Hakkasan in Hanway Place is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a commemorative menu across both its London sites that embraces traditional Cantonese ingredients and modern techniques. Lisa Jenkins reports.
Back in April 2021 nightlife giant Tao Hospitality announced its acquisition of the Hakkasan Group for an undisclosed sum, creating what it described as a "premium hospitality powerhouse".
The group operates 61 entertainment, dining and nightlife venues in 22 markets across five continents, including Tao's Marquee, Beauty & Essex, Lavo, Cathédrale and Koma, now alongside Hakkasan's Yauatcha, Omnia, Ling Ling, Jewel and Casa Calavera.
The jewels in the crown are the Michelin-starred Hakkasan in London's Mayfair and the original Hakkasan in Hanway Place, which opened in the capital in 2001 – making this year a celebration of 20 years of the Hakkasan experience.
Andrew Yeo, who took on the role of corporate executive chef of Hakkasan in June 2019, was formerly executive chef at the Ritz-Carlton company and the Miami Beach Edition. The chef, who was born and raised in Singapore, spent the early part of his career in several hotel sites, including overseeing the culinary direction of the Shanghai Edition and Ritz-Carlton properties in Montreal, Hong Kong and Dove Mountain in Arizona in the US.
Yeo was involved in the development of the 20-year anniversary menu at Hakkasan and told The Caterer that he wanted it "to reflect the history of the restaurants and its Cantonese cuisine". He says every dish on the menu is based around a traditional Cantonese or wider Chinese ingredient, which is enhanced with what is new to the market. His aim is to keep the cuisine's history alive by constantly updating the flavours and techniques.
The chef started his research early last year. "Our old menus were huge – pages and pages of dishes – they are much simpler now. We narrowed the celebratory menu dishes down by trawling through these menus and looking back at our social media accounts, including TripAdvisor, which was really all that was being used back then."
The menu (see below) is a combination of signature dishes and best sellers, including the Hakkasan dim sum trio, which is a "traditional dish" says Yeo, but modernised with the addition of an abalone and chicken parcel.
A consistent favourite of steamed hand-dived scallop has been updated with a brown-butter black bean sauce, a shallot and shrimp tuille and glass vermicelli. Meanwhile, the oatmeal Dover sole has been renewed with an osmanthus jelly and a garlic herb purée.
Yeo refines his menus based on the restaurant's region and demographic. He says: "We wouldn't serve the grouper dish that is popular in Hakkasan Shanghai [here in the UK]. It's served whole with its head there – that just wouldn't work in London."
The chef would like guests to remember the 20th anniversary menu as something that combines the old and the new, as well as a seamless menu that takes them on a journey of Cantonese cuisine. He adds: "If we have gained any new customers from the exposure to the anniversary celebrations, I'd like to think they will come back to see what the future holds."
Michelin standards must be maintained, and every dish is tested by a ‘guardian' who ensures the principles and structure of the dishes are preserved.
The future of Hakkasan is hinted at by his dish of 24-hour slow-roasted Ibérico char siu, made with a black garlic glaze, crackling and mustard dressing. The dish could be accompanied by the Sea of Clouds (£24), a smoking theatrical cocktail of Ciroc vodka, passion fruit, popcorn, miso and Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2012 reduction.
"The Ibérico pork dish is the direction we will take. I hope this becomes a future signature dish – it personifies what we are trying to achieve: a blend of the best ingredients with Cantonese flavours and techniques."
Behind the sleek blue screens that separate the kitchen, which houses up to 50 staff, from the dark and sophisticated downstairs restaurant, the energy is high with bank of woks amid the dishes of aromatic Peking duck and deep-fried wontons.
As Yeo and his teams start to plan for their next milestone, he is excited. "Just like our Sea of Clouds, Hakkasan should include smoke and theatre. We want our guests to see it, smell it, look at it, taste it – not in every dish, but a few; for the theatre and the wow!"
The anniversary menu
- Hakkasan dim sum trio: scallop shui mai, langoustine har gau, abalone and chicken parcel
- Steamed hand-dived scallop, brown-butter black bean sauce, shallot, and shrimp tuille, glass vermicelli
- Oatmeal Dover sole, osmanthus jelly, garlic herb purée
- Stir-fry black pepper rib eye beef with Merlot
- Signature Pipa duck: Inspired by the Chinese musical instrument, the pipa. The duck is roasted to achieve a crispy skin and succulent meat, complemented by a sweet sauce (£38 supplement)
Side and noodle
- Golden mixed vegetable yam ring, macadamia nut
- Supreme stock-braised lobster with egg noodle nests, lobster wontons
- Sake, plum and vanilla: caramelised chocolate cream with plum and raspberry jelly, sake vanilla foam, opaline tuille, plum sponge, plum sorbet, caramelised pine nuts, mint cress, and viola
£110 per person; available for parties of two or more
- The Hakkatini: Orange infused Belvedere vodka, apple, Campari, Grand Marnier, orange cream bitters £18
A job for life
Sharon Wightman, general manager of Hakkasan Hanway Place, has been with the group for almost 20 years and has worked in almost every London site. She started her career while Yau was still involved at Busaba and joined Hakkasan in 2002 as a manager at Ling Ling (upstairs at Hakkasan Mayfair), when it was just a drinking lounge where guests could smoke cigarettes and cigars.
As the general manager of the 220-seat Hanway Place, which averages 300 covers on a weekday dinner service and 350 covers at a weekend (Hanway Place is currently closed at lunchtimes), Wightman oversees a team of six managers including the head chef.
Her role includes a daily walk round ensuring everything is up to Michelin standards and a check on all items requiring maintenance front and back of house. Her day-to-day features plenty of meetings, sales calls, operations calls, and more recently a new retail project for Mooncakes, a Chinese bakery product traditionally eaten during the mid-autumn festival.
Recruiting enough staff has also been at the top of her agenda the last few months, as well as overseeing some of the group's other sites. "I'm lucky to have such a unique role, and I'm fortunate to be able to work on the other brands. Every day is different here at Hakkasan, but I particularly enjoy being able to nurture people and support them in developing their careers and their own ventures."
Yau's legacy around the world
Hakkasan was founded by chef and entrepreneur Alan Yau, who was born in Sha Tau Kok, a border town between Hong Kong and mainland China. He emigrated to England in 1962 with his family.
Yau and his family are considered ‘Hakka', as they were originally from northern China but later migrated to South China. Hakkasan is a merging of the word ‘Hakka' and ‘San', a title added to the end of words in Japanese to show deep respect and honour to a person.
Yau grew to become one of the most influential chefs and restaurant entrepreneurs in London, creating not only Hakkasan but also Yauatcha and Wagamama.
Hakkasan now has multiple restaurants around the world located in the US, the Middle East, Asia and Europe.
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