Darkness embraced us as we stepped away from the lights of Tottenham Court Road. A breeze blew and swirled a crumpled sheet of newspaper, lifting it up briefly before it skittered away into the corner of a parking bay.
Sounds receded behind us as we turned into a narrow street, the darkness seeming to crowd in; there, ahead, was a beacon of light beckoning us. Somehow we seemed to have stepped into a Ridley Scott film set.
I enjoy Chinese food, I enjoy food period.
Chinese New Year is an excuse to indulge and each year my wife and I do something different, a restaurant meal, a take away, cook a meal at home, we enjoy the opportunity. 2024 was upon us and the question arose, ‘What will we do to celebrate Chinese New Year?’
As this was rolling around in my head I realised we had a few things to catch up on in London and so that directed my thought process. Chinatown? I love Chinatown and the buzz it exudes for New Year is palpable and invigorating. For some reason, this year I wasn’t feeling that I wanted to jump into those crowded thoroughfares, as much as I love them.
It sounds almost as if it should be a Japanese restaurant. Opening in 2001 this Chinese restaurant celebrated twenty consecutive years of receiving a Michelin Star in 2023. It is a name that has called to me for many years and yet I never had found time to visit so, at last, I booked a table.
A light beckons in the darkness and a portal looms. A soft pleasant spice-laden scent wafts from a stairwell and our descent begins accompanied by the faint strains of music; atmospheric and beguiling.
We turn a corner to find glass doors welcoming us to join what seems like a secret haunt of a select few.
Once inside Hakkasan shows itself as a polished and thoughtfully crafted environment, a cavernous interior made intimate. Carefully lit for extra effect, music and incense swirl around you like benevolent spirits of the air ushering you to your seat and wrapping you in a welcoming embrace that gently soothes you.
Attentive staff and precision are the hallmarks of good front-of-house service, you are quickly at ease here.
The food was exquisite, the vegan dim sum a masterpiece that was the highlight of a thoroughly delightful meal.
From the hot and sour soup to the sweet and sour Dingly Dell pork, from the garlic asparagus to the Morel mushroom and vegetable spring rolls, each dish, each course was a joy and if I can find anything to be picky about, well the dishes served may have been a little too large; or perhaps my eyes scanning the menu were too wide for my belly.
Hakkasan may be without its Michelin Star for 2024 but I don’t imagine anyone who has dined there will care one jot nor hesitate in returning, I certainly don’t care and won’t hesitate to return. I am so glad we finally made the effort to visit and savour the experience.
We said our farewells to the team there and rose up the perfumed stairwell to finish our evening. We left that portal behind, a breeze ushered us around a corner, paper swirled against the edge of a building and, as we stepped into the lights of Tottenham Court Road once more, something seemed to ask if it had all been a dream, a very pleasant one.
New year, a lost Michelin star, but what of the trip down memory lane?
I hadn’t let my wife know exactly what I had planned for dinner and, as we first turned into Hanway Place she gasped, paused a moment and then said, ‘this was the building where I first had a job!’ Back in the mid 1980’s Hanway Place was home to Face Ronchetti; when typesetting was still ‘done by hand’ they were a well-known firm. (Phototypesetting is a method of setting type which uses photography to make columns of type on a scroll of photographic paper. It has been made obsolete by the popularity of the personal computer and desktop publishing which gave rise to digital typesetting.)
The world has changed and how strange to have unwittingly ventured to this place, a trip back in time.
About Chinese New Year: What is Lunar New Year?