A decade ago I was in London and was taken to a new Chinese restaurant, HAKKASAN, which had just opened and immediately won a Michelin star, the first such ethnic eatery there to ever get one. I was bowled over by the gorgeous décor and the wondrous food provided by the two owners, Alan Yau and Syra Khan. Then a few years ago in New York I visited the just-opened Hakkasan there....and again was overwhelmed by the elaborate décor and intricate, delicate food. I know they opened another in Las Vegas last year at the MGM Grand, an 80,000 sq. foot 5 story wonder which is winning raves, not yet visited. San Francisco followed., as well as several around the world. Now, we in Los Angeles are beginning to enjoy the new HAKKASAN in Beverly Hills, at 233 N. Beverly Drive just above Wilshire in the MGM Building on the west side of the street (310) 888-8661). After several visits, I can say with certitude this IS one of the most exquisite and elaborate Chinese restaurants in the Western World. Oh, my, I just love brilliant Hong Kong-style Cantonese banquet food prepared by talented chefs who know precisely what they are doing...and why. And that is what we have here....a very elaborate, somewhat expensive, exquisite eatery worth a visit....or two....or three or more.
It was the current issue of the New Yorker which stripped away the secrecy of who owns these remarkable eateries. In an article entitled "Night Club Royale," writer Josh Eells details the warfare between the musical nightclub/restaurants of Wynn Hotels and the Hakkasan musical club at the MGM Grand. It seems that the musical clubs are throwing off so much profit with their 'bottle service' at tables that the income may actually exceed that of the gambling operations at the hotels. The Encore nightclub can earn up to $1 million a night! And the stars are the disc jockeys, who command enormous salaries for their spinning efforts...culminating recently in a 'steal' by Hakkasan of Wynn's top jocks by offering them $300,000 for one night's work! Yes, you heard me correctly. According to the article, "Hakkasan, Ltd. is controlled by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan, a prince in Abu Dhabi's royal family, To non-Emiratis, Sheikh Mansour is best known as the majority owner of Manchester City Football Club. For decades, Manchester City had been overshadowed by its local rival, Manchester United. When Mansour bought the team five years ago, he spent nearly six hundred million dollars buying up talent from around the world; in 2012, the club won its first Premier League title in forty-five years, Mansour evidently wants to repeat this formula with d.j.s. So far he has sent more than a hundred million dollars on Hakkasan Las Vegas." I have been following the fortunes of this group....CEO Niall Howard insists it is not a chain... for some years, ever since Alan Yau sold his interest in 2008 to the Sheikh. The 43-year old Sheikh from Abu Dhabi actually attended Santa Barbara's community college, and has just revealed that he will back a soccer club, New York City FC, in 2015, in partnership with the NY Yankees. The dim sum assortment is a fine way to start your meal.
There you have it. Our new posh Chinese restaurant in Beverly Hills is being financed by oil money from a tiny Arab kingdom in the Middle East which, by a freak of nature, is situated over a vast pool of oil....similar I suppose, in a way, to the Sultan of Brunei using his vast oil wealth to maintain the high standards of the Beverly Hills and Bel-Air hotels. So be it....we here in Los Angeles shall enjoy the benefits of that wealth to dine in luxury on Asiatic specialties with medium-high price tags. Crazy world we live in, isn't it?The lobster entree is somewhat pricey, but it is one of my favorites.
I have seen a lot of new restaurants open in my long reviewing career...but cannot recall a more professional, error-free such event than that of Hakkasan Beverly Hills. The kitchen is running smoothly on all cylinders, the serving staff is trained to an inch of their lives, and any small problems are dealt with quietly and quickly. I attribute this to one man, the best restaurant General Manager I have ever encountered, a self-effacing fellow named Albert Charbonneau. I first met him decades ago at the late, lamented L'Orangerie. He went on to work at L'Ermitage before departing our shores for Miami, Washington and New York, working with famed chef Jean George Vongerichten and others. I asked him how he came to Hakkasan and he modestly said, "I have a large rolodex." I told him about my visiting the first in London in 2001, where I met their corporate chef Tong Chee Hwee, freshly arrived from the famous Summer Pavilion at Singapore's Ritz Carlton. I wrote at that time that the celebrated interior designer Christian Liaigre was behind the sumptuous design of the original. The current version here is attributed to Gilles & Boisssier. My London friends tell me that in 2010 the second Hakkasan in Mayfair opened and was awarded a Michelin star a year later. They have played with other concepts as well, and I drank tea at Yauatcha, a contempory tea house in Soho in 2004, and it too received a Michelin star a year later. I have not yet tried another of their successful concepts, the Sake no Hana, offering modern Japanese cuisine on St. James Street in London. Albert told me that they have recently opened another Chinese concept, HKK, inspired by a long-standing Chinese banquet tradition, offering an unparalleled tasting menu for lunch and dinner. Chef Tong is still there at the helm and is still presenting Cantonese dishes with a modern flair. Sylvie Tran is my favorite waitperson. She knows the menu inside-out...and is charming.
Which is exactly what we are getting here in Beverly Hills at the new eatery. Brilliant modern versions of traditional Canton dishes. Don't be put off by the amusing offering of a whole Peking Duck with domestic caviar for $288...it is actually enough for several people. They serve it in two ways; cut up on lotus buns with its skin, with the caviar, and the remainder is broken up and served in a sauce of your choice. But I did see a Pipa Duck ($36), which is like the Peking duck but without the elaborate presentation and pancakes. We enjoyed the Black Truffle Roasted Duck ($68). One evening my date ordered the Jasmine tea-smoked chicken ($26) and it was silky and succulent, just damned delicious. I being a lamb lover had to sample the Seared New Zealand Lamb Chops ($39) served with a sauce they said was 'osmanthus'...tasting of sesame and soy and a few other spices. My smart server, Sylvie, suggested the Sanpei ($22), a corn-fed Chicken Claypot with spring onions, dried chilies and Thai basil...superb. Steak lovers will head for the Grilled Wagyu Beef ($68), served with KIng Soya sauce and shimeji mushrooms. More adventurous meat eaters should go for the Wok-fried Beef Tenderloin ($32) with a sauce which I was told is Mongolian...much like the Korean spicy sauce I use at home. An alternate is the Black Pepper Ribeye ($38) which has been stir-fried with a Merlot sauce. I am not a fan of sweet-and-sour dishes and have not yet sampled the Sweet-and-Sour Organic Pork ($21) with pineapple....but perhaps one day soon.
Albert told me that one signature dish of the house is the Roasted Silver Cod ($39) with a champagne sauce, but I seem to be addicted to the Chilean Seabass ($37) grilled with Chinese honey....one of the better versions of this fish in town. Pan-seared Scallops ($27) is a good value, especially when topped wit yellow chive flowers. Next visit will see m ordering the Steamed Red Snapper ($30) with spicy yellow beans in a chili sauce. There is a Braised Royal Seafood Toban ($32) which is said to be a hot pot of sorts. Last night my friend from New Hampshire and I shared the Wok-fried Lobster in XO Sauce ($58), and when it came his wife said that it looked like an appetizer because of the small bowl in which it came. Four juicy morsels of silky soft lobster with a few mushrooms in a mild sauce...it was delicious, and I did mention to Albert that for that price they should put it in a larger dish so customers (not me) would feel they are getting their money's worth. My big mouth as usual, but he graciously accepted the suggestion and said he would discuss it with the chef. I noted a neighbor dining on the Spicy Wild Prawns ($28) in a mild curry sauce with lily bulbs and almond flakes and made a note to order those next visit.The Roasted Silver Cod is a signature dish on the menu.I prefer the Chilean seabass.
I love the way Chinese chefs prepare vegetables and there is a section of the menu devoted to Vegetables and Tofu. Since most tofu is an anathema to me, I stuck to the veggie dishes....and one of them, Four Vegetable Treasure in a Szechuan sauce ($14) proved to be a huge success. Also wonderful is the stir-fried Chinese Mushrooms ($23) with yam beans, sugar snap peas and macadamia nuts. For a slightly more exotic touch, there is Stir-fried Lotus Root ($14) with lily bulbs and asparagus. Yes, there is one traditional tofu dish which I tried and enjoyed...Mabo tofu ($15) which is made with beef and pickled vegetables....interesting version this. A large bowl of steamed white jasmine rice or brown rice is $3, while the fried rice with its egg and scallions is $9. One dish I have not yet tried is Truffle-braised egg noodle with crab meat and enoki mushroom ($42) which at that price I doubt I would order even if I were not on a sort of gluten-free diet. (Not easy for a restaurant reviewer.)Mongolian-sauced beef is awesome.
To start your meal, there are a multitude of exciting and unusual choices. I saw a handful of Chinese cooks working in the kitchen making various dim sum and dumplings, and they offer a large selection of them for both lunch and dinner. A Hakksa steamed dim sum platter is $28; it offers some exotic choices, like a black crab dumpling, scallop sui mai and chive dumplings. One evening my ex ordered the Pan-seared vegetable Shanghai dumplings ($9) and shared one with me. I liked the filling but thought the skin was a little tough, probably from sitting around a little too long. (Read my article in the current TASTE MAGZINE about the world's most celebrated dumpling restaurant in Arcadia, Din Tai Fung, coming to the South Coast Plaza in the Spring.) Also in Arcadia is the fabulous Chinese hot pot restaurant, Hai Di Lao, which I reviewed here in Huffington last week.
There are four soups offed and I recommend the Hot and Sour ($10) with its chunks of chicken. I have read both positive and negative stories on Yelp about the infamous Crispy Duck Salad ($28), with its pomegranate, pine nuts and shallots. Me and mine, we have stuck to the luscious Jasmine tea-smoked pork short ribs ($22) and are happy with this legendary appetizer. Next visit I must try a new appetizer, the Guilin chili-style wok fried Quail ($19).....now that sounds interesting.
This 10,000 sq. ft. eatery is a maze of dark, decorated rooms. As you enter, you will be greeted by a wafting of incense. One night there was a mixup about my reservation but an attractive, intelligent women, Uzma, quickly remedied it. All of the women are attired in short, tight black dresses... a stunning sight. The music is modern jazz and some pop, but not intrusive. The beautiful long bar at the rear of the restaurant with its gleaming, shimmering background stocks more varied booze bottls than any I have ever seen. The wine list is incredible, rather expensive and worth an evening's read. There are some 3,000 bottles on hand and two sommeliers to suggest them. I had the Smoking Negroni made with Campari and gin, with a large round ice cube, which comes with pumped-in smoke. Much fun, and delicious.
Hakkassan is open for lunch Monday through Friday from noon to 2:30 pm, onSaturday noon to 2:45. Dinner Monday to Wednesday is 5:30 pm to 9:45 pm, while Thursay to Saturday is 5:30 pm to 10:30 pm.As a fierce aficionado of all things Chinese cuisine, I am thrilled that this superb, smart, sensational restaurant has come to our fair city. Judging from the crowds of enthusiastic diners I have encountered on each visit, I am not alone in welcoming such an upscale dining experience. Thank you Sheikh Mansour for bringing it here...now how 'bout a great soccer team for L.A. also?
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