x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

If only the attention to food matched the service at Hakkasan Dubai

Restaurant Review With plenty of ambiance and service bordering on overly attentive, it was the missteps with each dish that left our reviewer disappointed.

Dim sum at Hakkasan Dubai.
Dim sum at Hakkasan Dubai.

If a dining experience were just about ticking boxes, then Hakkasan Dubai would fare far better than most. Much like the restaurant's Abu Dhabi counterpart - which in turn took inspiration from the London original - there's no denying that this place has insouciant cool all wrapped up.

The music is moody, the lighting a dim midnight blue. Snappily dressed staff glide around the large, angular restaurant, which is divided into sections by the signature latticed wood panelling. A long, sleek bar runs along the length of one side of the room.

At the moment, temperatures being what they are, a table on the outdoor terrace is not to be sneered at, with the walls lined with plants, oversized lanterns and flaming light features that throw shadows across the catwalk-style private entrance.

The menu features plenty of Hakkasan favourites. The Hakka dim sum platter, Peking duck with Royal Beluga caviar (available by pre-order only) and charcoal grilled silver cod all make an appearance, as do a number of dishes that have apparently been created specifically for the Dubai venue.

We shared three starters and although competently prepared, none of them hinted at the exceptional or met the standard that I've come to expect from eating at other Hakkasan restaurants.

My friend's ginseng chicken soup tasted as soothing as it sounds, but the pale amber liquid lacked depth and, as he remarked, the taste and appearance were more peasant-style than modern fine dining.

The same lack of assertiveness was evident in the crispy duck rolls that we shared: the flavour of the shredded meat was overpowered by the thick, dry pastry enclosing it, meaning that much like the presentation, it felt uninspired.

Crispy prawns dusted with pandan leaves and chilli were better. The prawns were succulent and tender, with a generous scattering of golden wheat flakes adding texture and a cornflake sweetness. The dish was very dry, though, and really needed some sort of sauce to provide a bit of contrast.

Main courses were presented in thick china bowls and once again lacked pizzazz. The stir-fried Wagyu beef cheek with Schezwan peppers looked a treat: pieces of glazed meat, glistening with sauce, were caramelised around the edges and topped with slivers of wafer-thin garlic. When it came to the eating though, we were disappointed - the meat was unusually chewy and provided plenty of resistance when there shouldn't really be any. It was not terrible by any means, just not quite up to scratch.

I felt the same way about my braised sea bass with salted plum flakes and Chinese celery. The chunks of fish were a touch overcooked, which wasn't ideal, but it was the vaguely glutinous broth they were served in that I had issues with - it was very salty, with a strong fishy undertone that I couldn't get my head around or enjoy.

Service was attentive, but so much so that it bordered on the gauche, when sophistication is the aim. On more than one occasion, my friend found himself having to duck out of the way, as an eager waiter leant over his head to sweep away a barely empty plate or bowl.

I visited Hakkasan with high - but not unfair - expectations that, unfortunately, were not met. They may have nailed the setting, but at the moment the food lacks a certain something, almost as if with expansion, the clout of the brand has been watered down.

A meal for two at Hakkasan Dubai costs Dh790 including service. For reservations call 04 384 8484. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and reviews are conducted incognito.