Rasika Sittamparam is treated like a member of the royal entourage of China’s imperial era with the Emperor’s Feast menu
The chic, subdued setting of HKK in Shoreditch brings China’s silk clad imperial dynasty into the modern, sharp-suited present. Arriving, the attentive staff treats my dining partner and me like a royal entourage – or two of the ‘five fortunes’ personified, rumoured to appear on the fifth day of the celebration which our visit coincided with.
Once seated, the waiters and the sommelier glide around our table, bringing us the first bite of the eight-course Emperor’s Feast menu – a pinkish grape-like bubble, quite what it is remains to be seen. First, drama strikes: the morsel slips off its spoon and falls to the table, but is swiftly replaced (although I was confident it would have been caught mid-fall by the nimble staff). Seamlessly restored, the encasing ruptures in our mouths, releasing a splash of kumquat juiced and an unidentifiable crunch. I appreciated the brief fruity tickle with a hint of tang, but the kimchi-like aftertaste disturbed my partner’s palette (he’s an Englishman; it doesn’t agree with him).
Next is a delectable king crab, bamboo shoot and white truffle spring roll, tastefully-paired with an aromatic portion of Amabuki rose sake. The dish could have done with more truffle, but the earthy undertones of the sake fills the flavour gap.
The ‘Touch of the Heart’ course, hot on the heels, is a triple-treat of seafood dumplings: lobster and pickle, XO sauce king crab and seabass topped with spicy shrimp. The slippery parcels put our chopstick-skills to test, but are worth the dexterous effort. Set the shrimp-seabass choice to jaw-level and a bite – a culinary triumph! The dish is served with Pisco (a Peruvian brandy) crushed with honeydew melon, celery and ginger. Whether the nectary sweetness of the cocktail, which feels tropical, works with the overall oriental theme, is up to you.
The seafood-theme continues with ‘Monk Jumps over the Wall’, a too yellow soup with abalone, sea-cucumber and ginseng. But looks can be deceiving, as it tastes far more pleasant than its appearance: the bitterness of the ginseng gives the silky broth gentle herbal undertones. I was thankful that I could not see parts of the invertebrates floating about.
Now the main course, heralded by a giddying popcorn-like aroma. We watch head chef Tong Chee Hwee carve the reddish bird on a trolley next to our table. The Michelin-starred chef, who hails from sister restaurant Hakkasan, is famous for his version of the Peking duck, slow-roasted in a cherry wood oven.
Moments later, the elegantly plated dish arrives. Knowing that the dish took 50 hours to prepare, I waste no time in shoveling the mouthful in, indulging in the way the caramelised skin crisps and melts on the tongue. The succulent flesh underneath leaves a powdery umami trail on the tongue. To top it all, the JJ Prum Riesling 2012 could not have been a better companion to the sweet-savoury combo, swirling in a delicate sugary rush with raspberry after-notes to the dense flavour pool. Packed together, punctuating the wine and the mouthfuls in tandem, the combination delivers the festive bounce the previous courses built up to.
Next is the lightly salted scallop noodle with Chinese tenderstem broccoli, followed by the moreish goodness of the guinea fowl-gingko nut package. The kumquat carrot cake is a fitting lead to the artistically arranged dessert and final course, the Century Egg. The egg-shaped sesame mousse delicately seated on an edible nest is the final beat of the menu’s celebratory gong – expertly combined with the crunch of roasted hazelnuts and a warming swig of Glenmorangie Signet. I can’t wait for the next New Year now.
The Emperor’s Feast menu is available till February 11, 2017