can imagine my excitement when rumours of Hakkasan’s arrival in Mumbai started doing the rounds.
While I was waiting for a special occasion to explore the newest restaurant in Bandra, I was invited to indulge in the Hakkasan Mumbai experience. On a rather bland Wednesday evening, we landed up at a building that once housed Seijo and the Soul Dish and the very hip club Poison.
Up until this point, I was wary about the snobbery that I’ve come to encounter at most of the city’s premium restaurants. However, at the reception, the hostess scanned our attire (the restaurant has a dress-code — smart casuals) but with a gentle, warm smile before checking our reservations and guiding us towards the lift. Two storeys later, we come to yet another reception, where the hostess takes us to our table. You can pick from four different seating areas — the bar where you will only be served the appetizers, the Ling-Ling which is a busy lounge area with warm décor and relaxed seating, the main dining room adorned with a high-roof, lattice panels and blue lights or the warm and cosy private dining room that is only sold exclusively.
We settle into the main dining room and waste no time in getting down to business. The appetisers or ‘Small eats’ as they offer a variety of dishes but the vegetarian options outnumber the seafood, poultry and meat.
The Hakka Steamed Dim Sum Basket (Rs850) is promptly agreed upon while there’s a debate on whether we want the Crispy Duck Roll (Rs450) or the Fried Soft-shell Crab (Rs1450) and the crab wins. The cocktail menu conjures up various marriages between fruit, alcohol and spices.
Oriental ingredients like coconut, ginger and sake are used to add a unique twist. We go for The Hakka (Rs650) and the Zesty Martini (Rs650). The Hakka makes up for the zest that the Martini lacks. Coconut cream, sakeand lychee form a blast of oriental flavours in your mouth and your taste-buds dance around as they try to distinguish between the flavours and enjoying the united magic at the same time.
The Scallop Shu Mai comes generously topped with salmon caviar while the har gau comes in a perfectly chewy covering with a soft filling. The Fried Soft-shell Crab is a myriad of textures wrapped in a delicious subtle flavour that the chilli, almonds and curry leaves conjures up.
When it comes to deciding the main course, the options again are ample be it vegetables, poultry, meat or seafood. We are deeply disappointed about the exclusion of the lotus root fried rice that they serve in theLondon outlet from the menu. However, we get a simple Egg Fried Rice (Rs400) to keep our Sanpei Chicken Claypot (Rs600) and the Hakka Braised Pork Belly (Rs1150) some company.
The chicken had a rather over-whelming sauce that was too sweet, but the pork belly was cooked to perfection and even though it could’ve clogged my arteries, it was worth every bite. The supreme soya that it comes doused with enhances the flavour of the pork beautifully. Of course, in hindsight I wonder why we didn’t order any fish, but that gives me a great excuse to go back again.
We finish up the meal with a Yoghurt Parfait with Raspberry Sorbet and Black Sesame Foam (Rs400). Together the toasty sesame foam, the tangy sorbet and the creamy parfait made for a delicious indulgence even though we found the parfait a bit hard.
The food at Hakkasan is delicious but the presentation is equally delightful. The Indian avatar leaves no stone unturned in recreating the experience of the original one albeit with a few modifications. The two-storey elevator ride into the restaurant may as well be a flight into Mayfair, London.
Hakkasan synchronises every little detail, right from the ambience to the cutlery to the presentation to the taste of each dish served, to create the Michelin star experience that India is yet to experience.
No wonder then that it comes with a hefty price-tag. Nope, Hakkasan isn’t an I’m-in-the-mood-for-Chinese place. The prices of the dishes served are erratic, for example an appetiser at Hakkasan can cost anything between Rs350 to Rs1650 depending upon the ingredients. In a way, it is value for your money because you don’t end up paying a whopping price for a starter made of simple ingredients but when you order an exotic dish, you know you’re putting your money where your mouth is going to be.
Of course, for a country that is largely used to eating greasy, pungent ‘Desi’ Chinese, fine-dine Chinese food is a relatively new concept. While a few five star establishments and more recently London’s Royal China did introduce the city to relatively authentic Chinese fine-dine cuisine, Hakkasan will take it a notch higher and put on the city’s plate authentic, trendy and good-looking food. It may come at a premium price, but it might work in the restaurant’s favour, making sure that most of its clientele remains crème-de-la-crème.
With its plush interiors and high-end brand appeal, Hakkasan is without a doubt Bandra’s newest hot-spot considering we spotted a filmmaker, a music-director, an A-list actress and a Pakistani pop-singer at the restaurant on a week-night. And may we say, during our two hours at the premium restaurant, we probably saw more designer labels than we would at a fashion event.
My verdict: Hakkasan is the place to be seen on Saturday nights and it comes at a premium price. However, the dent in your wallet will not leave you feeling cheated because the food here is something else.
Hakkasan, Krystal, 206, Waterfield Road, Bandra Tel: 022 2644 4444
Originally written for DNAIndia.com