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Hakkasan resembles the “big-box” Asian restaurants that have taken over Manhattan (Buddakan, Megu, Matsuri, Ono). It’s located in a quiet back street that is practically guaranteed not to attract walk-in foot traffic. A friendly goomba asks for your name at the door. If you’re not already on his list, you’re not getting in. Then, it’s down three flights of stairs to a dimly-lit subterranean lair, with a modern Asian décor, although most of the staff seem to be Westerners. Just about every seat in the large space is taken.

With all of those gimmicks, you’d expect the food to be almost secondary, but Hakkasan has a Michelin star, and they seem to have earned it. A dim sum platter (£10.00) came with eight pieces. I have to admit that I didn’t recognize what was in them, but they were fluffy, tender, and delicious. Stir-fried Mongolian venison (£18.50) may have been a tad over-priced, but the spicy preparation was expertly judged, and lacked the generically over-salty taste to which stir-fry sometimes succumbs. Egg fried rice (£3.50) was also excellent A colleague recommended the signature cocktails, which came with names like The Hakka, Green Destiny, and the Lychee Martini (all £8.50). I was feeling pretty happy after three of those.

The clamor for tables at Hakkasan is obviously intense. When I called for a 7:30 p.m. reservation on a Tuesday evening, the hostess replied, “The table is booked for 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.” I know that some people resent being told in advance when they have to leave, but I am more than capable of finishing my dinner in two hours, and at this type of restaurant I don’t really mind the restriction.

Big-box Asian restaurants are getting a bad name in New York. There are so many of them now, with the menu often designed practically by rote. At Hakkasan, they really seem to care about the food.

The bill came to £57.50 before tip.

Hakkasan (8 Hanway Place near Tottenham Court Road, London, W1P 9DH)

Food: **
Service: *½
Ambiance: *½
Overall: **

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