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Hakkasan

My family dined at Hakkasan for Father's day and I hope that our experience will be helpful.

The restaurant has been much discussed, mostly negatively, with regard to decor, food and pricing. The restaurant needs an awning or sign. The door to the restaurant is difficult to find and other than secret societies and private glee clubs, restaurants shouldn't make it difficult for patrons to find the entrance.

The restaurant is capacious, maybe overly so, there's a lot of wasted space and the cavernous dark hallway makes it feel more like a nightclub than a restaurant. Overall I didn't have issues with the Chinese by way of Blade Runner interiors but the music is overly loud, thumping, distracting and completely inappropriate for an upscale dining experience.

Service was in the vein of upscale casual restaurants, friendly and solicitous, think Union Square Cafe or Mas Farmhouse. Professional but still rough around the edges and the ignorance of Chinese cuisine is disheartening. Not that waiters should be experts on the cuisines they are serving but for an upscale restaurant, I expect more training. There were lovely thoughtful touches, the waiter having overheard we were celebrating a family event, wrote congratulations on the dessert and all the staff wished my father a happy father's day as we were leaving.

As for the food. I will refrain from going on a diatribe but I will disagree strongly with Pete Wells and Adam Platt, both of whom call their professionalism into question with their jarringly inaccurate reviews in contrast with my experience. First, my experience, dishes ordered may vary greatly from theirs and perhaps there is inconsistency of preparation. That being said, the food at Hakkasan ranged from good to exceptional.

Highlights included the pipa duck. As a duck lover this dish is non pareil, text book perfection of moist duck elegantly presented with exacting cuts of rectangular medallions. The skin is crisp and refined, the meat is tender counterpoint with clear, rich duck flavor, lacking the gaminess I find objectionable in ducks that are mass farmed. The saucing is judicious and if served with steamed mantou, it would set a high standard for Peking duck iterations in NYC. I have had duck in many restaurants, many highly esteemed Western restaurants, and the flabby skin always disappoints. Even when I ask, if the skin is crisp and am invariably informed yes, it never is. The skin at Hakkasan is perfection and it puts other restaurants to shame.

The chilean sea bass with Chinese honey was another standout. The fish is cooked firm but tender with skill to avoid the overly soft preparations at other establishments. The miso cod at Nobu, for all its fame, was not prepared as skillfully as this honey fish at Hakkasan. The fish is laquered with a wafer thin crust of honey that is indescribably complex, herbaceous and floral. The flavor is not immediately enticing, it's challenging to the palate and satisfies like a piece of fine chocolate. The dish is topped with battered crisp mushrooms and offers a pleasing parallel texture structure of crisp and soft.

We ordered the vegetarian dim sum platter and the steamed (meat) dim sum platter. The vegetable dim sum platter has vibrant contrasts of textures, crisp, crunchy with soft, rich. Herbs are used generously and pungently. The skin of the crystal dumpling is beautifully translucent. The skill in the preparation of the dim sum is by far among the best of the East and West coast. It puts Koi Palace to shame. Is it the best dim sum I've ever had? No, but certainly respectable and in NY, only rivaled by Chinatown Brasserie.

As a side note, the chili dipping sauce is searingly spicy, thankfully so.

The stir fry pepper beef was well prepared, the protein was of unquestionable quality, lacking gristle and uniformly tender. The sear was exceptional, the high heat wok sear that is undefinable but whispers of how it was prepared. Overall the dish was well received but acknowledged as unexceptionally creative, nor was the quality of the ingredients as elevated above the competition, such as the duck. Good steak is not hard to find.

The three style mushroom was a gorgeous array of fresh, plump, firm mushrooms complimented by a rich sauce and the luxurious fat of macadamian nuts.

The Hakka noodle is a master class in stir-frying, the noodles also had that breath of wok sear, but was censured for being delicately portioned.

No one wanted to pay for rice.

The desserts were excellent. The pastry chef should be proud as clearly the skill demonstrated shows pride in execution and technique.

The apple tarte tatin is head and shoulders above Artisanal and gives Balthazar a run for its money.

The chocolate "bar" is vastly superior to the version at Eleven Madison Park in flavor, texture and presentation with elegant gold ombre and rich pure flavor complimented by the sensation of the accompanying "snow"

The desserts would acquit themselves admirably in 3-4 star kitchens across the city, regardless of cuisine.

Total bill, including tax and tip was $288 for 5 adults.

While Hakkasan is undoubtedly an expensive restaurant and my members of my party experienced sticker shock, after all was said and done, Hakkasan was no where near the most expensive restaurant we've dined at in NYC. Not even the most expensive Chinese restaurant. My family has dined at EMP, Daniel, Bouley, Le Bernadin, Del Posto, etc. etc. Hakkasan was less expensive than all of the above. Full disclosure, the portions at Hakkasan are delicate, but not excessively so. Shared plates compare to the portions of tasting menus and there are few upscale restaurants where we truly leave full. BUT there is a definite perception of Hakkasan being expensive, because the entrees are higher in price than your typical Chinese restaurant in NY. What Hakkasan attempts is the super luxury category of EMPs, Bouley's etc. There is no direct comparison to other Chinese restaurants. No other Chinese restaurant in NYC aspires to be on that level.

In my opinion, Hakkasan has been judged unfairly, partially, and ignorantly by both people who have dined at the restaurant and worse by those who haven't. The skill level at Hakkasan puts it squarely at the top of the Chinese restaurant scene in New York. Comparison to current food media darlings Mission Chinese and Red Farm are as laughable as comparing Per Se to Balthazar. I enjoy both, and welcome the broadening tapestry of Chinese food in NYC but the difference in skill is palpable. The quality of ingredients at Hakkasan is unquestionable. The price is high, but unless ordering the "treasures" dishes with caviar, abalone, etc. not more so than other comparable restaurants. And most surprisingly, the desserts are better than restaurants that are FAMOUS for their pastry chefs. To award Hakkasan one star out of four or no stars a la Platt is ignorant and ridiculous. Negative hype has overwhelmed this restaurant and is revolting in character. The food is expensive, no doubt, and so is rent in NYC, especially for a restaurant of its size, near Times Square. However, this restaurant is no more Ruby Foo than Marea is Olive Garden. While it misses the mark on ambiance and hits off notes with service, it has been overly penalized and excoriated for not being perfect, probably in part because it serves high end Chinese cuisine.

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  1. Wow. This review has me salivating... Pipa duck is as fav of mine and it's rare to find a good rendition.

    3 Replies
    1. re: FattyDumplin

      The duck is truly exceptional, be aware it is not a whole duck. But at $39 it was the same price or LESS expensive and similar in protein quantity than the duck I had at Mas Farmhouse or Daniel just to name a few, furthermore, the skin of the duck at Mas and Daniel was so far inferior I would have gladly paid more for the pipa duck at Hakkasan. I will try to post pictures tonight.

      1. re: Pookipichu

        Wow. I usually do sushi meals now when I go back to NYC because it's so lacking in hte Bay Area, but I just may have to try Hakkasan. Especially since you said this puts Koi Palace to shame, given my love for that place. If you like crisp skin, I have to say that hte Koi Palace roast sucking pig is a brilliant version.

        1. re: FattyDumplin

          Koi Palace is my go to place in the Bay Area with good reason and I don't want to give the opinion that Hakkasan's dim sum is universally amazing. There are things that Koi does just as well but it's the overall level of execution that feel is higher and barring the music, I like the space at Hakkasan better. I agree with Cheeryvisage that the soup dumplings are nothing to wax poetic about. There were also dim sum at Chinatown Brasserie that were more visually stunning and creative. Hakkasan's strong point is the quality of the ingredients and a general high level of skill in preparation.

    2. Thank you for your most excellent review!

      I've been enjoying Hakkasan's wonderful dim sum at brunch and now that Chinatown Brasserie has closed, it is the only dim sum place I visit. I've been holding back from going to Hakkasan for dinner due to the mixed reviews. But your review (along with ScoopG's in the other thread) has assured me that I should give them a try at dinner time.

      22 Replies
      1. re: Cheeryvisage

        The loss of Chinatown Brasserie is devastating. It was my favorite dim sum restaurant in NYC and Red Farm does not compare in my opinion. I will miss their taro swans, char siu bao, Peking duck, lotus wrapped sticky rice and suckling pig.

        PS - I have little doubt that Hakkasan, despite its high quality of food, will close, when I dined there, the restaurant was practically empty except for a handful of tables of overtly wealthy individuals. We were the only table of ordinary income people celebrating an occasion, which I remember reading in an article, is actually the lifeblood of most high end restaurants. For every Saudi prince dining at EMP, there are hundreds of ordinary people who have saved up for a special night out. As large as the space is, the restaurant must be bleeding money every day. So enjoy the restaurant while we still have it.

        1. re: Cheeryvisage

          What are the prices like for the dim sum brunch?...I can't find a dedicated brunch or dim sum menu online. Their site just lists some dim sum platters in the Small Eats section of the A La Carte menu.

          1. re: Silverjay

            The dim sum items mostly range from $8 to $15+, with the majority priced at $10. Each dim sum item comes with 3 pieces.

            I always order their steamed items. The only dim sum dish there I don't recommend is the Shanghai Siuw Long Buns (aka soup dumplings). You can get better versions in Chinatown.

            1. re: Cheeryvisage

              Cool. Thanks for the info and the recs.

          2. re: Cheeryvisage

            Remember cheeryvisage, there were more negative comments about Hakkasan on your original thread from hounds who had not eaten there, than those who had!

            1. re: scoopG

              I know, right?! I'm glad Pookipichu started a new thread. The other one was getting unwieldy.

              1. re: Cheeryvisage

                Like I said previously, I fully enjoyed Hakkasan both for lunch (dim sum, thanks to your information!) and dinner. :)

                As you said, it is the only dim sum place that I go to as well, now that Chinatown Brasserie is closed.

                I trust Wells and Platt more when they discuss western cuisine, but definitely not when they talk about Asian foods.

                1. re: kosmose7

                  The level of discourse on Chinese food is low at best (not directed at you Kosmose7 but generally speaking). Especially in New York. I went to Hakkasan, with trepidation due to the highly negative reviews. But almost every higher priced Chinese restaurant in New York has had scathing reviews from chowhounders, from Shun Lee, Mr. K, Chinatown Brasserie, etc.

                  If the successful, elegant and very expensive Wing Lei was transplanted to New York, I have no doubt, it also would also receive negative reviews.

                  Hakkasan is not faultless but perhaps there is more fault in the people reviewing than the restaurant. From pricing, to execution of food, there is such contradiction of measure. It's ok to serve $14 bread pudding (stale bread and milk) at Blue Ribbon or $14 for mashed avocadoes at Rosa Mexicano, or $20 for risotto (rice and cheese) at Babbo, $7 for a little bit of uni at 15 East, $13 for pancakes at Clinton St. (flour and milk) any organ meat dish at any expensive French restaurant... these restaurants are packed with people clamoring to pay.

                  Could Hakkasan be less expensive? Sure. If the space was more modest, even halved it would still be large, but overhead would be much lower. The restaurant is a miscalculation of market and it would have been better served by creating a more intimate space that highlights the food like Annisa. Then the restaurant would feel less empty, creating more buzz, or at least reducing the feeling of desolation. But even with the current pricing scheme (barring the absurd treasures) it is not more expensive than other fine restaurants and the skill level at Hakkasan, from my sampling of dishes, is very high. The degree of skill required to stir fry properly or prepare duck vastly exceeds that of mashing avocados or cooking pasta al dente.

                  I appreciate quality of ingredients and skill of preparation, regardless of cuisine. I've paid through the teeth for pizza at DiFara's or risotto at EMP, even though sometimes such things are not a good value, I take into consideration, the cost of running a business, marketing, rents, ingredients, skill, etc. Obviously others do as well.. just not so much when the cuisine is Chinese food.

                  It seems any Chinese restaurant that doesn't have razor thin margins has terrible food? Huge markups are acceptable for any other cuisine? Do you cook? Do you know how much it costs to make pancakes? I will not see eye to eye with some of the commenters on Hakkasan because the dissonance and hypocrisy is outrageous. It's perfectly reasonable not to dislike Hakkasan or feel it personally is not a good value proposition but such opinions should be taken in context when value and quality are not calculated in the same fashion as non-Chinese restaurants. Meaning if you are paying $29 with rhapsody for rigatoni at Marea.. whatever.

                  1. re: Pookipichu

                    This issue was also beaten to death on the old Hakkasan thread.

                    1. re: Pookipichu

                      Yeah, I know what you mean. As a Korean who have lived in Hong Kong for ten years, I really miss fine dining Chinese cuisine and fine dining Japanese, which don't seem to be popular in New York. Even Kyo Ya, which is so much praised here, is not quite in the same league as those fine dining Japanese restaurants found in Seoul, Singapore, or Hong Kong, not to mention Tokyo.

                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                      1. re: Pookipichu

                        I totally agree., we love Hakkasan . When in Miami, we done there at least 3 times in the 2months we are there. It is my granddaughters favorite restaurant in Miami Beachsince it's opening I'm New York, we have been there once for dinner and once for a dim sum brunch with our 3 granddaughters. We are going back for dinner this Saturday evening and we are looking forward to the experience.
                        The dim sum is un-rivaled, delicate and so flavorful .
                        Yes it is true, the prices are high and at those prices the portions should be larger.
                        Our worst objection is the ultra loud disco thumping . Cannot call it music. We have asked them to turn it down. I have heard many people with the same complaint.
                        We have even mentioned it on open table.
                        At the Sunday brunch, they play a very soothing background music. Sort of like massage music.
                        I do hope they survive....

                  2. re: scoopG

                    I ate there, and it was unredeemably awful in every way. New thread or not, it's on my tell-all-to-avoid list

                    1. re: Simon

                      Irredeemably awful in every way? You must have had a magically bad experience. I feel sorry for you. With such ill fortune, it's good that you never return there.

                      1. re: Pookipichu

                        not magically bad, just in line with all the other bad reports: super-high prices in a Vegasy atmosphere, w/ servers who don't know anything about the food and food that's, to quote Pete Wells, as "interesting as a box of paper clips"...my review is on the older thread...

                        I'm glad you enjoyed your dinner there, but your positive review of the place is an extreme outlier: while others have praised the dimsum brunch, the reviews of dinner there have been overwhelmingly negative...as evidenced by the older, more complete thread...

                        1. re: Simon

                          I listen with respect to people's opinions and I mean no disrespect to one of the reviewers in the previous thread, but for instance, he/she commented on disliking the stewed nature of a dish that is by nature stewed. That's like commenting how awful the coq au vin is at Daniel because it has a wine-like flavor. I especially take issue with the absurd hyperbole of Adam Platt's review and my estimation of him with regard to Chinese cuisine is less than negligible. It is not about Hakkasan being perfect, nor is it my favorite restaurant, it's about assessing the restaurant fairly.

                          1. re: Pookipichu

                            i didn't find any hyperbole in Platt's review: i thought his "Ruby Foo's for rich people" line as well as his descriptions of very bland mediocre food to be entirely fair and accurate...and i've eaten high-end Chinese food in HK, Shanghai (where i lived), Vancouver, and elsewhere...

                            the fact that chowhounds are even bothering to discuss the pros/cons of this chain restaurant is, if anything, overly generous to the restaurant...

                            1. re: Simon

                              disagree . The food is not mediocre. It's very good.

                              Totally disagree with wha you said.

                              1. re: newportt2004

                                I think the main problem is that some people have decided they don't like Hakkasan before they've been to it. Makes it ever so easy to not like it after they've been as well.

                                Adam Platt's review was ridiculous. Hakkasan is a serious restaurant and no more like Ruby Foo's than EMP is like Serendipity.

                                But I don't expect people to be impartial when it comes to expensive Chinese restaurants. The very same people who will over pay for food with any number of other cuisines.

                                1. re: Pookipichu

                                  So by saying "makes it ever so easy to not like it after they've been as well", you're saying the chowhounds who hated this restaurant can't judge a restaurant themselves...that if they disagree with you that they must be joining a bandwagon and not have any ability to judge a place impartially...

                                  That's very insulting to the board...as well as, imo, a bit implausible, given that every major critic like Wells and Platt and Reichl has commented on how bad a restaurant it is -- and most of those media reviews came out after many chowhounds like myself had "taken one for the team"...

                                  I'm done with this thread: because i fear it will detract from the original, very thorough 250+ comment thread which describes the many cons (clueless service, tiny portions, Vegas-like atmosphere, uninteresting food) and occassional pros (a tasty dimsum brunch) in detail...

                                  1. re: Simon

                                    Perhaps insulting but also perhaps nonetheless true..... I can point out inconsistencies and partiality, I too am tired though, minds are made up.

                                    You can retreat to a thread that coexists peacefully and reinforces your viewpoint. I do not need a sounding board or echo chamber to see the hypocrisy of various critics and posters.

                                    How Hill Country can get two stars while Hakkasan gets one or the Dutch receives 2 stars while Hakkasan receives none.... Hakkasan expensive? Chicken parm at OLIVE GARDEN in Times Square is over $20. A small bowl of sugar snap peas cost $14 at Union Square Cafe, a banana split is $22 at Serendipity, I could go on and on. The worst value, tiniest portions I've ever experienced was at Fatty Cue, where a tiny cup of CUCUMBERS with some sesame oil was $5, two small lamb ribs for $12, oh but no NYTimes mention of price or portion size there...

                                  2. re: Pookipichu

                                    Correct, it isn't your 1 from column A and 2 from column B Chinese restaurant.

                  3. Thanks Pookipichu for your very detailed and thoughtful review.

                    1. How many were in your party?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: scoopG

                        5 adults, it came to about $58 a person versus our dinner at EMP which was $1188, $237 a person. Of course somehow Hakkasan is exorbitantly expensive *rolls eyes*

                      2. Yes, thanks for your balanced and thoughtful review. Funny that we rarely the terms "overpriced French" or "overpriced Italian" food. It's what I call culinary racism.

                        4 Replies
                          1. re: huiray

                            I don't think that seven year old chestnut is valid today. Ruth Reichl is yet another Eurocentric gastronomer who does not understand fine Chinese dining. According to the 2010 Census data, the Asian population in NYC grew by 32% since the 2000 Census and Asians are now close to 13% of the NYC population. Seven neighborhoods here are now majority Asian, compared to only two in 2000.

                            According to the Central Bank of China, since 1990 over 18,000 elite level party cadres and government officials have managed to purloin $120 billion out of the country - that's an average of $7 million per filcher. These are modest estimates and do not include the wealthy rank and file regular Zhous. Bo Guagua needs someplace to mad chill.

                            1. re: scoopG

                              Maybe not as widely applicable now but I suspect the effects and mindset still linger in the larger populace.

                              Do you have data showing how much of that money flowed into NYC rather than to Vancouver/GTO/SGV etc - insofar as North America is concerned? What is the economic and professional level of the people recently flowing into NYC (rather than NJ or CT) who are raising the Chinese population in NYC, d'you or anyone else here know?

                              1. re: huiray

                                NYC figures are from the Asian American Federation here out of NY. I'd have to dig to see what they have culled from the 2010 Census figures regarding the west coast. Also it is worth noting that the Central Bank of China figures did not include the amount of money that has left China from the wealthier emigrants who have departed.

                                It has been established by scholars like Peter Kwong, Dusanka Miscevic (Hunter College) and Min Zhou (UCLA) that the well-heeled Chinese immigrants flock to the American ethnoburbs while the indigent ones head to the urban Chinatowns.