Friday brunch is without a doubt one of our favourite things about living in the UAE. The weekly all you can eat and drink ethos is one that speaks to us as lovers of all things food. Having been in the UAE for three years, we are starting to grow tired of the excessive wastage showcased at the seemingly endless buffets and have started to opt for table service brunches instead (who wants to traipse around for their food anyway?)
The Friday Hakka Brunch was our first trip to Hakkasan, the award winning Cantonese restaurant located within the iconic Emirates Palace Hotel. A beacon of luxury that has been operating in the capital since 2009, sitting in a prime position on the edge of Abu Dhabi’s azure coastline.
Hakkasan is a stunning venue that blends opulence with the distinctly Asian ambiance of a Chinese tea house. Wooden screens and carved lattice work, separate the bar and dining area, replicating the iconic decor of the Michelin starred flagship London location. The style can only really be described as modern-ethnic, with the central dining area a mixture of sleek steel and backlit blue glass, while the bar is perhaps the longest and best-stocked in the capital. At times Hakkasan feels more like an exclusive nightclub than one of Abu Dhabi’s highest regarded fine dining establishments.
Now it wouldn’t be Friday brunch without cocktails and Hakkasan is renowned for having some of the best in the capital. Unfortunately these are not included in the brunch’s alcohol package, with the exception of the ‘hakka punch’ – an elegant expression of fruits blended with Myers dark rum, Trader Vic’s rum, orange juice, pineapple juice, grenadine and a touch of soda – an impressive introduction to the world of Hakkasan. The alcohol package at Hakkasan does include premium spirits and mocktails, (so without living up to the stereotype of an East Londoner) it was possible to order the drinks separately and mix them!
Brunch at Hakkasan begins with a selection of steamed and fried dim sums brought to the table, of these you can’t order extras, but there is also a buffet on hand for those needing a little extra dim sum fix. What arrived at out table was a plethora of intricate parcels, each more exciting than the next.
The concept of dim sum originated in Southern China as an accompaniment to yum cha (tea drinking) and rooted in the traditions of the ancient Silk Road. Travellers would stop at tea houses set up along the roadside and be offered dum sum as a snack to eat with their tea. The cuisine is immensely popular and we remember that when visiting Hong Kong, dim sum would be available from 5am and is the perfect food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The dim sum at Hakkasan is far more refined that you would find at a Chinese street stall but the process remains the same. The selection included the traditional har gau (a delicate shrimp dumpling), Szechuan-style wontons, a delightful scallop shumai, and the translucent skinned ‘crystal dumpling’ stuffed with pumpkin and pine nuts.
Undoubtably the fried and baked dim sum were the better items. Who knew dim sum could be so intricate and presented with such flair? The crispy sea prawn with foie gras sauce was a rich and inviting parcel of impressive textures that took on the look of seaweed and tasted absolutely fantastic.
The black pepper pumpkin puffs actually looked like mini pumpkins on a plate, complete with the spherical shape and a stork of greenery. The artistry on display was remarkable and chef Lee Kok Hua (who worked at the London branch in Hanway Place) should be commended for such inventive takes on the traditional Chinese delicacies.
We also loved the flaky pastry and rich game flavour of the venison puff and even the stodgy acquired taste of tarot worked wonders in the chicken coquette.
The service at Hakkasan can only really be described as impeccable. We could find no faults as plates were cleared and drinks re-filled without us even noticing! Service is first class and discreet and really helps to amplify the sophistication of the brunch experience.
Main courses are also presented to the table and consisted of steamed wild prawns in a home made chilli sauce, a Sanpei chicken which is most akin to the sweet and sour style that is found on most Chinese menu. Dishes were presented elegantly, with the chicken sitting on a crisp cracker shaped like the shell of a scallop, providing a dish that was absolutely faultless in presentation and taste.
What suprised us most was just how delicious a plate of seasonal vegetables could be, served slightly al dente the addition of items such as Lotus and asparagus really made for a fresh and inspiring dish.
Mains, prawns, jasmine rice, chicken with pomegranate and fresh veg with crunchy lotus. Chicken was faultless sticky and sweet.
Aside from the items brought to the table, there is also a small buffet featuring Hakkasan’s signature dishes such as the Peking duck pancakes, a spicy seafood soup and a small selection of dim sum. Our only disappointment with the Hakkasan experience came from the seafood XiaoLaoBoa, a dim sum filled with soup that should be pierced before eating (to release the broth). We sampled the dish on a couple of occasions and no soup emanated from the steamed dim sum, likely because it has dried out on the buffet.
The Peking duck did not disappoint with its slow cooked chunks of duck meat presented in a small pancake and a sweet sauce. It should be noted that the live stations, buffet and desserts are unlimited so make sure you save room for them!
Desserts are small tasters and were very good, beautifully presented in concentric circles. Hakkasan forgoes the usual Chinese desserts (banana fritters anyone?) in favour of less gelatinous items such as macaroons, lemon pots, cherry truffles, cheese cake, mirror cake, tiramisu, chocolate marquis and fresh fruits. We can confirm that the desserts actually taste as good as they look and are handcrafted by the team at Hakkasan specifically for the brunch.
As brunch draws to a close we recommend that you escape the labrynthin nightclub interior and head into the sunshine on the outside terrace. A remarkable space of small babbling streams, lush vegetation and the sound of bird song. The view across the lawns of the east wing to the glistening Etohad Towers is as spectacular as it gets in the capital and is a great spot to finish your drinks, or to dine in the cooler winter months.
The Hakka brunch is excellent value for money and for a resultant with such a stirling reputation, provides a great opportunity to dine at a restaurant that may otherwise be outside of your price range. The Hakka brunch runs every Friday from 12pm – 4pm.
245 AED++ per person, inclusive of unlimited non-alcoholic cocktails, soft drinks and jasmine green tea.
345 AED ++ per person, inclusive of unlimited punch cocktail, selected spirits, wines and beers.
495 AED ++ per person, inclusive of unlimited NV Laurent Perrier, Brut Premier Champagne and all of the above.
All views within this blog are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated.