Monday, December 11 2017

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Golden Week feast shines

Update: January, 05/2015 - 16:19

Duck and caviar: Peking duck with Royal Beluga caviar

by Pauline D. Loh

There is a Hakkasan in Beverly Hills, another in Las Vegas, a third in San Francisco and still another in New York. It is where homesick Chinese in the United States go for an authentic menu away from the standard sweet-and-sour gravy and lobster sauce.

Many years ago, the first Hakkasan started in London. But, it was only in March this year that Hakkasan came to China, a prophet returned to the native land. Both international and local food critics were all agog to see if the message Hakkasan was preaching abroad would sit well with the natives.

The test came when we were invited to do a tasting of the "Golden Week" menu, a special set to be available in all Hakkasan restaurants worldwide, so Chinese at home and abroad can celebrate National Day with a good feast, like they do at every festival. At the original Hakkasan in London, its Chinese executive chef has created a menu to please aficionados of Chinese food.

The menu being offered in Shanghai at 18 on the Bund is slightly adjusted, offering a braised whole Liaoning sea cucumber as a main course option to a much safer lobster dish. Sea cucumber, even if you call it beche de mer, is definitely an acquired taste, although it will probably find a more enthusiastic following in China then Beverly Hills or Las Vegas, and more so in the north than in the south of the Middle Kingdom.

Steamy: Dim sum

There is plenty to like in the set menu. Presentation is top class, and the Western-style take on Chinese dining can surprise, even delight, the hardened gourmet. I liked the Peking Duck with Caviar, two mouthfuls that combined taste, texture and luxury in equal amounts.

Two rectangles of duck skin are placed on trimmed pancakes, served with a dollop of caviar to add a dash of salt. The deeply rich red skin is garnished with edible gold. I applaud this as the most well balanced dish of the evening, of which the chef should be rightly proud.

The devil is in the details, and for a dish like this, it is in the amount of fat left under the skin. Too much, and there is an explosion of oil that will cloy the palate, too little and the skin is just dry crackling with no flavour to it.

The appetizer set of four dumplings comes with a brush, in addition to chopsticks, and you are expected to "apply" the chili sauce with the brush. We laughingly comply, suppressing our desire to dip the whole dumplings into the platter of sauce.

The dim sum is rich, with a variety of prawns, pork, scallops and minced duck and if I had to pick a nit, it would be that, presented in a bamboo steamer, the diner has no way of knowing that they should eat the lighter flavoured seafood dumplings first, or have their taste buds muddled. The menu includes some comfort food that will strike a pleasant chord, a Sichuan pepper prawn and a stir-fried black pepper beef.

Both have the hearty celebratory flavours suitable for a National Day banquet. The portions at Hakkasan are generous, more characteristic of Chinese restaurants in the West than in China. Quality is also assured and I think that the set meal for two is very good value.

Gilded:Golden Macaron set

Hakkasan

Address: 5F, 18 On the Bund Zhongshan Dong Yilu (Near Nanjing Donglu)

Telephone: (86) 021-6321-5888

Many friends, who knew of my fondness for the LA/Beverly Hills/San Francisco Hakkasans, were quick to ask me what I thought of the restaurant in Shanghai. It did set me pondering as to why I was not quite raving. Then I had it.

If I were abroad and homesick, Hakkasan is heaven sent. In China, however, it takes on a slightly foreign tone and I cannot help but compare it to the local specialists. I have to add that's extremely unfair.

I applaud Hakkasan and its founders for bringing real Chinese cuisine out to Europe and the United States, and I will be forever grateful to them for having assuaged my cravings for Chinese as a homesick journalist away from Asia.

It will have to find its own levels in Shanghai, where the best of international and Chinese cuisines rub shoulders at such close proximity. I'll tell you how Hakkasan scores above all else. It is the ambiance, the setting, the music, the lighting, the wine list, even the tea list. They make dining a complete experience, even down to the chili brushes. — China Daily

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