Rebecca Anne Milford heads into London City and finds an extravagant and yet affordable meal of ultimate taste and luxury – the Saturday Duck and Champagne menu from HKK
There’s a selection of key restaurant groups that draw nods of admiration and satisfaction from gastronomes – those that are widely acknowledged to be at the top of their game. One of these is, undoubtedly, the Hakkasan group. Created by the unstoppable duo Syra Khan and Alan Yau, it’s become synonymous with exemplary Asian cuisine.
HKK was opened in 2013, and is located in The City at Broadgate Quarter. Heading up the kitchen and leading the restaurant in its success (a Michelin star within the year it was opened, no less) is Chef Tong Chee Hwee – executive chef of the entire Hakassan group. This maestro of the modern Chinese menu is responsible for all the delicious dishes that make them so famous, and he has decided to create a special menu surrounding one particular item – the Peking duck.
Crazy for Crispy Duck
If there is one dish that has become a firm favourite of Chinese cuisine the world over, it must surely be Peking Duck. For most it’s a take-away staple (I know people who will choose which establishment to order from based on the quality of their duck pancakes), while others will associate it with late nights in Chinatown – the steam rising atmospherically from kitchen grates; red lanterns strewn across the street; the ducks hanging – shining as if lacquered – in large, enticing windows.
The first time I had Peking Duck it was with my auntie – I remember laying each of the elements out in gorgeous blue bowls, then watching her pour the thick hoisin sauce onto a paper-thin pancakes. First she added the vivid green spears of spring onion and the little matchsticks of cucumber, before finally packing the wrap with juicy duck flesh. Since then I was obsessed and would order it at any occasion. On a trip to Beijing in 2008 my friend and I queued for over an hour to try the most lauded restaurant in China for this particular meal.
So upon hearing about the new Duck and Champagne menu from HKK, I could barely contain my excitement. Available on Saturdays, it made the promise of the weekend even more alluring, and there’s something about going into the city on a weekend (especially from my home in Battersea), that makes the journey feel like a special occasion. And special occasion it was – after all, fizz was involved!
Heading to HKK
For those who have not been to HKK, a treat awaits. Set over the ground floor, there is a sense of intimacy created as soon as one enters. Tables border the room, set on one side with a neutral coloured banquette, and the clever ceiling spotlights shine down onto each individual dining island, giving a kind of privacy. We felt shielded from the world by frosted, patterned glass and a whispy gauze curtain – enveloped within HKK which, given the horrendous weather outside, was rather perfect. Splashes of colour come from lime green flowers and a pink instillation of hanging lights and petals in the centre, and it is just the right mix of contemporary modern style and chic oriental design. Staff are wonderful, with the smooth manners one would expect of such an establishment. Arriving on the Saturday, the first thing that gets you is the smell. Can you smell umami? It’s a taste, so I image not, but there is no other way of descibing that scent that makes your stomach lurch in expectant excitement.
A Match Made In Heaven
Duck and champagne – surely one of the most extravagant combinations one can think of? And yes, there is an element of the deliciously decadent in this pairing, but it’s not just about finding too greatly loved and superbly luxurious treats and serving them together. It is also, actually, a completely inspired match. I knew I loved duck, and am certainly not adverse to champagne – but little did I realise just how much I would enjoy them together. The salty, juicy, fat-dripping, umami-rich duck is ideal with the Louis Roederer Champagne that is fizzy, fresh, sets taste-buds tingling and cuts through the delicious oil that coats the tongue and grease smeared lips.
The menu comprises of four courses – a starter, two duck dishes and dessert, served with a half bottle of Louis Roederer Champagne. All this for £49 – in a Michelin-starred restaurant – is faintly incredible. But if there’s concerns that quality will waiver then fear not – I can completely assure this isn’t the case (from both first hand experience as well as the delighted grins from other diners also enjoying this menu around me.)
To start, we whetted our palates with a beautiful crab salad – a morsel of the freshest seafood served in a crisp prawn cracker, arriving on a stage of dry ice. Delicate and light, it paved the way for the hearty meal ahead.
The main event saw the chef coming out and carving in front of us – a Roast cherry wood Peking duck that is the restaurant’s signature dish, as is prepared over forty-eight hours. At HKK each duck is marinated in a glaze of Chinese five spice, lemon grass, sugar, vinegar and garlic. It arrived on our plates in glossy slices, shining like freshly painted furniture, glinting in the light. First we ate duck skin dipped in brown sugar – it crackled between our teeth and the sweetness combined with the rich umami was amazing. There was also a soft pillowy steamed bun stuffed with juicy flesh, which was devoured in an instant.
Next up were the pancakes, but like none I have had before. Studded with sesame, they added an extra nuttiness to the flavour, and along with the deep red hoisin – almost bitterly sweet, like dark chocolate – we were in food heaven. An added side of rice with duck stock was addictive, while all the while we sipped on ice cold, crisp champagne. If this sounds like food heaven, it’s because it very nearly was.
Finally, dessert was a light, sugary treat of Nashi pear and Champagne mousse with cotton candy, providing the ideal end our meal.
I think that what Chef Tong Chee Hwee has done with this menu is superb. There are no ‘low-fat’ options – no healthy this or slim line that. He has stuck with what he knows – wonderful Chinese cuisine from his culture, given an exciting twist – and fashioned an incredible dining experience from it. Okay, so it’s not for the virtuous – but sometimes you have to just go ahead and treat yourself. And if you’re going to indulge, do it properly. The Duck and Champagne menu is about a celebration of the weekend, an indulgent lunch, and wrapping yourself in the cocoon of HKK where you know that your palate is going to be satisfied and your mood is going to be lifted. Plus, for the price of £49, you can’t really say no.
Check out the HKK website here, and follow them on Twitter @hkklondon