It’s Chinese New Year on Thursday 19 February and we’ll be entering the Year of the Sheep then (sometimes also referred to as the Year of the Goat). To celebrate this occasion, I was invited to try the Chinese New Year menu at HKK, part of the Hakkasan Group here in London. HKK only serves tasting menus in the evening but from 26 January to 28 February, the menu is one specially designed by Tong Chee Hwee, executive head chef of the Hakkasan Group, with all eight of China’s great regional cuisines represented – a veritable culinary journey through the country. We were clearly going to be in for a treat.
The restaurant isn’t very far from Liverpool Street station and to my surprise (I hadn’t paid much attention to the address until I got there), the restaurant is located at 88 Worship Street. 88! (If you don’t know, 8 is a very lucky number in Chinese.) Inside, the restaurant was smaller than I expected but it’s cosy, not crowded. We were led to our table where we were first presented with a drinks menu and then a beautiful specially illustrated menu for the Chinese New Year meal. To drink, knowing we had 10 courses ahead of us, we chose a medium bodied tea (a Dong Ding oolong) to accompany our meal.
First up was Marinated Duke of Berkshire pork with Osmanthus wine jelly, representative of Su Cuisine from Suzhou and Jiangsu. The light jellied bites were perfectly paired with the sweet and sour balsamic vinegar.
For Lu Cuisine from Beijing and Shandong, it had to be the Cherry wood roasted Peking duck. Here’s one of the chefs carving up our duck and Pedro plating it up.
This was some of the best duck we’d ever had in London. We were instructed to start with the crisp skin with sugar, then eat the delectably dressed little salad, move on to the succulent slice of duck meat and skin and finally finish with the duck in the pancake. I could have had another three plates of this (but perhaps just having one is for the best!).
From the south in Guangdong comes Yue (or Cantonese) Cuisine. Here we were presented a steamer basket with a Dim sum trilogy. This was a little sampling of the dim sum they offer at lunch (from an a la carte menu). Pink was a goji berry and prawn dumpling and green was a chicken and black truffle dumpling but the fried king crab puff was my favourite! The paintbrush turned out to be a perfect applicator for soy sauce!
Fujian’s Min Cuisine was represented by Monk Jumps Over The Wall, a classic broth filled with luxurious seafood – abalone, sea cucumber, dried scallops and imitation sharks fin. The story goes that the smell of this soup was so enticing that it prompted a monk to jump over the wall to get some (and, of course, break his vegetarian diet!).
As our waiter cleared our bowls, he announced that that was the end of our starters and the start of our main courses. The first main came from Hunan (Xiang Cuisine) and was Pan-grilled Chilean seabass in Sha Cha sauce. These rolls of fish filled with crunchy vegetables and mushrooms were utterly gorgeous, especially with the slightly spicy sauce and that crunchy sweet potato ribbon.
Hui Cuisine from Anhui came next. This was Jasmine tea smoked poussin, which while pleasant enough probably didn’t require the black truffled mushrooms underneath. The strong truffle flavour certainly overpowered whatever hint of jasmine and smoke there may have been in the bird. This was the only weak point in the meal.
Luckily, the Braised King soy Wagyu beef with Merlot (Zhe Cuisine from Zhejiang) made up for the previous course. That beef melted in the mouth and we wiped up every bit of that luscious sauce. That green flag on top was the stem of pak choi; now I normally consider this to be one of the more boring Chinese vegetables but its juicy blandness here was a perfect foil to the rich beef.
Finally we travelled to Sichuan for Chuan Cuisine. The Sichuan chargrilled New Zealand scampi was cooked beautifully and there is certainly some good heat in the mala sauce!
It’s here I’ll pause and point out that the dishes came out quite quickly, without lengthy waits in between the courses. It wasn’t quick enough to feel rushed but I thought it was all very well paced. We were asked if we would like a break between the savouries and dessert but we were ready to soldier on. Bring it.
Desserts were Chinese inspired and were the perfect playful ending to the meal. A Trio of dark chocolate dumplings with yuzu and ginger infusion burst in the mouth and the rich chocolate was cut with the zing of the infusion poured on top.
Our second dessert and final course of the tasting menu was all sheep! See the spun sugar ‘wool’ on the middle of the plate? This was the Sheep’s milk mousse, pandan curd and caramelised puff rice, a combination that originally didn’t call out to me but trust me when I say it’s incredible.
Of course, a 10-course tasting menu at HKK doesn’t come cheap (it’s £98) but then again, this isn’t an everyday restaurant. With only tasting menus available in the evenings, it’s clearly for special occasions and we felt the price was about correct for the outstanding food and for a special event. There’s an 8-course menu also available for £68; it’s the 10-course menu but without the pricier shellfish dishes. Vegetarian menus are also available as are alcoholic and non-alcoholic pairings for each course. I’m looking forward to returning for lunch one day – perhaps for their 5-course duck menu!
Thank you very much again to HKK for the invitation!
88 Worship Street
London EC2A 2BE