London’s most famous Chinese restaurant remains a must-visit for all fans of Cantonese food – and anyone interested in how the capital’s dining scene has developed since the turn of the millennium.
Few destination restaurants can thrill with the same sense of arrival, as the grungy back alley entrance off Tottenham Court Road opens out into a shimmering basement, heady with incense and the swish of the glamorous waitresses’ cheongsams.
From that moment on, the excitement never lets up and every detail is designed to wow – from the dusky blue dining room divided by latticework to the shadowy figures propping up the long, long bar. It’s the perfect backdrop for food that has changed Londoners’ perception of what Chinese cooking is all about.
Classics such as sweet-and-sour are re-invented with superior ingredients like Duke of Berkshire pork, while prawn toast is re-imagined as a deep-fried ball stuffed with oozing foie gras – though superior seafood is the menu’s real strength: eye-opening Shanghainese-style eel, the textural treat of spicy prawn with lily bulb and almond, delicate stir-fried Alaskan king crab in XO sauce or sumptuous whole braised lobster with egg noodles, terrifyingly priced by the 100g.
Lunchtime dim sum offers a calmer, cheaper way in, and you can keep bills in check at any time by sticking to tea or the fascinating non-alcoholic Orchard List – although that would mean missing out on the joy of a ground-breaking wine (and saké) selection that seeks to find intriguing matches for Chinese food from almost every wine-growing region of the world.
Service is a little impersonal, but never less than professional, and in any case, the sexy nightclub vibe is designed to keep your attention focused firmly on your dining companions and your food (thoughtfully spotlit by overhead lamps). Fans say that Hakkasan has “still got it”, and we reckon it’s likely to have that magic spark for many years to come.