London has a weird and wonderful way of bringing people together. But of all the people and all the stories, I do have one favourite and it begins over 7 years ago when I was working my way through university at a beautiful Japanese restaurant by the name of Toko on Sydney’s Crown Street. It was during this time that I formed a close bond with a certain Italian.
Over time, this friendship grew and eventually made its way across to London. In fact, this Italian, whom you will now find efficiently heading up the floor at Zuma in Knighstbridge, is the reason I myself am currently working with the company.
As The Italian works somewhat haphazard hours in the restaurant, seeing him on a regular basis has become a bit of a challenge. However, given my other half has a similarly mis-matched presence, I have grown a tight bond with The Italian’s husband…now lovingly coined my Subby Hubby.
Both relatively new to London, Subby Hubby and I have spent many a weekend running about town in search of good things to eat, fun things to do and new places to see. [And when we aren’t doing that, you will most likely find us perched up at the sushi counter at Zuma annoying the crap out of The Italian as we work our way through another champagne and incessantly order more food.]
On one such outing, we found ourselves, as we so often do, reminiscing about what we miss most (and, equally, what we do not miss at all) about home. Perhaps not surprisingly, food played in significantly on both sides, with late night post-drinking Chinese food binges ranking highly on each of our ‘Much Missed’ lists. And so it was decided, our next adventure would be to get our London Chinese food fill – and HKK was our venue of choice.
Hailing from the Hakkasan group and currently holding one Michelin Star, HKK had been on my radar for quite some time. Not exactly our typical Saturday afternoon setting, but romantic rendezvous call for something a little bit special…and their various tasting menu options featuring high-end takes on traditional Cantonese dishes, coupled with a modern flair, had me intrigued.
Tottering down a nondescript street in Shoreditch, we arrived at an almost empty dining room for our late lunch reservation. Upon being seated, our drink orders were taken (Saturday afternoons beg for Hendricks and tonic!) and the available menu options were confusingly stumbled through verbally. With a little convincing, we were eventually delivered hard copies to ponder and settled on the five course tasting menu for £58 per person.
Once our orders were placed, we were each gifted with a pretty little spoon-contained amuse bouche. I am not going to lie: I have absolutely zero recollection when it comes to what this actually was. I believe it involved smoked duck and imperial caviar. Whatever it was, it was tasty.
The pan-grilled pork belly dumpling with black truffle vinegar was a lovely little sight (shame about the cracked latticing) and a complete standout…both of us could have really gone for more than one lone pillow of perfection.
Strikingly reminiscent of a calming lily pond, the intricately formed dim sum trilogy was up next. Each steamed parcel carried its own distinct filling (king crab and scallop; monkfish and salmon roe; prawn and cuttlefish) and arrived floating in a well-seasoned, umami-laden chicken broth. Perhaps it came down to my unrefined palate that is only too used to being assaulted by saline, but I found the subtle flavourings of the dumplings themselves to be a little underwhelming and I was left pining for a hit of acid and a little extra salt.
Dumpling disappointments aside, Subby-Hubby and I were thrilled for the dramatic arrival of our next course and the primary reason we had made our way across to HKK in the first place: their famed roasted cherry wood Peking duck.
Carved and presented table side, we were treated to three separate cuts of the duck: the amazingly crispy skin from the shoulder (which we were instructed to dip into the unrefined organic cane sugar that accompanied it), the skin and juicy meat from the breast served with duck sauce…and finally, the leg meat, shredded and stuffed into a light sesame pancake with hoisin sauce and fresh leek. Utterly delicious and absolutely perfect…but again, I just wanted more of it.
We received a choice when it came to our final savoury course and I opted for the char-grilled black cod in royal shacha sauce. As soon as the dish was placed in front of me, I immediately knew it was going to be an uphill battle…get.that.fruit.off.my.plate.
I don’t know what it is, but I forcibly despise fruit in my dinner – and crunching down on gritty pellets of passionfruit seeds between mouthfuls of [albeit, beautifully moist] fish is not my idea of a fun party in my mouth. I am also unsure what that foam was doing there, as it tasted of very little. However, if I had to compare it with something, it would be soap. Regardless, the dish ate a little sweet for me overall and try as I did, I was just not a fan.
Subby Hubby took the safer option of slow-cooked veal and he was a much happier camper than I for it.
The mains were served with brown jasmine rice with black bean and goji berry. More interesting than your standard steamed white rice, but nothing particularly noteworthy.
By no fault of HKK whatsoever, the chocolate, strawberry and soya mousse was never going to tick any boxes in my books…what with me holding an avid dislike for both chocolate and dessert. But I must admit it was lovely to look at and I thoroughly enjoyed the strawberry sorbet off to one side.
We finished on coffee and a tasty little sphere of liquid sea salt caramel encased in dark chocolate. My preferred sweet ending!
Another successful run with my Subby Hubby and another restaurant ticked off my list…furthermore, I may just have found my favourite place for Peking duck in London! Did I enjoy everything? Clearly not. However, what I did enjoy was enough to drag me back with a wealth of enthusiasm.
For next time, the Saturday lunch time Duck & Champagne offering (four courses and half a bottle of Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV for £49 per person) seems like the way to go. If only I wasn’t always so easily led astray by the promise of dumplings…
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