Hakkasan: A Review | Memosne

Hakkasan: A Review

When I was visiting my Uncle last month, he told me he really wanted to go to Hakkasan. Just by hearing the name, I thought it was a Japanese restaurant. Who knew it was a Chinese restaurant! (Probably everyone, but whatever.) This is actually the first time I’ve seen Chinese cuisine “elevated” towards a Western standard in the states. I’ve been to elegant restaurants in Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan, but reading about Hakkasan made me genuinely intrigued. I’d actually not heard of Hakkasan before, despite their myriad locations, and I must admit…I am generally very picky about Chinese food. I am my father’s daughter after all.

I’m not usually picky about anything else, but to me…I feel like I know Chinese food well. I mean, I did grow up with it. I also often feel like Chinese food is misrepresented by stereotypes and generalizations. Chow mein, fried rice, lemon chicken and spring rolls Chinese food does not make. Taking into account my love for Japanese food and Japanese “fusion-type” cuisines I've sampled, I was interested in seeing an “elevated version” of Chinese food. The best Chinese food I’ve had was when my dad was taking us around Hong Kong, the place where he grew up, and we were eating rice noodles in hole-in-the-wall type restaurants with maximum seating room for ten people. It was fun.

Going into Hakkasan feels a little pretentious. The restaurant is located by Westfield Center in the downtown area of SF. That area is always pretty busy and filled with tourists, so the juxtaposition from the busy street to the tranquil lobby is kind of abrupt. From the street entrance, you’ll step into a lobby with a dedicated desk and host/hostess to greet Hakkasan’s customers. The lobby is also heavily incensed, as in they burn a lot of it to create a certain atmosphere. I’m sure some people like it, but it gave me a vague headache. Being greeted at the bottom lobby, you then step into a sleek elevator that's been designated to take all of Hakkasan’s patrons to the main restaurant floor.

The d├ęcor was very chic and for some reason, at least for me, vaguely reminiscent of Las Vegas. Lots of dark shiny surfaces contrasted with high shine metals. The decorative accents they added were cute and reminded me of being in a “tearoom.” Latticed partitions, octagonal windows, and the occasional orchid now and then hinted to the kind of cuisine they served. The service was friendly and I enjoyed chatting idly with our server. He was very friendly and was very knowledgeable of the non-gluten items on the menu. He also told us that the SF Hakkasan location was hoping to bring in some Michelin Stars this year (sadly, they did not) and the requirements for restaurants to earn them. A very interesting conversation.

Left to Right: China Doll and Kowloon Cooler
My uncle and I went to Hakkasan for their lunch service, so we opted for a little taste of everything by ordering their lunch set menu and some drinks. It’s no shock to anyone in my peer circle that I can’t hold alcohol, and it’s uncharacteristic of me to order drink with food. Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised they offered blended non-alcoholic drinks alongside their cocktail menu. Usually it's just a boring array of sodas or some fancy juices.

My uncle and I ordered China Doll, which is a tamarillo fruit, pistachio, apple, and peach juice concoction, and the Kowloon Cooler, which consisted of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, lychee, apple juice, cranberry juice, and lemon lime soda, from their non-alcoholic drink menu. While I didn’t enjoy the taste of the drinks paired with the rest of the food we ordered, they were perfectly fine on their own. My berry drink was tangy and refreshing, but had quite an “earthy” aftertaste. My Uncle’s Lychee concoction was sweeter and equally as refreshing, but was brighter and didn't have the "earthiness" mine had.

Fried Dim Sum Selection: (bottom) crispy prawn dumping, (middle) xo scallop puff, and (top) roasted duck and pumpkin puff
From the lunch set options they gave us, my Uncle opted to order the dim sum appetizer set, and they give you a choice between having your appetizers fried or steamed. Due to the gluten, I couldn't personally taste them myself, but my Uncle looked like he enjoyed them. And to be totally honest, anything fried is pretty yummy. 

The trio of dim sum yummies included: a crispy prawn dumpling, pumpkin puff, and an xo scallop puff.

I asked if I could get the steamed dim sum set and supplement it with three shrimp dumpings (they're traditionally covered in a rice wrapper versus a flour one), but the waiter said that the trio of samplings were fixed and you can't modify them.

Stir Fried Mushroom Lettuce Wrap with pine nuts, and pistachios 
So instead, I got the lettuce wraps. I feel bad, but I just naturally am not wow'ed by lettuce wraps. I think it was my initiation with lettuce wraps from P.F. Chang's, but I just think they're meh. These lettuce wraps, obviously with the addition of pistachios and pine nuts, didn't taste very "Chinese" to me. Of course we can get into the whole debate about "what does Chinese actually taste like?", but let's focus on the wraps. It was very nutty, the mixture didn't really seem like a cohesive filling, but instead an amalgamation of nuts that someone had thrown together. I was very generous with the filling, but even so, I still had a couple of spoonfuls left over when I had finished the lettuce leaves. It was ok, but I didn't feel satisfied after eating it nor would I order it again.

Stir fried Black Pepper Ribeye Beef 
For my Uncle's main dish he ordered the stir fried black pepper ribeye beef. Due to the soy sauce this dish wasn't gluten free either, but I still nabbed a bite. I'm more strict on myself about gluten now, as I developed a headache and had all the other unpleasant side effects of eating gluten, but it was tasty. It was savory, tender, and mildly sweet.  Very good and addicting, my uncle enjoyed himself and ate everything on the plate. He even gave the fried noodle cornucopia a try.

Spicy Prawn with Lily Bulb and Almond
 As for myself, I went for the spicy prawn main. Honestly, in retrospect, I don't think this was gluten free (it's not denoted on the online menu), but the waiter told me it was at the time. Despite not being gluten free, it was delicious. As I stated before, I didn't think that gluten in small amounts would hurt me, but it does. ::lol:: Gluten allergy, who knew? The shrimp was delicious though, it was plump, juicy and not overdone. The curry sauce they paired it with was spicy enough to give a slight kick, but not enough to feel like your whole mouth was burning. The sauce was creamy and addicting as well, while the almonds and lily bulb gave the dish the textural notes it needed to keep it from being monotonous.

When choosing the lunch set it includes a bowl of bok choi and your choice of steamed or egg fried rice. The bok choi was nothing special, just some normal bok choi that was gently flavored with garlic. I was very glad that a vegetable side dish was included in the meal. At this point it seemed very meat heavy.

Sweet and Sour Pork Tenderloin
This dish was an additional main that my uncle and I ordered to make sure we were sated at the end of the meal. Since our lunch sets had come with bok choi, we elected to go with a viand. This dish was also recommended to us by our waiter, who said that the dish was quite popular. It was good! The pork was tender and the sweet and sour flavors balanced each other out completely. There's nothing worse that ordering a "sweet and sour" dish and having all of one aspect, but none of the other.

Everything was evenly coated in the sweet and sour sauce, the pork was tender, and the pomegranate seeds, pineapple, and red onion added little bites of acidity and freshness that the dish needed. Even though I like pineapples, when they're served in savory dishes like this, I pick them out and don't eat them. I think it's something about the texture of cooked pineapple that I don't like. 

Overall the meal was above average, the ambiance was wonderful, and the service was great. We had a wonderful experience with our waiter just shooting the breeze. Nothing really wow'ed me or was original in my opinion. I would definitely go back to Hakkasan, but only with friends. For some reason, I feel like I would choose other places to go to eat than Hakkasan if I had the choice. The environment that Hakkasan creates is one of a chic nightclub or a swanky lounge, if I wanted to go on a date or spend some family time here I think I would feel out of place. It lacks that sort of intimacy that some restaurants offer their diners. To me, it seems like Hakkasan is a place to go before clubbing or if you want to explore something new with friends.

Thanks for reading! I hope you give Hakkasan a try!

Price: $$$ out of $$$$$
Kid Friendly: Yes! They're very accommodating and I did see some kids playing about in the booths next to our table.
Repeatable: Yes! With friends.

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