10 years ago I ate in Hakkasan London. Not just once. We'd eat there every few months, especially if clients were in town. As Alan Yau's Flagship masterpiece, it was the antithesis of the hasty, sloppy cantonese food we'd munch over on Gerrard Street. Hakkasan was a sultry and considered affair. The dishes were familiar yet they were refined versions of their poor relations. We believed this was an evolution of fine Chinese dining.
It also possessed something that no Chinese restaurant ever had before; A Michelin star. It seemed only fair to pay through the nose for dumplings who's enhanced flavor could not yet be distinguished with our untrained western palate "We'll take one of those import beers please" - a TsingTao.
Well, today, a decade later, I have a slightly trained asian palate and it got rather excited to hear that Hakkasan was to open in Shanghai. We were lucky enough to be invited there during their first week to see if Hakkasan, or my palate, or both, had evolved in the space of a decade.
Located in the Bund 18 building, layered in alongside Mr & Mrs Bund and Bar Rouge, Hakkasan Shanghai is every inch the London template. Yau is no longer ensconced with the Hakkasan chain (which now has branches in eight cities) but his original DNA Flows through the whole experience.
Rich red lamps hang over dark lacquered tables obscured by classic chinese screens. It's curious to think that in London this is a theme but here in China it's a classification. The design is a decadent interpretation of an era from when this represented an elusiveness fifty times what it does now. We're seeing Dynasty palatial features which were reworked into 1930's exclusive clubs and now used in pristinely modern restaurants.
Hakkasan Shanghai has pulled this into a modern-day Bund with a sultry flair and pair of modern bars. They cleanly delineate the space between pre-dinner drinks, dining and lounge.
Because let's face it. This is the Bund and every venue must cater to a 50/50 food and drinks audience. Hakkasan is following the trend (started by Mr & Mrs upstairs) of offering a late-night menu. Think of a ginger infused martini with a bamboo basket of Hakkasan dim-sum with a house DJ and you're there.
Hakkasan's dim sum is one of their signature dishes and frankly outstanding. It's how we started and ended the meal. In between ran a tour de force of Cantonese dining with universally recognized flavors and enough high-end twirls to spin an exclusive crowd. We steered clear of the moneybags abalone and caviar-topped peking duck and homed in on the real signatures.
And they're every mouthful the tones and textures I remember from being sat in London in the first Hakkasan. After all these years of experimenting and refining my palate, it still carries the powerful edge it did. I suppose that's testament to distilling an almost timeless cuisine to it's element form and getting it right every time.
Before we hit the Macarons we asked for a peek in the kitchen. A well drilled Cantonese kitchen is a feat to behold and Hakkasan's ticks like clockwork. It's also the same size as restaurant itself so a real force to be reckoned with. Executive Chef Tong Chee Hwee has set the bar one notch higher along the bund. Let's see how the locals take it.
A Few more shots in my gallery on flickr here