Hakkasan comes well recommended by the online coeliac community, so I had been anticipating this lunch reservation excitedly for weeks. Unfortunately my high expectations plus a double-glutening in the week, followed by reading AA Gill on Chinese food in the morning meant meant I was spoiling for a bit of a fight! It took me 2 (luckily delicious) cocktails from the large and inspired menu before I’d unwound enough to enjoy myself. The setting is part private members club, part incense-heavy massage parlour so I wasn’t sure whether to be irritated by the pretentiousness or relaxed to begin with. Not least when I couldn’t figure out how to get into the bathroom among all the dark wood and dim lighting.
For round one (ding ding) I challenged them on the menu. There are plenty of things for coeliacs to choose from on a well-thumbed (read ‘dirty’) GF menu, but unfortunately the dim sum and the good value set menu were off-limits and they were unwilling to switch out any of the dishes meaning mine automatically cost double the price of the GEH’s meal. But then you probably aren’t in a Michelin starred restaurant for the value- I’m niggling.
So to round two: the starter (or ‘small eat’). Duck with mango & lemon was a triumph of presentation, but my taste buds were confused- expecting the syrupy, insipid Chinese of my takeaway memories, and getting something zingy. Pleasant, but there was a bit of a clash – the mango was firm and under-ripe and the duck was a little flavourless. I went from smug to eyeing up the GEH’S forbidden dim sum in seconds. That and lusting after the duck at Min Jiang.
Round three fared much better. Poppingly fresh butterflied prawns with subtly sweet, crisp lily root. The prawns were having a bit of a skirmish with a gloopy curry leaf sauce that seemed a little over salted but had a nice spicy buzz. Round four was the killer blow. After a little tussle over whether I could have the pannacotta (no – naughty layer of unlisted sponge cake) I broke with a habit of a lifetime and chose fruit (which isn’t really a pudding). Not the overpriced seasonal plate of fruit, but the chilled melon soup which arrived with a theatrical flourish, and despite its simplicity was an intriguing, innovative mix of flavours and textures with vanilla and mint giving it a creamy touch, and curiously satisfying chewy balls of frozen watermelon. Unusual for a dessert to be the standout dish.
All in all I think Hakkasan won, the service and ambience were casual, and two cocktails to the wind I feel safe to enjoy my afternoon. The poor GEH has to put up with a lot!
Lunch for two with cocktails clocked in at £130.