AIAs 2016 Best Restaurant nominee | Hakkasan Mayfair

  • Contributing Journalists: Andreea Matei, Stefano Šamaldin Ćulibrk, Giuseppe Volta
  • Editor: S.Q.Hafiz [Editor in Chief] 

AIAs 2016 | Best Restaurant

That time of year has arrived again. The International is jetting off around the world in the endless search for gastronomic perfection.

Unlike a Michelin Star, of which hundreds can be awarded each year graded as one, two or three star. Only one AIA is ever given out each year from each category, Gold, Silver and Bronze. This effectively represents the best three restaurants in the world that year.

How restaurants are nominated and awarded an AIA

Restaurants are nominated by the public with the awarding decision split between a public vote and a panel of experts.

The restaurants are judged on;

Food: Quality, Freshness, Sustainability, Presentation, Consistency, Creativity, Flavour, Texture and balance.

Menu: Value, Customisation capabilities, design of components (Such as how much thought has gone in to which dishes, deserts and drinks will work well with other components of the menu), creativity (keeping consistency though core dishes how often are new dishes created), design (how appealing and easy to navigate are the menus) and diversity (how well do the menus cater for those with diverse dietary requirements).

Staff: Politeness, Assistance, Knowledge, Appearance and Presentation, Waiting time, Moral, Handling of difficult questions or problems and attention to detail.

Venue: Decor, Features and Flexibility, Location, Ambience, Attention to detail, Cleanliness and Hygiene, Accessibility and Vibe.

Only restaurants who have received both enough public votes and critical acclaim to be nominated will receive an AIA nominee’s rating. 1 Star representing a good restaurant, good enough to be nominated. 3 Stars representing an excellent restaurant, far superior to other restaurants in it’s category. 5 Stars representing a flawless restaurant.


Hakkasan Mayfair | London

Hakkasan | 17 Bruton St, Mayfair, London W1J 6QB

Hakkasan | 17 Bruton St, Mayfair, London W1J 6QB

Hakkasan Group operates numerous restaurants around the world. Each with a set core of signature dishes and drinks but each with a unique twist. The decor, including the bespoke wooden lattice works, a selection of dishes and drinks as well as a few customs are unique to each site. Aurelieu Pottier, who heads up the Group’s London flagship restaurant tells The International how this is done to cater to the tastes and quirks of the demographic for each geographic site.

Hakkasan’s Mayfair flag ship restaurant may look understated from the street level, subtly tucked away a short cab ride from the hustle of shopping on Bond, Regent or Oxford Street. However, whether you’re heading straight from work, a shopping spree or just visiting London, a trip to Hakkasan won’t leave you disappointed.

Hakkasan is, in essence, a modern Cantonese fine dining restaurant with a few surprises and twists to keep you intrigued.

Nominated for an AIA for the first time in 2016 Hakkasan Mayfair received a four star nominee’s rating.

★★☆


The Venue

 

Immediately when you enter Hakkasan, you leave your worries and stress at the door. The intelligently thought out lighting sets an almost sub-aquatic atmosphere about the clean, crisp stone steps and castle styled walls. The use of darkness and carefully placed lights guides you to the front desk where you will be pleasantly greeted by Hakkasan’s well presented and helpful reception staff.

Upon arrival our party of two informed the reception staff that we had arrived for a table for two and a meeting with Mr. Pottier.

Guided to our table we were immediately offered water. Unlike some Mayfair restaurants there is no choice of water brand at Hakkasan, but you may choose from Sparkling or Still VOSS water, a pleasing choice of brands for the restaurant to stock.

The attention to detail from Hakkasan’s French interior designer is quite pleasing. Above each table hangs a lamp adorned with a red tassel, the traditional Chinese symbol for prosperity. The resemblance to a Middle Eastern fez purely coincidental.

Hakkasan is divided over two floors, with a different theme of decor in each ‘region’ of the restaurant.

The reception level floor on which we dinned has a more casual appearance. Dark wood, marble, creme leather, red and matt brass giving a comfortable and relaxed vibe to the floor. The coffee machine which can in most establishments be a noisy distraction to an intriguing conversation has been hidden out of the way in a small room of it’s own so that the noise does not disturb the guests, a nice touch and a demonstration of the thoughtful nature of Hakkasan.

The attention to detail continues through out the level with the bar staff explaining how the pouring adaptors are not fitted to the bottles because it takes away from the design of the bottles that are displayed behind the impressively well stocked bar. It is these small details which make your experience at Hakkasan a smooth an enjoyable one, when you suddenly think there needs to be something, you will soon realise it has already been taken care of. The only gripe one could hold against this floor and the attention to detail was that when seated at the table there was a used napkin on the floor under the table, whilst easily missed by the cleaning staff it is a minor detail that seemed out of the ordinary compared to the impeccable level of cleanliness found through out Hakkasan.

When arriving at 16:30 this floor was filled with happy, smiling, laughing patrons in casual clothes. The vibe was relaxed, sophisticated and very enjoyable. As the evening progressed the dinners become smartly dressed friends, families, businessmen and couples enjoying the excellent range of wines, cocktails and dishes available.

However it is downstairs where the real magic happens. 

Walk through the rabbit hole into wonderland 

It can only be said in a positive manner. Walking into the lower floor dinners pass through a long narrow corridor lined with lights where the bespoke dark wood lattice work allows you to glimpse peaks at the different ‘regions’ of Hakkasan each with a different atmosphere and design. The end of the tunnel illuminated in blue light where an eclectic bar and champagne station may be found.

The impeccable lower floor is divided into a more relaxed dining region close to the kitchen, which itself is screened by a translucent blue screen.

This regional lay out of the restaurant will keep you wanting to come back to Hakkasan time and time again to experience each region and the different experience each has to offer.

The lower floor also contains a more formal zone with an entire wall made of fine wines.

For larger parties or a more formal set of requirements this region is perfectly suited and quiet.

The hidden gem of Hakkasan has to be the private dinning room. Fully customisable  in terms of lighting, music, screens, entertainment and service. Complete with a private bathroom and fully staffed service station the function room is perfect for a wide range of events: Private parties, corporate dinners or just for those looking for a more personal experience to dining. View Hakkasan Mayfair’s Private Dinning Room brochure here. 

Hakkasan's private dinning room

Hakkasan’s private dinning room

One thing that has to be said about Hakkasan as a venue is that it is spotlessly clean for the most part.

The bar, bathrooms and kitchen are all flawless. The floors and hand rails in the corridors and stairs are all dry, clean and without marks, scuffs or scratches. There is nothing worse than a sticky bar, stained floor or dirty hand rail. Details which Hakkasan have not overlooked.

Staff**  Rating:  ★★★★☆

Public Vote*:     ★★★★★

*1’206 people through out Greater London asked at random to rate out of five. The result is shown as the mean average rounded to the nearest whole star.

**Professional journalist staff from The International Press and Media Group.


The Dinning Experience

Drinks

Hakkasan boasts a very impressive wine list matched only by the staff’s knowledge of the wines. All wines selected for the menu are chosen not only as a fine stand alone wine but because they compliment a selection of specifically selected dishes and deserts on the menu.

The staff are very capable and willing to help you choose a wine specifically for any particular dish or visa versa.

A bottle of wine at Hakkasan starts from a very modest £50 working it’s way up to some very prestigious names and years at £5’000.

The selection of wines of course contains some well known classics but it is Hakkasan’s decision to include some more unusual wines which work extremely well with selected menu items which sets it apart from other world class restaurants.

The impressive wine list includes selections from but not limited to: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, UK, USA.

Further more it is the attention to detail again which makes Hakkasan stand out, with wines from the States for example, it is not just a few expected Californian wines that are available but also a selection of wines from New York and other States.

Hakkasan’s cocktail menu again will not disappoint. The signature section of the menu offers consistent classics found at all Hakkasan restaurants globally. There are twists on classics and specific cocktails created by the staff at each individual restaurant.

pict0010

Chidde Ly, Mayfair’s bar manager (Pictured above) explains how the staff are constantly encouraged to experiment with new ideas for drinks focusing on “Texture, flavour and presentation of each drink” Even the glasses are bespoke made specifically for Hakkasan Mayfair to complement the presentation of each drink.

Can’t decide what you would like? Or want a personalised custom cocktail creating just for you? No problem.

Ly and his team of highly skilled bar staff start by asking a few basic questions:

Alcoholic or Virgin?

Bitter, Sour, Sweet, Fruity, Zingy, Refreshing, Rich or Creamy?

To drink on it’s own or with a specific menu item?

Is there any particular flavour or scent you do or do not like which they can include or avoid?

Any alleges or dietary requirement? 

Ly served up a Virgin Rhubarb Margarita, a non alcoholic take on a menu item.

Don Julio Reposado tequila (to the disappointment of some of our more choosy staff here at The International), vanilla, Falernum liqueur, rhubarb, lime and vanilla with a chilli coated rim to the glass. £12,90 [Cocktails range from £8,50 to £15 for menu standard cocktails]

Read the full 28 page cocktail menu here

Drinks Ratings:

Staff  Rating:  ★★★★★

Public Vote*: ★★★★★

*1’206 people through out Greater London asked at random to rate out of five. The result is shown as the mean average rounded to the nearest whole star. 

Food

The Menu is as diverse and well thought out as the drinks menu it has to be said. The only problem is the lack of clear labelling. If you have dietary requirements it is not marked as to which dishes are Kosher, Halal, Gluten Free, Vegan etc. Asking the staff is equally as hopeless the head chef explained how non of their food is Halal or Kosher or Gluten Free, only for our host to later contradict the chef and explain that the Chicken and Duck is indeed Halal and that they simply don’t specifically create dishes for different allergy or dietary requirements. This it must be said is very unusual in fine dining and very disappointing.

The staff who all eat at Hakkasan daily were all asked what their favourite dishes were and a menu was created from this.

Supreme Dim Sum Platter (steamed)

Duck Salad (fried and shredded, salad assembled after)

Black Truffle Roasted Duck (roasted)

Stir-fried Lotus Root with Asparagus (stir-fried)

Vegetable Fried Rice (stir-fried)

Chilean Seabass with Honey (grilled)

The staff serve the well presented fragrant dishes explaining each as it is served. Salads are tossed and mixed at the table and the food served onto each diner’s plate. An impeccable service with vibrant colours, clear crisp aromas  and fresh ingredient.

The kitchens which manage a superb waste reduction and sustainability program only use fresh ingredient delivered daily to the large, clean well organised kitchen. All bones are used to create stock and soups with any waste food leaving in the five dedicated recycling units at the rear of the restaurant.

The Duck Salad was a favourite amongst all of the staff who were interviewed and a real hit with both regular diners and first timers. The crisp clean citrus notes cut through the duck’s rich flavour which manages to refrain from being greasy or fatty. The mild sweet and spiced chilli that accompanied the dish left a warm, comfort food feel about this dish which is served in a large portion size even for a hearty eater.

The dim sum, is a spectacular journey through luxurious East Asian flavours. Topped with Gold Leaf and Beluga Caviar the dim sum is soft enough to be able to easily cut with chop sticks alone, yet supple enough not to fall apart when eating. The flavours are subtle yet distinct, you can really taste every ingredient and understand the thought and care that went into selecting which flavours and in what quantities to use.

The Chilean Seabass is a true fusion of Asian and South American flavours. Grilled supply, moist, flaky fish cooked to perfection. The sweetness of the honey whilst an acquired taste for some brings home a flavour pallet found through out both East Asia and South America. Many restaurants use chocolate or honey with sea food yet few get the balance right in the way that Hakkasan manages to. Too much and the sweetness becomes sickly and over powering. Too little and you can be left with an under seasoned dish lacking in texture or taste. Hakkasan create excellent texture with their grilling technique and a very well balanced palate of flavours.

The Black Truffle Duck, simply superb. Not greasy, not fatty, moist and crisp at the same time. The truffle flavours balanced well with the gamey flavours of the duck. The source when eaten with the duck and the rice creates an instant burst of moreish flavour that will keep you coming back for more. This I can see is why the portion sizes are so generous, the taste keeps dinners wanting more.

The dishes so far have all been Halal/Kosher or meat free, but for a truly vegan dish we were given the lotus root. A dish that will not disappoint even the hardiest of meat eaters. Coupled with Hakkasan’s well cooked and flavoursome rice the lotus root and asparagus is incredibly moreish.  The texture and flavour working hand in hand complementing each other. The experimentation in the kitchens much like behind the bar to balance presentation, flavour and texture clearly paying off here.

Sweets

Panna Cotta with strawberries, meringue and a raspberry coulis served with a raspberry sorbet (Pictured above left):

The light, sweet and supple panna cotta is not heavy or overly rich. The sweetness of the sorbet, meringue, fruit and coulis along with the refreshing nature of the flavours really makes this dish the ultimate palate cleanser and finale to what can only be discribed as an experience rather than a dinner.

For chocolate lovers the bitter sweet balance of the intense dark cacao, sweet mousse and refreshing fruits and sorbet (Pictured Above right) offers an alternative pleasure to end a wonderful evening. Sweet, rich, yet not sickly or heavy. The delightfully light and sweet mousse cuts through the bitter and rich flavours of the cacao.

Yet again Hakkasan leaves no detail unexplored with a pleasant array of teas, coffees and alcoholic shorts to cap off the evening’s experience.

It is recommended to ask your host for the evening if what you have ordered works well as a menu, including drinks and afters. They eat at Hakkasan daily and help to create the menu. Balancing the different elements of the menu is where Hakkasan comes into a stride of it’s own.

Read Hakkasan Mayfair’s full menu here.

Food Ratings:

Staff  Rating:  ★★★★☆

Public Vote*:  ★★★★★

Menu Ratings:

Staff  Rating:  ★★★☆☆

Public Vote*:  ★★★☆☆

*1’206 people through out Greater London asked at random to rate out of five. The result is shown as the mean average rounded to the nearest whole star. 

The menu ratings were a little lower than expected mainly due to the lack of knowledge from the kitchen staff as to what met allergy or dietary requirements a detail that will put off a lot of dinners from wanting to take the risk. It would be most beneficial to add clear labels to the menu itself. If the kitchen staff do not understand these requirements then any hope of cross contamination being minimised is slim.


The Staff

Head of Hakkasan Mayfair: Aurelieu Pottier and his head chef

Head of Hakkasan Mayfair: Aurelieu Pottier and his head chef

The staff are both the greatest strength and biggest downfall of Hakkasan.

It took an unimpressive one hour for the staff to realise we had arrived, dispite numerous introductions to the reception team. Numerous quietly spoken, friendly and helpful, smartly dressed staff asked if we were ok and required any assistance or drinks, yet none seemed able to communicate our arrival. We even had an email from Hakkasan corporate head office to ask if we had arrived two hours after arriving. For a corporate event or private party this is not an acceptable level of service.

For the most part the kitchen, front of house, bar and management teams were extremely knowledgeable. Friendly, calm, softly spoken and full of great advice.  Again however it is lack of staff communication that lets down Hakkasan with no two members of staff giving the same answer as to what is or is not ok to eat for allergy or dietary requirement reasons.

When interviewing the chefs with the use of an interpreter who did not know that our journalists can in fact speak Mandarin and Cantonese well, more light was shone on to this issue. The idea of balance between traditional Cantonese gastronomy and European taste palates was totally lost. The English and French speaking staff explaining that fusion dishes accompanying a core set of signature traditional style dishes was the core value of Hakkasan was not one repeated by the Chinese speaking kitchen staff who focused their passions purely on traditional techniques showing a worrying disregard for London’s diverse cultural tastes and requirements. The final menu shows that the fusion approach seams to have prevailed whilst maintaining the integrity of traditional Cantonese cuisine.

This being said, there is a lot of credence to be given to the staffing and management at Hakkasan.

The staff are happy, whilst some expressed they would change one or two minor things in the way the restaurant was set up or run, they all sung the praises of Mr. Pottier and the management team when questioned in private.

The staff are happy and content, hard working and very professional at all times. Out side of work they are sociable and this is encouraged by the restaurant group with a social app actually being used by all staff members as a dedicated social network for all Hakkasan staff. Staff can be given commendations, arrange social events and chat with other staff members. Great ideas and friendships are shared via the network.

The staff all have an excellent knowledge of Hakkasan ethics, customs and history and a lot of respect for the head office and it’s practices. Happy staff who understand the path the restaurant is trying to follow is the best way to ensure a consistent and great experience for patrons.

The kitchen staff all work on a rotation system with two years in each part of the kitchen.The kitchen staff are all given the opportunity to work at the numerous Hakkasan establishments world wide. It is rare in the 21st century to find kitchen staff that happily say they have worked for a restaurant for a decade, that they are still learning and still look forward to coming to work each day. This level of staff retention and commitment is how Hakkasan ensures such a consistent level of service and quality of food. Neither Hakkasan does not rely on any one person for any one role. Mr. Pottier explained how the restaurant uses back ups, shared duties and rotation systems so that consistency remains regardless of what unforeseen difficulties real life may throw up in the way of any individuals. Too many times we have seen excellent restaurants forced to close when a chef has left or become unable to work. This is not a concern for Hakkasan, all staff are treated with a sense of importance and pride.

Staff  Ratings:

Staff  Rating:  ★★★★★

Public Vote*: ★★★★★

Staff Communication Ratings:

Staff  Rating:  ☆☆☆☆☆

Public Vote*: ★☆☆☆☆

*1’206 people through out Greater London asked at random to rate out of five. The result is shown as the mean average rounded to the nearest whole star. 


Hakkasan, the UK’s second ever Golden AIA Restaurant?

Combined ratings:

Venue: ★★★★★

Food: ★★★★★

Drinks: ★★★★★

Menu: ★★★☆☆

Staff: ★★★★★

Staff Communication: ★☆☆☆☆

Overall AIA Nominee Rating: ★★☆

Best features: Hakkasan is a gastronomic and social experience. Well worth the time to visit in any season. Reasonably priced, good portion sizes and knowledgeable, friendly staff who are happy to help. Your glass or plate will never be empty with the attentive yet discrete staff serving more as soon as you run low.

It is safe to say that Hakkasan Mayfair offers the best Chinese food in London.

Downfalls: Staff communication when it comes to allergies and dietary requirements. Also the staff communication when it comes to greeting parties for events. With some communication improvements and re-education of cross contamination and various dietary requirements Hakkasan has the potential to be a flawless experience.

In short, if you are in London and looking for East Asian cuisine, Hakkasan should be your first point of call every time.

Is Hakkasan the best restaurant in the world 2016?
  • 61.54%
  • 38.46%

 


A.Matei@theinternational.org.uk

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