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Restaurant Review: HKK London, Chinese New Year Tasting Menu

HKK
88 Worship Street, Broadgate Quarter, London, EC2A 2BE
+44 (0)20 3535 1888
Cuisine: Chinese
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Helen Hokin: February 19th marks the start of the Chinese New Year of the sheep. To celebrate, HKK has created a ten-course tasting menu inspired by China's eight culinary regions.
 
 
February 19th marks the Chinese new year of the sheep symbolising creativity, calm and on account of the purity and whiteness of its fleece, all things good.
 
A few of those good things were in evidence on a recent visit to HKK, the City outpost of the Hakkasan group of Chinese restaurants where Michelin-starred executive chef, Tong Chee Hwee, inspired by China’s most influential culinary regions, has compiled a ten-course tasting menu to usher in the new year.
 
The odyssey begins as my guest and I are handed a matt-red and gold paper envelope with a menu inside that unfolds like an oriental fan. Painted all over in water colours it depicts landscapes and foods from the provinces featured on the menu.  I like the dusty-red brush strokes of a mountain and the bold sweep of green across its highest peak suggesting a single ornamental tree rising out of its scorched earth. The gold caption next to it says: “Hui cuisine - smoked mountainous crispy leek, rich jasmine tea, crunchy poussain skin.”
 
I literally cannot wait to begin.
 
A couple of cocktails arrive. The very elegant ‘Yang Walker’ is based on the fiery Chinese spirit Baijiu containing an eye-watering 60% alcohol. Our second pre-prandial tipple, ‘French Quarter’ is a bitter-sweet combination where a simple squeeze of yuzu lifts its sturdy Cognac foundation to make a drink deceptively refreshing and light: as golden as an eastern sunset, it slips down just as quickly.
 
The regions we visit on our ten-course trajectory had inevitably to include Beijing and its signature Peking duck. We're instructed to eat the cherry wood roasted fowl three ways, as tradition dictates: starting with the silver of crispy skin judiciously dipped in granulated sugar, following on with the rich, pink breast meat dabbed in pungent Hoisin sauce and rounding off with the thigh meat already shredded and rolled into a light and fluffy pancake. Flawless.
 
Inspired by the region of Guangdong, near the South China Sea, chef has conjured three delicate dim sum parcels still hot and steamy in their lidded bamboo basket. The first, in its translucent rice wrapper, is a mighty pink and meaty prawn that floods the mouth on first bite with hot fishy broth. A morsel of juicy king crab comes innovatively wrapped in a light, pastry shell that behaves rather like a croissant, first crumbling then melting in the mouth. The third showstopper of fragrant and aromatic bamboo is made into a rich, perfumed paste. Someone had the ingenious idea of serving the dim sum, amusingly, with a paintbrush. Applying the soy and sesame dipping sauce in brushstrokes to each delicate parcel we note how the pastry case makes for a far less absorbent surface than the regular rice flour wrapper. It's all highly entertaining.
 
From the Fujian province there’s a hot and sour broth brimming with abalone, meaty mushrooms and crunchy sea cucumber. In the Zhe province, where slow cooking is the traditional thing and meat is customarily braised in wine, we cut through buttery-soft King soy wagyu beef braised in rich merlot sauce. And from the Chuan region there was succulent scampi all aromatic, pungent and searingly spicy with the addition of the region’s notoriously fiery Szechuan pepper.
 
The usually dairy-free Chinese diet is out the window by the time we reach dessert which nods to the coming year of the sheep with a delicious concoction of airy sheep’s milk mousse, ethereal pandan curd (made from coconut milk, eggs and sugar) and scattered with what I think are supposed to be balls of woolly sheep’s fleece made of a deliciously sweet caramelised puff rice. Creamy and crunchy, cold and warm, tart and sweet: a perfect yin yang of a pud.
 
A google search reveals what’s in store for me (a horse) in the coming year of the sheep, and I have to say it’s looking very promising: “Horses finally get past their bad fortune from 2014.” “Everything will go smoothly for horse people at work.” “Good wealthy luck will happen to horses.” “They will enjoy great fortune in their love life.” Gong Xi Fa Cai! .
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