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#1 TaliesinNYC

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Posted 07 September 2011 - 11:57 PM

(The original Hakkasan, in London, is precisely the sort of haute Chinese exemplar that New York craves but lacks.)


So wrote Mr. Big, in a NYT article from December 2009.

Well wait no longer, because a New York branch of the London original will be opening later this year.

Hakkasan
311 West 43rd Street (Eighth Avenue)

#2 Sneakeater

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Posted 30 April 2012 - 03:29 PM

Expectations are a funny thing.

When Hakkasan was supposed to open as the initial restaurant in the renovated Gramercy Park Hotel a few years ago, everyone got excited. It was then thought to be, as Frank Bruni was quoted as saying above, the haute Chinese place that New York lacks. But that plan fell through, and instead we got a different haute Chinese place in the Gramercy that no one but the Johnsons seemed to have thought much of. (Now, the space belongs to Danny Meyer's Maialino, and everybody is happy.)

Meanwhile, Hakkasan engaged in a program of international expansion, opening in places like the Emirates. And now they finally have a branch in New York -- off Times Square. So the international expansion and the suspect New York location have combined to lower people's expectations: we now hear that it would be best to expect, not the height of sophisticated Chinese cuisine, but someplace like Tao.

Well, I've never eaten at Tao, so I don't know. But I suspect it can't be as good as this. But don't misunderstand me: I'm not recommending Hakkasan. Not at all. The food isn't bad, but it certainly isn't great. And the value calculation is all out of whack. For what they charge, the food should be a lot more special than it is.

I started with a spicy fried soft shell crab in a mound of fried noodles or something. The key word here is spicy. It was fine, but nothing to beat the band.

A hotpot of turbot and pork belly was, at least, more interesting -- although it didn't have me swooning. A side of noodles with chives and mushrooms was delicious.

Cocktails are stupid. (As were, as you can guess, my fellow inhabitants of the bar [they have another, "sommelier's bar" -- a wine bar -- deeper into the room that might conceivably get a less stupid crowd, but I was too lazy to walk the extra distance from the cocktail bar].) The by-the-glass wine list is surprisingly good, albeit short.

So this isn't bad food. It isn't dumb, or dialed-down, and it's competently prepared. But the prices! Appetizers in the $20s, main dishes in the $30s to the $50s or even more (and, for a set of "special" dishes for the ballers, way way more). It isn't that this food isn't worth it because it's Chinese, it's that this food isn't worth it because it isn't great. If, say, Annisa charged this much, it wouldn't be worth it, either.
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#3 oakapple

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Posted 30 April 2012 - 04:03 PM

When I visited Hakkasan in London, I thought it was running on hype, and that was several years ago. When this branch opened, I didn't even bother to add it to my go-to list.
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#4 Orik

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Posted 30 April 2012 - 04:05 PM

UK prices.

One of the more ridiculous aspects of international travel is the growing number of international brands - don't want Morimoto in Philly? You can get him in Mexico City, not far from The Palm or Au Pied de Cochon. Maybe you feel like some good old Italian in Beirut or NYC? BiCE is there for you together with l'entrecote. I wonder how this stuff is modeled - do the operators just pay for the graphic design and recipe book? Os there more involvement of the original owners/chef than that?
I never said that

#5 Sneakeater

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Posted 30 April 2012 - 04:34 PM

Is Alan Yau even in the kitchen in London anymore, I wonder?
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#6 Chambolle

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Posted 30 April 2012 - 05:17 PM

Hakkasan has been in Miami Beach for over 3 years now. At the Fountainebleau, along with Scarpetta and Gotham Steak.

Hakkasan is about ambience, decor and style.

Re food, yes it's quite expensive, and yes it's quite expensive and quite overpriced, but at least it doesn't totally completely suck.

Hence, a pretty special Miami Beach place !

#7 Sneakeater

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Posted 30 April 2012 - 05:33 PM

Speaking of decor, they have this lighting effect in the cocktail bar that makes you feel like you're at the bottom of the sea, with dappled streams of light going up and down and side to side in front of you.

If I drank enough, I'm sure it would make me vomit.
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#8 oakapple

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Posted 30 April 2012 - 05:41 PM

One of the more ridiculous aspects of international travel is the growing number of international brands - don't want Morimoto in Philly? You can get him in Mexico City, not far from The Palm or Au Pied de Cochon. Maybe you feel like some good old Italian in Beirut or NYC? BiCE is there for you together with l'entrecote. I wonder how this stuff is modeled - do the operators just pay for the graphic design and recipe book? Os there more involvement of the original owners/chef than that?

I think there's a wide variety of models, from those where the original operator owns the satellite; to those where it operates but does not own; to those where it just sells the design and "consults". And even the "consulting" part of it can come in a variety of forms, most of them usually not a culinary success.

New York seems to be uniquely hostile to concepts imported from elsewhere. Except for big chains (like McDonald's), transplanted concepts have something like a 90 percent failure rate here, and yet people keep doing them.
Marc Shepherd
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#9 Lex

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Posted 30 April 2012 - 05:43 PM

So this isn't bad food. It isn't dumb, or dialed-down, and it's competently prepared. But the prices! Appetizers in the $20s, main dishes in the $30s to the $50s or even more (and, for a set of "special" dishes for the ballers, way way more). It isn't that this food isn't worth it because it's Chinese, it's that this food isn't worth it because it isn't great. If, say, Annisa charged this much, it wouldn't be worth it, either.

Interesting review. You came down pretty much where I expected.

I'm assuming you've been following the CH thread on Hakkasan. The initial posts, largely written by Asian posters, were really favorable and included a heavy dose of cheerleading. "At last Chinese food will finally be given the respect it deserves!" It was a form of validation for them.

As time went on a number of more balanced reviews appeared. The first one was greeted with a level of hostility that used to be reserved for the DiFara unbelievers. Then a few more middling reviews showed up and the cheerleaders finally backed off.

In theory there's no reason why a luxe Chinese restaurant can't succeed. In practice, they need to serve great food that is either unique or significantly better than what you can get at the better "bright lights" Chinese places. Decor can only take you so far.

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#10 Sneakeater

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Posted 30 April 2012 - 05:50 PM

Yeah, I followed that CH thread. It was interesting, because, having eaten there, I think many of the negative reviewers overreacted as much as the initial cheerleaders did. I think Chambolle has it right: "yes it's quite expensive, and yes it's quite expensive and quite overpriced, but at least it doesn't totally completely suck." And, I'd add, it isn't totally completely "inauthentic", to the best of my knowledge, either. (It certainly isn't regional, though.)

I'd say there's luxe and luxe. This place would probably be worth it if the prices averaged $10 less than they are now. You might not go there every week then, but given the paucity of good options in its area, you might go sometimes (post-theater). It would still be expensive (even "luxe") by New York Chinese standards. But the prices would then have some relation to the quality of the food. Now, it's just silly.
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#11 AaronS

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Posted 30 April 2012 - 05:50 PM

Is Alan Yau even in the kitchen in London anymore, I wonder?

he sold the hakassan brand to an investment firm from abu dhabi for 60 million in 2008. I've heard that he's a really smart, nice guy fwiw.

my meal at the original london branch was good enough. I did have a horrible glass of white for 25 pounds or something like that.

#12 Sneakeater

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Posted 30 April 2012 - 05:52 PM

He sure SOUNDS like he's really smart.
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#13 Sneakeater

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Posted 30 April 2012 - 05:57 PM

You know what? I'm actually beginning to feel nostalgic for the early days of 66.
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#14 Suzanne F

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Posted 30 April 2012 - 08:01 PM

But we still have Shun Lee, and Mr. K, don't we? Aren't they supposed to be high-end [= expensive] Chinese food? Hakkasan is not such a new thing here. How does it compare to them?

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#15 Adrian

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Posted 30 April 2012 - 09:27 PM

How dare anyone denigrate a branch of, what was in 2008, the best Chinese restaurant in the world!

I think you need to interpret what I'm saying in a reasonable way.