Thanks to Ray from Chinese Bites, I was invited to a 10-course feast at Hakkasan Bistro along with 17 other local foodies. The dinner was quite impressive! Although it was a little less ‘Chinese Fusion’ than I had expected, I definitely relished the dishes prepared by a talented and experienced Chinese chef, and appreciated the solid cooking techniques and culinary artistry. And Hakka, a cuisine that is similar to Cantonese cooking but tends to use more salt to bring bolder flavours, definitely deserves more recognition and a broader range of audience.
Located in an industrial area on No.5 Road in richmond near River Rd, going to Hakkasan is almost like visiting a secret underground diner. Once you are inside, it actually looks pretty elegant and tasteful.
We started with Honey Roasted Pork Cheek ($20), a variation of Cantonese BBQ pork with a crunch from the cut of pork cheek, and a subtle sweetness from honey, which were all a great result from perfectly timed and executed roasting process. Hmm… It would have been even better if I had a small glass of beer to go with it!
Next we had Chef’s Signature Coconut Soup with Pork and Snow Fungus served in a whole coconut ($22), and it brought me back memories of dining out in Guangzhou, China from not too long ago. The coconut soup I had in China was served in a mature coconut, featuring a much richer chicken and abalone broth, with the coconut flavor taking a smaller part. But for the one here at Hakkasan, they had chosen a young coconut as the vessel and made the coconut the big star. The broth had a very clean coconut flavor, perfectly balanced with sweetness and savory, and the young coconut meat was so tender that it could be easily scraped off with a spoon and eaten – another example of impeccable execution of a dish with very few ingredients and an amazing result. And I felt lucky being a true Cantonese who grew up drinking hot soup in hot humid summers. As many of my fellow diners were having problems with the size of the soup, or with consuming hot soup in the hot weather – I actually finished the whole thing, even including the yummy young coconut meat!
The next dish was visually stunning – Steamed Lobster with Specialty Odorless Garlic on Jasmine Rice ($22/half lobster). Although the name sounded a bit gimmicky, I was indeed impressed by how strong the garlic flavor was on the lobster, and how the garlic smell didn’t linger in my mouth or on my fingers. This is certainly a very neat trick. And the lobster was steamed to a nearly flawless texture, which was such a luxurious treat. The tinny little shreds of red chill pepper reminded me of saffron, a nice touch making the dish look even more vibrant, and the hint of spiciness help bring out the sweetness of seafood tremendously. Then there was the jasmine rice under the lobster, which had been soaking up the garlicky lobster liquid, and in my opinion was the bigger hit. At the end of the dinner when all the lefovers were packed up, that lobster jasmine rice was the only thing that I wanted to take home!
They were trying to impress us with the next dish, Ancient Style Salt Backed Chicken ($19/half), wrapped in paper, buried in coarse salt, and baked in clay pot. It is indeed a traditional Hakka dish that is very popular even among the Cantonese. Although the way how they present the dish was over the top, and the chicken was moist, I found it a little off from the traditional salt baked chicken from other popular Chinese restaurants – the color was not even golden on the skin, and the flavor was a little bland. I think the chicken could where can i buy diovan have been marinated longer to get a better result.
The next dish was another traditional Hakka dish with a twist, Braised Pork Hock. The braising part was pretty spot-on, although pork belly is more traditionally used. But I think using pork hock is an excellent idea, because pork hock has more gelatin content and less fat than pork belly. Although the flavors were not bad, and the meat was so tender falling right off the bone, I was not as crazy and excited about this dish as other diners at the table simply because I just happened to have had better braised pork hock that was smaller in size, had a much better sauce, and had a much better lean and fat meat ratio.
To pair with the richness of the pork, Hakkasan served us some house made steamed rolls. Although they were cute, delicious and they go well with the pork, we definitely needed more than just one for each person to go with this gigantic pork hock.
Finally we get to have a green vegetable dish! Their Greens Stir-Fry with Mui Choy was an interesting dish. Mui choy is the Hakka style pickled cabbage that’s packed with flavours and crunch in texture, but I don’t think it works when it is used in stir frying fresh greens such as Yu Choy. Similar to Kimchi, Tsukemono, or Sauerkraut, Muy Choy is a great condiment for meat dishes, such as the pork hock that we just had – the saltiness and acidity would cut through the richness of fatty pork and making the dish easier to eat.
Hakka Homestyle Steamed Egg with Pork and Duck Egg Yolk ($18) turned out to be my most favourite dish of the evening. North American diners are probably more familiar with Japanese Chawanmushi, a savoury steamed egg custard dish usually made with kombu broth and shiitake mushroom. But the Chinese style steamed egg dish, although similar, is rarely seen at restaurants, and is considered more of a home cooking dish. As I had made steamed egg numerous times, I was amazed how smooth the custard was – it took a lot of patient to beat the eggs evenly and get rid of all the bobbles to form such a perfect smoothness. And the timing has to absolutely precise as well for steaming. The salty duck egg yolk was a perfect topping for the soft and delicate egg custard.
The name of the next dish sounded somewhat deceiving: Fish Stir-Fry with Pickled Cabbage. After I saw and tasted the dish, I would consider this dish being a variation of Sweet and Sour Pork, but featuring fish instead of pork. And the pickle cabbage, assuming it was the same Muy Choy that they had used in other dishes, was hardly detectable in the dish. But as a dish, it was very likeable.
I was curious what wine Hakkasan used to pair with their dishes. The white wine they were serving us was Libebfraumilch from Rhienhessen, a german wine blended with Riesling, Silvaner or Müller-Thurgau. It was on the sweet side, but it was great with the savoury dishes we had today.
The dessert course was a very simple but elegant Steamed Milk Egg White Custard. Just like their savoury sister dish that we had earlier, the texture of the egg custard was incredibly smooth and soft.
*I was invited to this tasting by @chinesebites, all opinions are my own*
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