Celebrating the Year of the Red Fire Monkey at Hakkasan Mayfair:
It was a real treat to be invited to Hakkasan Mayfair, Londons top Cantonese restaurant, to sample their Chinese New Year signature menu. The restaurant, which first got its Michelin Star in 2011 is right in the heart of Mayfair. Set over two floors, it is spaciously laid out in a smart contemporary Chinese style, with ornaments and lighting to enhance the oriental decor.
Shown to our table, my dining partner, Madeleine Morrow and I decided on celebration cocktails. She took the Alcohol-free Sheng Fiz, a mix of mandarin, guava, peach, lemon, agave syrup and ginger ale. I went for the 9 Hou, a full on cocktail with Eldorado aged rum, Amontillado sherry, banana, guava, lime, agave syrup and walnut oil. The presentation was superb, each cocktail coming with a golden monkey to celebrate this Chinese New Year.
In true Chinese tradition, we were each given red slips to write a wish on, which were then tied up in the restaurant to flutter with all the others, as if on a real wishing tree seen across all of China.
The signature menu is made up of 9 dishes, and wine pairing is offered by the knowledgeable sommelier, a necessity if you want to get the best experience from both the wine and the food. For the signature menu, white wine was proposed, with its higher acidity capable of enhancing the flavours of the dishes
The opening course was Soup, a double boiled fresh ginseng and chicken with bamboo pith and wolfberry which had a delicate herbal aroma, almost like tea. The waitress seemed pleased to tell us that the wolfberries were good for our skin and that the ginseng would give us good health for the year. The mixture of aromatic plants with the chicken made this a very light and refreshing opener to the lunch.
Next up, small eats of Wagyu beef with pine nuts, chopped garlic shoots and pomegranate seeds on a golden cup of pastry. Although tiny, they were full of flavour; the Wagyu beef rich and tasty. One real surprise for me was the garlic shoots. Hinting at only the slightest of onion taste, they had a lot of crunch in them and added a pleasant ‘zing’ to the food. I have never had these before and really feel I have missed out till now. There were side bowls of mild and hot chilli dip to spice things up if necessary.
Part 2 of the small eats was a Dim Sum platter with a collection of flavours.
- Har Gau – a shrimp dumpling packed full and wrapped in a translucent case.
- Scallop Shumai – a delicate spice scallop wrapped and topped with orange caviar.
- Chinese Chive dumpling – sliced chive with wolfberry in a light green case
- Duck and Yam Bean dumpling – chilli duck with carrot in a delicate plum sauce
All were amazing, and the platter was exactly the right size to enjoy eating through each one. The Scallop deserves a special mention for being perfectly done, spicy on the edges with that pure delicate scallop taste in the centre.
We met briefly with Head Chef Tan Tee Wei who seemed genuinely pleased that we were so enjoying the food. I would have liked to sit with him and ask about the cuisine, but that is just a bit difficult mid-service when he is busy creating his masterpieces in the kitchen. I will try and return when we have more time – there is much about the ingredients and inspirations for the dishes I would love to know. In the picture is Milan Jovanovic – Guest Service Manager, Tan Tee Wei – head chef and Phong Tang – Assistant Restaurant Manager.
The main dishes arrived together, full of colour, around a bowl of Dried Scallop and Crabmeat fried rice. The first dish was Wok-fry Lobster in spicy truffle sauce. A generous helping of wok-fried lobster chunks was served on grated onion strips and asparagus with sliced truffle on top. The result made for a colourful and gently aromatic dish. The truffle added just the lightest touch to the lobster so that both individual flavours could be discerned. I loved this dish.
The plate of Pipa Duck, while looking a little plain by comparison, completely astonished me when I tasted it. Slices of the finest duck breast with thinly glazed skin, with almost all the fat reduced off, made this some of the best meat I have had all year.
The third plate was Grilled Chilean Sea Bass in honey. The fish was served with battered long stalk mushrooms, which in my opinion were unnecessary; the batter seemed to mask the really smooth flavour of the fish. The fish itself was wonderful, though. The honey glaze had soaked through the fish so that every flake offered a wonderful range of flavour and texture. This was my fellow diner’s favourite.
The vegetable plate was a mix of stir-fry hericium mushroom with lotus root, asparagus and lily bulb in black pepper. This could easily have been a meal in itself and I know my Vegan friends would be in heaven with this one. The lotus root, again a first for me, was crunchy and clean, acting as a great separator between the duck, crab and fish.
Finally the dessert; a truly Cantonese dessert of soy caramel, banana delice and chocolate on a peanut crunch base. Called the Golden Halo, it came with edible gold on top of a chocolate ball. You break open the ball with a spoon and its thick chocolate sauce contents slowly runs out across the dessert. It is a superb dish to end the meal. Truly unique, and of Cantonese style, it provided a memorable finale to the meal.
Hakkasan Mayfair clearly deserves its Michelin Star. The food was inspiring, unique and supported with a service that reflects its status.
The Chinese New Year menu at Hakkasan Mayfair is priced at £88.88 per person, for a minimum of two people, and is available from 22 January to 22 February 2016. I’d say it’s probably the best and most civilised way to start the Chinese New Year.
17 Bruton Street,
London W1J 6QB