Hakkasan appears to be going through somewhat of a transformative period here in the UAE. The Dubai outpost of the acclaimed Cantonese restaurant has recently moved from its DIFC location to the touristic Atlantis out on the Palm Jumeirah, where it will be housed temporarily until the opening of the Royal Atlantis Resort and Residences (AKA ‘Atlantis 2’) at the end of the year.
In Abu Dhabi however, Hakkasan has stood proud at the majestic Emirates Palace for the last nine years with little change to the award winning formula, aside from the addition of an expansive outdoor terrace and the annual reinvention of the menu. Previous visits to the acclaimed restaurant have always had us seated within the stylish dining room which is constructed from ornately carved screens illuminated in electric blue hues that weave the way through labyrinthine passageways towards one of the more striking bars in the city, backed in slate and home to an extensive collection of premium spirits.
Dining at Hakkasan often feels like eating within an upmarket nightclub, thanks to the modish lighting and amped up soundtrack but Hakkasan’s new terrace offers a welcome respite from the frivolous interior and is where we choose to spend our evening, overlooking the skyscrapers of Abu Dhabi’s evolving cityscape which peek over the Palace walls. A mild kerfuffle regarding the tables is an unfortunate precursor to the service style we are to receive during the course of the evening and the absence of restaurant manager Anthony Ma is evident.
A visit to Hakkasan cannot be undertaken without sampling the dim sum which are hands down the best thing on the menu. We opt for both the Vegetarian Dim Sum Platter (AED 98) AND the Supreme Dim Sum Platter (AED 138) and are delighted by the steamed parcels that we receive, which are flecked with gold and contain some particularly interesting flavour combinations such as lychee and lobster and sea bass and black truffle. It’s these luxurious ingredients supporting each other without the need for intervention that makes dining at Hakkasan such a pleasure and the dim sum are gone before we know it!
We leave the remainder of the order in the hands of our waiter who makes some interesting recommendations without trying to up-sell the more expensive items, which is certainly appreciated. The Crispy Mango Chicken with Thai chilli sauce (AED 108) is exactly as described, tender chicken pieces lightly battered before undertaking a generous coating of sauce which manages to balance sweet and sour admirably. The dish is a likely crowd favourite due to its use of traditional Asian flavours tweaked for the Western palate.
The Wok-seared Spotted Bass in superior ginger soya (AED 228) sounds like an interesting choice based upon the menu description: “Raised in pristine lagoons in Mauritius, our spotted bass is sustainably farmed using Organic methods that respect the life cycle of the fish.” Whether this sustainable approach is the reason for the high price tag is debatable, but aside from a nice coating adding some much needed texture, the protein itself is a bland and somewhat turgid. We’re not sure what makes the ginger soya ‘superior’ though the flavour is notably balanced, bringing something to the otherwise uninspiring fish. In true Hakkasan style the sides of Edamame Egg Fried Rice (AED 58) and Stir-fry sugar snap, cloud ear and ginger (AED 78) are well executed.
Having often struggled with desserts at Hakkasan due to the niche nature of the cuisine, we are excited by the introduction of a Milk chocolate and hazelnut parfait to the menu. A rich sphere of chocolate that has the dual purpose of being both a pleasing dessert and a piece of dinner theatre. Where warm chocolate sauce is poured upon the sphere to melt the exterior, revealing the hazelnut parfait within. A recommended alternative would be the Jade Delice, served with mango pate-de-fruit and an impressive mango vinegar sorbet that ends the meal on a lighter note.
Having dined at Hakkasan in both Morocco and the UAE (and with a visit to the London flagship on the cards) we certainly have an affinity to the brand and a slight obsession with the Hakka Cocktail. The reason for this is that Hakkasan manages to remain consistent in its food and beverage offering while impressing time and again thanks to the decor and unique location. The restaurant has long been a favourite place to wow out of town visitors and despite some minor disappointments with the new menu, this will not change.
Hakkasan still remains the best restaurant within the Emirates Palace (perhaps because it’s outsourced?). Blending opulence with the distinct Asian ambience of a Chinese tea house and replicating the design of the Michelin starred London flagship in the process. Our previous reviews (here and here) have noted the impeccable service, which seems to have meandered during our recent visit.
Returning to Hakkasan has provided us inspiration for a new section on the Out & About website. One where we look to compare the original flagship locations of popular restaurants against their UAE counterparts (Hakkasan, Asia De Cuba, Lima, Zuma, La Petite Maison and Coya are just some of the establishments that spring to mind). How do these ‘franchised’ outlets compare to the coveted original? Can they do justice to the brand? Or are they just taking the name and reputation to make a quick buck? Watch this space…
Out & About UAE were guests of Hakkasan. All views are our own and photographs are © Out & About UAE.
The Verdict: Hakkasan
As the pre-eminent dining destination at the Emirates Palace, Hakkasan continues to impress with its food and beverage offerings almost a decade after opening in the capital!