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[Radar]: Hakkasan

It's finally open. Fancy, fashionable Chinese cuisine with Michelin cred comes via the UK. It's on the Bund, right where it belongs.
2014-04-03 13:46:35
Area: Bund 18. That, as you probably already know, is quite a prestigious address. Hakkasan resides on the fifth floor, the previous home to another fancy Chinese restaurant called Tan Wai Lou. Other tenants in the building include Mr & Mrs Bund and Bar Rouge. Downstairs there is some stuff in the works as well. We wrote about it last week.

What it is: Fancy, fashionable Michelin-starred Chinese that comes to Shanghai via, of all places, London, England. Ironically, before reaching China's shores, Hakkasan had already set up outposts in Miami, New York, San Francisco, Vegas and Mumbai. Hell, even Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha — three cities that don't dig on pork, that staple of Chinese cuisine — even had branches before Shanghai. Nightlifers, diners-out and other Shanghai denizens have been anticipating this restaurant's arrival for at least 18 months. That's about how long the signage has been posted outside the door.

So what took so long? The official answer that I got at the press conference had to do with market research, prudence, not wanting to dive in too quickly and all that. But, I suspect that the unofficial answer is a little more complicated than that and has more to do with bureaucratic snags and the usual difficulties sourcing ingredients and booze. The fact that a known quantity like Hakkasan has global standards to maintain across all of its stores probably increased those complications exponentially. I shudder to think of what these guys had to deal with just to get their wine list together — they've got a whole line of house wines that was previously unavailable in China. Think of the rivers of red ink used just to accomplish that task. I'm sure sourcing ingredients that stand up to the same quality that they're serving in New York and San Francisco proved a monumental challenge as well.

Anyway, now that it's open what can you expect? Contemporary Cantonese. It's opulent in the traditional Cantonese sense with status dishes like braised abalone or bird's nest. It's also opulent in a more Western sense — think crispy roast duck with a dollop of Beluga caviar. True to Chinese from, the menu is expansive with quite a bit of range in price and style. There are familiar dishes like salt and pepper squid or sugar snaps and water chestnuts with XO sauce. Some are slight variations from tradition, like jasmine tea-smoked chicken or pepper steak with stir-fried with merlot. Or there are signatures like roasted silver cod in a sauce of champagne and honey. Some, like the duck and the caviar, seem like unnecessary gestures. Others, like the cod, are truly unique and delicious.

Dim sum is another big feature. Most of the selection is dishes you already know with added little fancy elements, like crystal dumplings with morel mushrooms and truffle pumpkin puffs. It will be available for a weekend brunch (Sat–Sun, 11am–3pm). Starting April 25, they'll introduce a late-night dim sum menu as well.

Atmosphere: This is Hakkasan's strong suit. The place looks good. It will match a suit without a tie and the top two buttons undone. It'll also look pretty nice with a slinky dress and a designer clutch. The main dining room is a labyrinth of elaborate Chinese screens — Hakkasan's signature cage motif. It creates all kinds of little private nooks with shadows and dim lights. On the periphery are a lounge with a Huangpu view, a bar and a couple of private dining areas. Furnishings are made of plush leather occasionally embroidered with colorful phoenixes and dragons. It's a beautiful touch. Music will undoubtedly skew electronic and be matched to the progression of the evening — down-tempo at dinner, up-tempo in the later hours. There is a booth for DJs and there is talk of bringing international acts on occasion.

Damage: It's a broad range of prices. Small plates, like salt and pepper squid, start around 88rmb, and you can spend as much as 2388 for supreme abalone. At the middle of the bell curve prices are closer to 200 to 400rmb. Ultimately, it's Bund 18. You're here to flaunt it. So plan on spending some money.

Who's going: See-and-be-seen sceners. Fashionable types with lots of disposable income and the hangers-on that tend to follow them. These are Hakkasan's bread and butter.