Chinese restaurant takes away Michelin star

The march of ethnic cuisine from the suburban high street to the highest echelons of the gastronomical hierarchy quickened yesterday when a Chinese restaurant became the only one in the country to hold a coveted Michelin star.

The march of ethnic cuisine from the suburban high street to the highest echelons of the gastronomical hierarchy quickened yesterday when a Chinese restaurant became the only one in the country to hold a coveted Michelin star.

Hakkasan, a basement temple to Cantonese food in central London which featured in the film About A Boy, is only the fifth Chinese restaurant to be granted a star in the award's 103-year history.

Despite its status as one of the world's most popular cuisines, accounting for some 31 per cent of all restaurant food eaten in Britain in an industry worth an estimated £700m a year, it has long been looked down upon.

But Hakkasan, which is owned by Alan Yau, founder of the Wagamama chain of noodle bars, could not be further from the traditional image of the Chinese eaterie. Chicken chow mein and prawn crackers are conspicuous by their absence from Hakkasan's menus, which instead feature Peking duck with beluga caviar or bird's nest and foie gras soup with wolfberry.

Mr Yau, who recruited Tong Chee Hwee, his top chef, from the Ritz Carlton in Singapore, said the star was a sign of growing self-confidence among proponents of Chinese food.

But he said he would not pursue further stars: "I think we have provided a platform to show how wonderful Chinese food can be," he said. "The problem in the past has been that there have not been enough players at the highest level to show off this cuisine. But it would create too much pressure to go for more stars. You practically have to move a farm and grow all your own produce – it becomes an obsession."

The authors of the Michelin Red Guide, the annual run-down of the nation's most best restaurants, said its judges had been impressed by the restaurant's desire to break the mould of Chinese food in Britain.

A spokesman said: "It is the only one that has a star in Britain. The award confirms the status of London as one of the great food capitals, as it attracts the best cuisine from around the world."

The restaurant, which opened in May 2001, places its customers in surroundings as slick as its dishes with white marble and dark oak tables and screens painted with Chinese characters providing discrete privacy.

It has gained a high-profile following with regular diners including Sting and his wife Trudie Styler, and former All Saint singers Melanie Blatt and Shaznay Lewis.

But the restaurant was one of only a handful of Asian and Oriental enterprises to gain entry to the exclusive Michelin club, which is dominated by exponents of French, Italian and British cuisine.

Of the 107 starred restaurants in the latest guide, two are Indian (Tamarind and Zaika), one Japanese (Nobu) and one Thai (Nahm). All are in central London.

Other changes to the pecking order of nation's restaurant aristocracy included the elevation of Pied à Terre, a French restaurant in London described by one reviewer as a "gastronomic jewel", from one star to two.

Newcomers ranged from Locanda Locatelli, the new central London creation of Italian chef and restaurateur Giorgio Locatelli, which received one star, to more far-flung locations such as The Abbey in Penzance and Number One in Edinburgh, which also received one star.

Star dishes - a selection from Hakkasan

Stir fry of jellyfish, squid, beansprouts and Chinese chives (£8.50)

Hakka vermicelli with dried shrimp roe and smoked chicken served with yellow chive consomme (£8.50)

Stir fry of ostrich with preserved red rice and Shao Hsing wine (£12.50)

Roasted silver cod with champagne and Chinese honey (£22)

Shark's fin claypot soup with dried scallop and shitake mushroom and bamboo pith (£38)

Live native lobster noodle with ginger and spring onion (£38)

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