Pecking proverbial milk tops from fine dining establishments across the UK

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Hakkasan, Abu Dhabi

Hakkasan Abu Dhabi, Emirates Palace, West Corniche Road P.O. Box 39999, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Open until late Sat- Thurs. No set lunch, cost per person 150UAED+


Robins don’t normally migrate, I understand, especially not in the middle of summer. But this week found me in the heat of Abu Dhabi, sitting in Hakkasan in the Emirates Palace with IM and B, B having recently taken up a job in the UAE.

I have never been to Hakkasan before. I know this is a mortal sin for a professed lover of food in an age when one cant get through a day at the office without someone mentioning that they or someone they know are meeting for dinner at the ubiquitous Fitzrovia restaurant. Alan Yau’s most famous creation as always appealed to me, however, and in the glamorous settings of the worlds most expensive hotel I was more excited than ever to sample its deleights.

The d├ęcor in the place seemed very similar to that in London (I’ve seen pictures) though according to the chain’s website, it has been given a ‘modern ethnic’ (presumably Arabic) interpretation. This wasn’t terribly in evidence, but the place is certainly chic, especially by Abu Dhabi standards: sumptuous cushions, carved dark wood all bathed in blue light. The wood panels, set in steel frames, section the restaurant off into small booths, which makes for an intimate atmosphere between groups of diners.
We sat down to eat and it was immediately apparent that something was very wrong with the service. A waiter with no Arabic and very poor English had obviously not been briefed on even the most rudimentary facets of the menu. Questions about the origin of the dishes, the size of the portions and the different accompaniments available on Hakkasan’s extensive and non too simple menu went unanswered. Instead, we were pushed a dish of the day, in which no one had expressed an interest.

When we had chosen our dishes, the waiter came only to explain that a number of the items we has selected were unavailable. I still do not know how the crispy shredded veal rib eye or the Jasmine tea smoked Wagyu beef ribs taste, nor has B had the stir-fry lobster in black bean sauce with lotus root. The waiter did not know what the cause of the supply problems was (of course) and did not seem to appreciate that it would have been nice to know at the outset which dishes were unavailable.

This disappointment we ordered again off a now slimmed down menu. The food arrived pleasingly quickly and looked admittedly, wonderful. Obviously someone at the hotplate was exercising firm quality control over what went out, which bode well for the taste. I had plumped for the stir fry chicken with red chili, accompanied by edamame egg fried rice. The rice was perfectly cooked, not oily or greasy at all (7/10). The chicken was something else though. To be sure, I had ordered chili chicken, but in what arrived there was almost one whole dried red chili for every piece of shredded chicken. The result was blisteringly hot, and added only the musty, slightly bitter taste of dried chilies to the dish. Needless to say, the meal ended with a pile of dried chili on my plate after I decided it really was worth the trouble of picking it out. The chicken was perfectly satisfactory, but no better than I believe I create in my wok at home (2/10).

B had opted for scallops with ginger, chili and pak choi, a dish which he was assured did not require rice or any other accompaniment. What arrived looked beautiful, but only contained 3 scallops, in a little tower with – yes – the all pervasive whole dried red chilies. The scallops were perfectly cooked, but, one chili later, and all taste was obliterated. Further, by the end of this ‘meal’, B was reaching over to my rice (by now fast emerging the star of the meal) to fill up on (3/10).

IM’s main dish arrived a little after ours. He had ordered the famous Hakka steamed dim sum platter. Again this arrived looking beautiful, with the little multi-coloured steamed parcels sitting in their bamboo container. The result was again, disappointing. The dim sum were majorly overcooked and stuck to the bottom of the container like glue. Chopsticks weren’t up to the job of removing them and soon we were all diving with our hands to taste. The skin of the dim sum was thick, very chewy and slightly slimy in texture. A scallop dim sum was delicious, but a second, while looking deliciously enticing, tasted of nothing but very spicy chili. (2/10)

None of our party opted for a desert, opting instead for coffee, which came quickly and was perfectly adequate (5/10).

That Hakkasan was such a disappointment is in some ways a compliment to the brand. Even on another continent, my expectations dining in a Hakkasan restaurant were raised sky high. Of course, the crashing disappointment that the reality brought is indicative of the other face of global expansion – once you go global, you lose control. The CEO had clearly lost control (or else his mind) here. Of course some of the problems were particular to the location – I’m sure that half of the menu in London isn’t struck out each night as deliveries fail to fly in, and I’m sure that the waiting staff are not as incompetent as in the Emirates, whose national brand is hardly synonymous with excellent service. But nevertheless, the dishes which I sampled in the Emirates Palace also feature on the menu in the Michelin star holding Fitzrovia restaurant, and perhaps that’s the reason I’m still yet to visit.

A final thought for those of you it couldn’t happen here. Remember this: the Hakkasan brand has been sold…to an Abu Dhabi corporation.

What did other people think? Hakkasan on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. Everything about Emirates Palace Hotel is just grand. The luxury.