Hakkasan Contemporary Chinese Cuisine
110-2188 #5 Road
Taking a cuisine with the length and depth of history that Chinese cooking has and making bold adjustments and giving it a contemporary twist in an environment like Richmond, that is stocked with a multitude of restaurant choices from the east Asia region. must be acknowledged for its bravery. Hakkasan does just that with their aim of bringing the visual impact of traditional Chinese dishes and ingredients to the forefront, in this out-of-the-way location in an industrial/commercial district of this waterside city. Supported by an eye-catching website and a rotation of various special and tasting menus (with no fear about raising some culinary sustainability flags by showcasing one right now on shark’s fin), this sleek operation has found a way to rise above the field and make some inroads with the local food loving community.
The regular dinner menu is separated out into groupings that one would normally find with Chinese restaurant menus (e.g. by protein, rice/noodle, dessert, etc.) but without the numerical references that go into the hundreds that you can find on occasion at those all-purpose Chinese places that try to cater to a very generic audience. After being seated and examining our choices, including the higher priced promotional tasting menus, my dining partner and I settled on the monthly dining special – priced at around $29/person.
This choice worked out quite well as it included two of their regular menu specialty items that I had heard about and was interested in trying – the steamed garlic lobster and the salty Hakka chicken. Glancing over at the table directly next to us, I could see that party of five had opted to go for a higher range set menu. Interestingly enough though, when the dishes came out, it seemed there was some confusion on how the system worked, as the Cantonese-speaking group got into a discussion with their English-only speaking server about the quantity of food. Another table had apparently gone a la carte, as they had a different assortment of dishes and bowls on their table. So I’d say its really up to your, your budget and your appetite for juts how you want to order and what, there are plenty of pleasing choices that should satisfy just about any diner.
After receiving our drinks, house wine for my dining mate and an Asahi Kuronama (Black) beer for me, it was about fifteen minutes or so before our opening trio of appetizers were brought out. When ordering, I’d inquired as to what is actually comprised of this chef’s daily trifecta, and strangely enough, even our server said she did not know what would come out as it was completely up to the folks in the kitchen to decide. Interesting way of managing the mystery (and no doubt, effectively utilizing whatever ingredients might have come in that day or was on hand). The daikon soup in the foreground was mild in flavour and slightly starchy in consistency, despite how earthy it may have appeared on first glance, and I enjoyed it. The pork dumpling drizzled in a soy sauce was a satisfying sized amount, the meat seasoned nicely and moist inside. Surrounding it was a not too-soft flour wrapping that hadn’t been damaged (e.g. torn) from the steamer. Lastly, the shrimp salad. Two large, fresh, cold crisp, shrimp with a tangy tomato dressing with hand torn leafy vegetables (including feta stuffed grape tomotoes) was pleasant and refreshing.
Our server had mentioned that despite the garlic moniker, there was a twist to how this is prepared. Without disclosing how its done, the distinct aromatic and resulting harshness on one’s breath after getting some garlic was virtually nullified, but still leaving a faint remnant of this pungent ingredient. The way the half lobster‘s delicate meat was smothered with this creamy mixture of garlic looked overpowering but the result was that it was not at all. With moisture contained, the tender lobster tail maintained its flavour and tenderness. My only complaint was that I wished there was more!
The menu claimed this was free range bird, and was paired with a well cooked jasmine rice and plenty of grilled skinny green beans. The soft gelatinous skin was retained on every piece of sliced chicken meat – for those who like that contrast of textures. Cured with salt, that taste did come through the meat as well, no other seasoning required. Again, a winner in my books.
The dessert was almost an afterthought for us by this point as we were quite full from our dinner. Thankfully, the portion was again manageable and it just felt rude to leave this untouched. As it was a mango pudding, I couldn’t resist – with this being one of my favorite fruits to eat on its own. Sweet (but not overly so) and creamy, balanced by the chewier jelly-like pieces of some other fruit(?) that were suspended within the cool pudding.
Overall, this was an unexpected surprise in terms of how much we enjoyed the full dinner and we both felt that the ingredients featured in each course was given front stage attention as the menu promised. Simple yet heightened is how I’d describe it in a few words. And for my dining companion, who is not a huge fan of Chinese cuisine in general, they came away happy which was a huge win for me and this restaurant in and of itself. As a side note, you might feel as we did, there was a strong and overt push to up-sell on many items (from the set menu, to the desserts) and also a lot of promotional work being done about the other special and seasonal menus Hakkasan is pumping out on a regular basis. Other than that, service was precise and attentive (but not obtrusive) and it helped for us as non-Chinese speakers to have a native English speaker to describe some of the menu as sometimes the written English doesn’t do justice to the original Chinese naming of some dishes.