Almost eighteen months after the hoardings went up, the first Chinese outpost of Michelin-starred chain Hakkasan has arrived in Shanghai. Since opening its doors in 2001, the London original has spawned a global empire and won critical plaudits (our sister publication Time Out London
deemed it ‘the benchmark against which all high-end Chinese restaurants should be judged’
). The move to the Mainland is a ballsy one, though, considering Hakkasan’s stock in trade: contemporary Chinese cuisine at steep prices. While the name alone is likely to prove a huge draw for business travellers and expats, the question remains whether they can convince moneyed locals.
Early signs are promising. With a big-ticket name at the helm – executive chef de cuisine Alvin Chan, who’s worked at a slew of high-end restaurants including Dubai’s Burj Al Arab – plus a plum spot in Bund 18 (also home to Mr & Mrs Bund
and Bar Rouge) the two major ingredients for success are already there. A few weeks in, the place was buzzing with city slickers and skinny model types sipping pink Champagne.
Stylishly fusing dark wood lattices with moody lighting, the decor creates pockets of light and shadow – all the better to highlight the razor-sharp cheekbones of its fashionable clientele. A front lounge area affords obligatory sweeping views of the Bund, alongside a handful of private dining rooms for those not subscribing to the see-and-be-seen credo, with the clubby soundtrack lending a pre-party feel. Service, a stumbling block in many other top-drawer restaurants, is like a well-oiled machine, pulling off fast table turns without rushing.
All this is just window-dressing for the food, however. For those on tight budgets the ‘small eats’ menu is full of delicious, affordable and generously-proportioned dishes, which also work as starters for a larger meal. We saw the deep-fried salt and pepper squid (88RMB) on almost every table with good reason: there’s no hint of rubberiness in the tender interior, encased in a crunchy, chilli-flecked batter.
Dim sum is another Hakkasan signature, so much that they’re launching a late-night dining deal (11pm-2am daily from Friday 9), à la Mr & Mrs Bund and Mercato
. The dim sum platter (108RMB) features a colourful selection of scallop siew mai, har gau, chive dumpling and roast duck and mushroom dumpling. While the last is a touch bland, the elastic-skinned scallop variant bursts with squeaky-fresh shrimp.
For mains, steer clear of the classic Cantonese status symbol dishes – bird’s nest, sea cucumber, abalone – and plump instead for jasmine tea-smoked chicken (118RMB) with an antique mahogany lacquer and a deep smokiness. Happily, the succulent meat comes free from pesky shards which characterise local presentations.
Bones are given similarly short shrift in Chilean seabass stir-fried with Sichuan pepper (298RMB). Generous chunks of buttery fish are tumbled together with sweet basil, spring onion, whole roasted garlic cloves and chillies, imparting an understated, not blistering heat.
Stir-fried black pepper Angus sirloin with merlot (258RMB) is an emperor’s version of a frequently bungled classic. Often, this dish is cooked with inferior beef cuts which are given a liberal dose of meat tenderiser and pounded into submission, but not at Hakkasan.
The signature crispy duck with superior caviar is only for big spenders (688RMB/half, 1,288RMB/whole) but you actually get two dishes in one, starting with freshly steamed pancakes forming tiny fluffy beds for the juicy duck slices layered with baby cucumber julienne and mounds of caviar. The interior meat of the duck arrives later, sauteed in a choice of XO sauce, black bean sauce or ginger and spring onion.
Desserts skew towards Western favourites. It’s hard to choose between a giant brandy glass of lemon pot (88RMB), five-spice apple sided with ginger ice-cream and mulberries (88RMB) or the chocolate sphere with molten sauce poured tableside (88RMB) – we’re lobbying for a taster plate of all three.
While mutterings about paying a premium for a big brand name are somewhat unavoidable, we say there’s real substance behind Hakkasan’s style.
Note: they're offering brunch every Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 3pm