How sexy can a restaurant be? I mean were talking tables and chairs here, not three days locked in a supply cupboard with ERs Goran Visjnic. However, Hakasan, the new Chinese restaurant backed against the wall in a mug-me street near the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford street, is sexy; but classy sexy. Its not a red bra and eye magnetising cleavage; or Sarah Jessica Parker with whippet thin legs, all come-hither and knock-kneed in her mothers high heels - its obvious but not that obvious. The entrance resembles a very kinky underground car park. Inside, with high ceilings, black square lattice screens, sheets of opaque glass, slate walls, and light rippling like dappled water above the bar, it has a dark sophistication - a long-legged, illicit, seductive, going on to the Ritz to a suite someone else is paying for, kind of atmosphere.
Sort of wasted on me then. My companion - a staggeringly wealthy New Yorker who is richer than God, but with much better jewelry - is another class act - but sadly female, despite the moustache (a joke which shes going to kill me for). We met at Oxford where she married one of Americas top performing commodity traders, while I dated Dr George who, after me, announced he was gay. Ah well, those who can do, the rest of us eat.
Despite the 3 million reputedly spent on the interior, the refreshing thing about Hakasan is that it looks glamorous, but the design is neither too studied nor themed. Its not breathing money in your face like yesterdays garlic. Instead it sort of hangs in the air like the faint perfume trailing behind a fur coat.
Foodwise, theres nothing to complain about either. At lunch they serve dim sum at just under £5 per plate, about which Ive heard great things but not tried. All that blinking like a mole when you come up from the subterranean depths to the late afternoon sun and the school run somewhat spoils the otherworldly effect, no matter how much youve imbibed or how well youve eaten. But dinner, when the menu becomes mainstream modern Chinese was an unexpected joy, which was particularly welcome considering that we went during what restauranteurs call the soft opening. This is usually an occasion, as the name suggests, when you drink a lot of alcohol, are left feeling disappointed the first time, but willing to try again later when everyones nerves have settled down... Though in the case of restaurants you get a reduction on the bill to lessen the disappointment. Most soft openings are an excuse to train the staff, but since both the head chef and the master Dim Sum chef have come from the acclaimed Summer Pavilion at the Ritz Carlton in Singapore, everything worked as smoothly as Maggie Cheungs bottom In The Mood for Love.
We had Salt and Pepper Snow Crab Claw meat with glistening sautéed cod - two complementary dishes served as a duo, not in the same bed and some stir-fried Canadian lobster with ginger served on a lattice of crispy noodles, which is probably the best thing to do with Canadian lobster other than getting the Mounties to come and take it home. The flavour was good, the meat tender, but served in the shell, eating was a little unwieldy with chopsticks. The steamed scottish scallops were also excellent, each served gorgeous and pouting in a pool of either black bean sauce or garlic and soya.
To follow roast pork with red rice, and a plate with shards of slippery stir-fried abalone with baby bok choi which was fine, but not a particular favourite of mine. The wonderfully smokey, bronzed Jasmine chicken had the aromatic smell of old cigar boxes and a pleasing gentle intensity of flavour. Vegetables - delicious stir fry asparagus, lotus roots and lily bulb which sounds like a spring planting box, arrived al dente but without the nasty snap of the undercooked.
I would also urge everybody to try the exotic fruit plate with grape-sized baby kiwi fruit which exploded in the mouth with a sweet lime-sourness, and mango, papaya, dragon fruit, and pomelo, to name but a few.
But in all this celebration of the senses what happened to the lighting? In theory it all looks groovy - long lanterns suspended low over each, individual table. Unfortunately they hang right at eye level and you have to dodge around them to see your companion, and worse, the cast a spotlight over the face as you duck and dive to get a view. Now for the young chiccas out there in the spaghetti strap dresses, this is fine, but for we oldies its like that thing where you hold a torch under your chin, only reversed. Every plain, hill and dell is highlighted so that even the most well preserved woman of a certain age looks like the creature from the deep lagoon, looming out of the shadows.
Its a miracle that the chap at the next table gave me his telephone number. But he did have heavy-metal long hair, and wore green crocodile, high heeled boots and a necklace. he also told me he was a porn star. So go figure.