Hakkasan is a restaurant practically designed for the New York critics to hate. It’s the tenth branch of an international chain, and the critics seldom have much love for imports. Parts of the menu could almost be considered arrogantly expensive: Peking Duck with Caviar, $295. And it’s built in a “big box” style that hit its apogee in the early aughts, but is now very much passé.
Critics be damned, Hakkasan opened on the eastern edge of Hell’s Kitchen. Damn it, they did. Adam Platt of New York awarded no stars, calling it “Ruby Foo’s for Rich People.” The Post’s Steve Cuozzo gave half a star, calling it “all wet.” Pete Wells of The Times gave it one star, complaining that “prices are too high for extremely restrained portions of food that is, in too many cases, about as interesting as a box of paper clips.”
Then there’s Michelin, the tire man, which gave it one star—the equivalent, on their scale, of two or three stars on the other guys’ systems. The original Hakkasan in London is starred too. I was there six years ago, and for the most part enjoyed my meal.
Here in New York, Hakkasan is a hair too expensive for what it is, and the dining room feels like a Meatpacking District attrocity gone haywire. But the food is very good.
Prices are skewed by a handful of trophy dishes for hedge fund babies and oil barons. Scratch those from the list, and you’re left with prices that are certainly dear, but not downright crazy. Dover Sole in XO Sauce is the most expensive of the “normal” entrées. It’s $46, but you’d pay about that much at any serious restaurant.
Not counting a few outliers, soups and appetizers are $9–26, with most $20 or less. Meat, fish, and poultry entrées are generally in the range of $24–39, with vegetarian and tofu dishes $14–21 and rice dishes $9–18.
We began with the dim sum platter ($24; above), which got a shout out in The Times last week (and even Pete Wells had liked it). According to the published menu, you get two apiece of scallop shumai, har gau, prawn and Chinese chive dumpling, and black pepper duck dumpling. We didn’t take notes, but found the selection as enjoyable as it was colorful.
(There are several other dumpling assortments offered, but you can’t pick and choose from individual varieties, as you can at a traditional dim sum parlor.)
The kitchen did a first-class job with a sumptuous braised Maine lobster with noodles in a so-called (slightly spicy) Royal Supreme sauce ($31; above left). The Pipa duck ($32; above right) is in essence half of a Peking Duck without the pancakes or plum sauce, with a crisp skin and luscious layers of fat.
The bill for two came to about $200 before tip, including wine—not a bargain, but the food was well above run-of-the-mill Chineese food. I didn’t look at the wine list, but cocktails, in keeping with the evening’s theme, were well made, but a couple of dollars above par: order the smoky Negroni ($17).
The service is not as coddling as it ought to be at these prices. A host walks you to a seat at the bar, but getting a drink ordered and delivered is too much of a hassle. Service isn’t bad at the tables, but the staff’s attentiveness befits an establishment charging only half as much.
The clubby space isn’t my cup of tea, but the music isn’t so loud that it precludes conversation. The food is compelling, and worth a try if you don’t mind the tariff.
Hakkasan (311 W. 43rd Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, Hell’s Kitchen)
Food: Modern Chinese cuisine, skillfully prepared, but at a cost
Service: Good enough, but it ought to be better
Ambiance: A clubby space that would have been chic ten or twelve years ago
Why? The food is worthwhile, even if the space isn’t my taste