HKK Broadgate West, Worship Street, London EC2
Is the Hakkasan group's latest proposition worth the City-slicker prices?
Lisa Markwell is the editor of The Independent on Sunday. She was previously executive editor of The Independent, i and The Independent on Sunday and has edited the features pages, and both the Saturday and Sunday supplements. She writes comment pieces for the papers and restaurant reviews for the New Review. Lisa has worked across a variety of newspapers and magazines and can now tick off every publication cycle from daily to quarterly. She is an enthusiastic foodie, mother of two teenagers and drives an electric car. She is writing a book about adoption.
Sunday 24 February 2013
The "bespoke Cantonese fine dining" restaurant HKK is the latest opening from the Hakkasan group, which scored a Michelin star with the original eponymous restaurant and, more recently, has given Londoners the haute (and strange – beef with candyfloss, anyone?) Japanese Chrysan.
HKK occupies the same anonymous metal-and-glass City carapace as Chrysan – financiers must have the same enhanced sense of gastronomic direction as they do for sniffing out advantageous interest rates. Once inside, sitting on a banquette in the surprisingly modest dining-room, things take a turn for the posh.
I suspect that only I see the resemblance in the po-faced installation above the central food station to pink buttocks (it's a collection of round bone china peaches that bob about, lit with rosy hue). I snigger. My banquette neighbours pull their iPads a little closer.
I receive a menu – a change to HKK's original ethos of offering only an epic eight-course set lunch (£48) or 15-course dinner (£95). Chef Tong Chee Hwee's idea was to take the best available produce and use both traditional and modern techniques to send out unknown dishes that delight.
Now there's an à la carte section, so I'm guessing not everyone liked the idea. (I imagine a captain of industry murmuring, "Chef Tong, I think you've delighted us long enough.") But since I've nowhere to go this afternoon, I choose the eight-course lunch tasting menu, while Mr M (a late sub for my cancelled lunch date) goes temporarily veggie.
Round one, and a "four treasure Iberico ham wrap" is a couture mouthful, bright veggies wrapped in a crimson strip – but Mr M's Suan-tian-ku-la tomato is the hands-down winner: two halves of a dried tomato contain finely diced vegetables and "vegetarian chicken" with a punchy citrus dressing. The crisp, sweet fruit melts in the mouth.
Round two: a dim-sum trilogy, three jewel-like buns. To be eaten clockwise, please. A winningly gelatinous har gau contains very good prawns; a rusty-red Szechuan dumpling has a terrific balance of minced chicken and prawn; finally, a crisp pastry shell with silky turnip inside. Good stuff.
More instruction as the cherry-wood-roasted Peking duck arrives. A chef stands under the bobbing peaches/bums and cuts a perfect rectangle of crisp skin, a wedge of tender meat with skin, and breast meat to be wrapped in a pancake. There's a smear of plum sauce, a sprinkling of sugar and micro salad (with a slightly musty taste). Skin, then meat, then pancake, please.
I decide I'd rather have an audio guide – like the ones at the National Gallery – than struggle to hear my accented waiter recite the dishes. Not that he's anything other than charming, but with this level of fiddliness, I sometimes need to rewind and hear again.
Rattling on, bowls of simmering broth arrive with soup spoons filled with goji berries and dried scallop/hawthorn and so on, to stir into the soup, "wait 60 seconds" and then consume. There's probably an app to time that. This is the dud course – even with its accessories, the soup is lacklustre and, well, not very "fragrant".
A crisp fashioned from sweet potato and two tiny orange-stained water chestnuts are a great foil for glossy, soft Wagyu beef. Lovely and, like the pillowy scallop in the next course, reassuringly expensive to source. The scallop is deftly garnished with garlic and chilli that takes it to the edge of nuclear.
By now it's just after 2pm and the restaurant is near-deserted: just a couple of CEOs barrelling through the wine list with abandon, and us. A dessert of lychee tapioca with passion-fruit chiboust is like a tender kiss, followed by a mouth-puckering salted lime jelly with a pineapple fritter. The veggie one is almost identical – only no gelatin in the jelly, our waiter smiles.
When it's right, Chef Tong's flavour-balance is oh-so-good. Go if you want to try on "moneyed", to see how it feels.
Watch out, though, because the cancellation policy for less than 24 hours' notice is £40 at lunch and £80 at dinner. Not that it'll worry the regulars – I expect that if Mr Sleek Suit misses his flight back, Mr Sleek Suit II takes his reservation…
SCORES: 1-3 STAY AT HOME AND COOK, 4 NEEDS HELP, 5 DOES THE JOB, 6 FLASHES OF PROMISE. 7 GOOD. 8 CAN'T WAIT TO GO BACK. 9-10 AS GOOD AS IT GETS
HKK Broadgate West, Worship Street, London EC2, tel: 020 3535 1888 Lunch and dinner, Mon-Fri; dinner, Sat. £120 for two, including soft drinks
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