An Eight Course Tasting Menu at HKK London with Square Meal:
One of those unmissable events, I was on a press trip to Bath and Stonehenge but cut my visit to the West Country short to come home by train so I could experience the ‘bespoke Cantonese fine dining’ of Michelin Starred HKK. Perhaps it was just a little whimsical, but I love the chance to enjoy a tasting menu and I wanted to meet the team from Square Meal. In any case, it’s a little over an hour from Bath to London, so hardly a challenging journey. I arrived at the rather grand restaurant wearing jeans, boots and a waterproof jacket and had to dive into the ladies quickly to change into something more suitable.
Suitable clad, I emerged to be shown into a private dining room and offered a welcome glass of champagne by our hosts from Square Meal. It’s funny how no one minds waiting for dinner when there is fizz on offer;) We sat down to enjoy a small amuse bouche of a deep fried prawn and foie gras croquette coated with black and white sesame served on a pickled yam, all topped off with black truffle sauce. Despite sounding very rich, it was actually a delicate blend of flavours and textures, with a lovely contrast from the crunch of the sesame and crisp pickle base to the soft-centred croquette.
With our next course we were served sake, ‘Akitabare Koshiki Junzujuri’ a Junmai sake (rice wine without added alcohol)that worked well chilled with the Duke of Berkshire pork belly mantou. The mantou itself, a brioche-like soft bun was fried, split and filled with tender braised Duke of Berkshire pork, dressed with pork juice, black truffle and pickled lotus root. It was a mouthful of beautifully complex flavoured, rich meat with the bun, soft on the inside and crispy outside. Really moreish.
Next, seafood soup – a symphony of ingredients including fresh and dried scallops, pata Negra ham, prawn and sea cucumber. A fragrant bowl, pleasantly light to contrast with the richness of the Mantou. We were served a little warm Akitabare sake with this to show how serving sake warm brings out different notes and allows the wine to pair with different foods.
Our trio of dim sum included a deep fried Wagyu beef puff with the pastry skin cut to ensure perfect crispness then brushed with a little soy. The pink Dover sole dumpling was topped with a little caviar while the bright green dumpling was stuffed with lobster and prawn. On each plate a paintbrush and tiny bowl of soy for anyone who felt they needed to add more. With the dim sum, a cocktail of Aperol and gin – an interesting and really quite successful pairing.
Next a little bit of theatre. On the menu, roasted cherry wood Peking duck. Our chef appeared just outside the private dining room, ready to demonstrate how to carve and plate a duck. Each plate was dressed with a curl of crispy skin and a garnish of brown sugar, the breast carefully sliced and served with salad and hoisin sauce and the leg meat shredded and wrapped in a sesame pancake with cucumber and leek.
A velvety, berry-rich pinot noir was the perfect accompaniment to this lovely presentation of duck three ways. It all looked so simple.
Delicate wild seabass was served with a reduction of balsamic with black truffle and pomegranate and topped with a crisp wafer of wok fried courgette, some more wok fried seabass, black fungus and pumpkin. My notes tell me that the fish was marinated, then cooked in the sous vide and then wok fried. It was delicious and elegant, paired with a 2012 Sylaner Vieilles Vignes Ostertag from Alsace.
A touch of crockery envy hit when the Grilled Japanese Wagyu beef arrived. The blue glazed Japanese serving platter did set off the colourful dish perfectly. Wagyu is graded by its marbling – here we were served grade 10+, or A5 – which is way beyond the level I would feel comfy buying to cook at home. The price goes up as the grade gets higher and there’s a point at which I’d far rather someone else dealt with . Served with a selection of vegetables, sum puffed rice and confit kumquats and a sweet, spicy King sampei sauce, this was a fitting climax to the meal.
Our first dessert was another stunning dish. Sesame mousse was a concoction with a sesame tuille on black sesame cream with blackberry coulis and a fresh blackberry garnished with gold leaf, all topped off with a little lemon sorbet.
Then, a tiny pumpkin and orange sponge with five spice caramelised pecan, carrot ice cream and pumpkin and orange sauce
And finally, a miniature steamer holding chocolate soil topped with a white chocolate and ginger ice cream truffle.
Throughout the meal, we were served paired wines, sake or cocktails. The sommelier provided excellent explanations of each pairing. And, we met the charming and unassuming executive chef of HKK, Tong Chee Hwee. He’s work within the Hakkasan group for 11 years now, first at Hakkasan in Hanway place as the Head Chef who gained the restaurant its Michelin star in 2003 and then as executive chef for the group.
Evenings like this that make me feel very privileged. It isn’t simply about eating in fine dining restaurants, that something I’ve chosen to afford for most of my adult life, at times eating pasta with a little grated cheese at home for a week to save up for the experience. What makes this kind of event special is getting an insight into the ethos of the restaurant from those who have built it and dining in the company of other food lovers who genuinely appreciate the experience. With many thanks to HKK and Square Meal for this particular opportunity. My menu, stamped in red by the HKK chefs, has pride of place on my bookshelf at the moment.
Worship Street, London EC2.
Tel: 020 3535 1888