Tasting menus are a great, but they’re also a source of worry for me. A restaurant with a tasting menu is likely higher-end, with higher prices, and therefore higher expectations on my part. I WANT restaurants to do well, so as each new dish is set down before me I’m both excited and stressed. Oh, these first-world problems of mine! Fortunately, with the tasting menu at Hakkasan, I was able to relax. Phew.
Hakkasan does ‘modern Chinese’ – it’s not a place where families gather around huge tables to share dim sum. Rather, it serves individual portions, with prices that reflect its fine-dining atmosphere. It’s been around for five years and is located in an unexpected place – an industrial park in the north part of the city, just below the river. The owners have also recently opened a second restaurant in Steveston called Urban Kitchen.
As well as their a la carte options, they offer a number of seasonal tasting menus with price points ranging from $30 – $138 each. I chose the $55 Chef’s Tasting Menu, with tiger prawns and organic greens; braised abalone; pork and papaya soup; half a lobster with garlic crisps; duck and pan-seared foie gras; and dessert. I also ordered a plum wine ($9), which was syrupy but not too sweet.
Despite the fact that the greens were a little wet, the salad with tiger prawns was light, cool, and crunchy. A nice way to start the meal.
The braised abalone came in a sweet, umami sauce, with a few vegetables on the side. It was tender and chewy – the texture of a big mushroom – and tasted of the sea. My one complaint about this dish was the baby carrot garnish – away with the dry BABY CARROT GARNISHES!
The pork and papaya soup was lovely. Steph, one of my servers, explained how it’s made and best eaten. Instead of using direct heat, they gently double-boil it (the same technique used to melt chocolate), and the result is a simple but concentrated broth.
In it were chunks of papaya (the sweetness from which had completely melted into the soup, and in turn, the papaya tasted savoury), braised pork, and snow fungus, which is a type of transluscent, rippling mushroom.
The dish was served with a small side of spicy soy sauce, which Steph explained was only to be added if I needed a little extra flavour. Ideally, the soup is enjoyed by itself, in its most basic form. I took to sipping up the broth with my spoon, and dipping the chunks of pork into the soy sauce with my chopsticks. It was a modest-looking but wonderful bowl of soup.
Next, they brought everything I’d need to bust my way into a lobster: plastic gloves, a wet wipe, small fork, and shell-cracker. I must say, I’ve never worn disposable gloves in such a nice restaurant, but any awkwardness I felt soon melted as I dug out my first taste of the lobster.
It had been lightly coated and deep-fried in a batter that I can only describe as magnificent; salty and infused with fresh chili, I found myself practically eating the shells just to get more of it. The lobster was perfectly cooked, and very flavourful in combination with the crispy garlic chips. I haven’t eaten a lot of lobster in my life, but this was definitely the best one so far. Or should I say, half of one.
The last course before dessert was a sliced Fraser Valley duck breast and pan-seared foie gras, served over rice and drizzled with a gingery glaze and balsamic reduction.
I enjoyed the duck, but this dish also taught me I’m not a fan of pan-seared foie gras. I’ve only ever eaten foie gras in the buttery torchon-style, which I love, but the pan-seared version nearly did me in. Not my cuppa, apparently. Besides that personal preference (which in no way reflects their culinary skill), my one complaint about this dish was again, the vegetables; they were an afterthought, which is a pity considering so much care went into the meat.
Dessert was a light, steamed pudding made with egg whites and skim milk. Imagine that, a healthy dessert! I really enjoyed its faintly sweet milky flavour, and the simple, contrasting presentation – white on dark, with no garnish. This was also true for the rest of the plates; they were attractive without being fussy.
For just $55, this tasting menu was a steal. Not only does it leave your life savings intact, but you’ll also leave feeling satisfied, not heavy and full. The food is thoughtful, and my servers were friendly, unobtrusive, and knowledgeable. Overall, my experience at Hakkasan was a great one.
Before I go, I’d like to share a new garlic scape discovery! My friend Dana and I enjoyed them bbq’ed last night, and you should too. Simply toss them with some olive oil and put on the bbq over medium heat – you can either rest them on a piece of tin foil, or bunch them together as Dana did, and put them on the second shelf of the bbq so they’ll cook in the indirect heat. Take them off when they’ve shrivelled a little and are getting a bit charred, sprinkle with sea salt, and enjoy. Garlic scapes – they’re the gift that keep on giving!
Cash and cards accepted
Some vegetarian options, but the menu is quite meat and seafood-heavy