Two decades old, but forever still Peking…

Hakkasan is one of those names that carries a strong sort of culinary currency. The high-end Cantonese cuisine chain, known for its innovative, artistically executed menu and unimpeachably chic interiors, now operates across 12 restaurants on three separate continents.

The Abu Dhabi venue was one of the first to land outside of London, making its royal debut at Emirates Palace in 2010. And although it draws on recipes that stretch back into ancient China, Hakkasan as a brand is a fresh-faced and energetic 20 years old this year. To celebrate, they’re throwing a party in the shape of a special menu, and we’ve come to the fabled Abu Dhabi soiree spot to pay our respects to a legitimate fine dining dynasty.

After entering the restaurant, we’re whisked through a geometric grid of neon blue alleyways to our table for the night. The low lighting, deep house playlist and permeable partitions that surround the dining nooks provide a pleasant balance between a privileged sense of seclusion, and vignette views of the busy restaurant beyond. It is its own vibe.

Our waitress politely explains the format of the menu, and the sequence the dishes will be brought in. Trying to choose the seven courses that represent 20 years worth of kitchen excellence, must have been an incredibly tricky task, but only slightly more difficult than choosing the 500 or so words to review it.

We start with a classic trio of seafood dim sum, that arrives with on-brand immaculate presentation. If you’re alumni of the shumai finishing school, you’ll appreciate as we do, that not all dumplings are made equal. And this scallop shumai is top of the class, the bite-to-juice ratio is spot on, and the meaty scallop option is a cut above the prawn filling we now feel like we’ve been fobbed off with elsewhere. The langoustine har gau is deliberately less delicate, there are delightful pockets of aromatic piracy, that Shanghai the palate in exciting ways. The abalone and chicken parcel is dense, but filled with rich savoury gravy, and somehow the most dainty item of the threesome.

A clutch of steamed, hand-dived scallops with brown butter sauce arrive next, they’re served with shrimp tuiles and glass vermicelli. There’s a bittersweetness to the deconstruction of this dazzling plate, framed as it is by shell and coral-mimicking tuile, but its flavour profile describes a perfect case study for how to do subtle umami-play right.

The oatmeal seabass; stir fry black pepper rib-eye beef; golden mixed vegetable yam ring; and supreme stock braised lobster with egg noodle nests are presented simultaneously as the follow on. We can understand the reasoning behind why each of the dishes made the 20th birthday cut, but the lobster noodles stand out for us, and probably rank as one of the best plates we’ve tried this year.

Our final course is a dessert that centres around caramalised chocolate cream, plum sponge, plum sorbet with vanilla foam. It’s round and late summer orchardy, rich, subtly-sweet and it serves as a perfect send off.

Verdeict: The aesthetic element of the courses at Hakkasan is important, yes, but the art is indistinguishable from the eating. It’s all about the holistic experience. The chef is speaking through the food, and whilst we can try to describe it here, the only way to hear this beautiful mantra is to try it. Which you really rather ought to.

Rating: A

Hakkasan, Emirates Palace, Corniche Rd W, the 20th anniversary meal is Dhs488. Tel: (02) 690 7739, @hakkasanabudhabi

Images: Provided