There’s a theory that Hakkasan has floundered since the departure of Alan Yau, the Hong Kong-born entrepreneur (and Wagamama founder) who created London’s most chic Chinese restaurant in 2001 and sold it in December 2007.
The new owner, the Abu Dhabi-based Tasameem group, is opening outlets around the world -- Miami, Abu Dhabi, Mumbai and (briefly) Istanbul -- and now comes a second in London. Hakkasan Mayfair seats 145 in a basement dining room and another 75 on the ground floor, where it’s lighter and brighter than the original. It’s luxurious and expensive.
My theory is that Hakkasan is still exceptional, from the quality of the restaurant fittings and design -- by Paris-based Guillaume Richard -- through the cocktails (the Pink Mojito, the Hakkatini and the Jasmine Fon Fon spring to mind) to the cooking of Executive Chef Tong Chee Hwee.
There’s no loss of direction: It’s just that the prices, which you barely noticed in the dim lighting of the mother ship, jump off the page now that those go-go days of large bonuses and generous expense accounts have given way to less fun. The list of Champagnes alone makes me nostalgic.
Service can sometimes appear frosty, yet once my guest (the Chinese chef Ching He-Huang) and I started chatting with a waitress on one visit, she was friendly and visibly relaxed. A friend went there and saw someone tip the coat-check girl 50 pounds ($81), which presumably also brought a smile.
The food prices can be as scary as the wine list. Stir-fry Chilean sea bass (or Patagonian toothfish as it’s affectionately known) with Sichuan pepper, sweet basil and spring onion, weighs in at 35 pounds; stir-fry Welsh black beef with pied bleu mushroom and osmanthus flower wine is 33 pounds. That’s before you wander into the territory of Wagyu-beef-this and foie-gras-that, the kind of territory I normally like to occupy.
If you’re on a budget, which most of us are these days when sober, the dim sum platter is so good at 13.50 pounds, it’s worth ordering two. The har gau prawn dumplings -- the translucent case containing a fat prawn -- are a favorite, maybe with a side order of prawn wonton in hot-and-spicy sauce or hot-and-sour soup with chicken, shiitake and pomelo.
New dishes at Mayfair -- where the kitchen is twice the size of the Hanway Place original -- include black-truffle roast duck (28.80 pounds) and steamed New Zealand mini-lobster wrapped in glass vermicelli (35.80 pounds.)
The stir fries such as black pepper rib-eye with merlot, and ostrich in yellow-bean sauce and stir-fry Peking-style duck are enjoyable dishes. I know I’m asking for trouble saying this, but I also enjoyed the sweet-and-sour Duke of Berkshire pork with pomegranate. (Sweet-and-sour is a British dish in the same way that chicken tikka masala is, and I like them both.)
You don’t go for authenticity or tradition: You go for fun and flavor, and Hakkasan can supply both in spades if you are open minded and rich. It’s a scene, as Nobu, Zuma, Sketch and C London are in their different ways. If you don’t enjoy hanging out with the beautiful people, you may feel irritated.
I’m a fan.
Hakkasan Mayfair, 17 Bruton Street, London, W1J 6QB. Information: or +44-20-7927-7003 or http://w3.hakkasan.com/Mayfair.
The Bloomberg Questions
Cost? Lunch without alcohol wasn’t far off 50 pounds a head. With wine and cocktails, the sky is the limit.
Sound level? Lunch upstairs 70-75 decibels, which is fine; basement may get lively at night.
Inside tip? Window table for lunch; downstairs for dinner.
Special feature? Glamorous staff.
Will I be back? Yes.
Date place? Yes.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor.
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 65-70: Office noise. 70-75: Starbucks. 75-80: London street. 80-85: Alarm clock at closest range. 85-90: Passing bus. 85-95: Tube train.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)