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Geraldine, this place is beneath you

An evening at Hakkasan with Sir David Tang proved a disappointment, as the Chinese behemoth was let down by the noise level and indifferent service

Published 6 February 2011
News Review
916th article

Geraldine outside Hakkasan in Mayfair (Arnold Crust)

Here's a dining experience from hell. Sir David Tang invited Geraldine and me to join his lovely wife and a couple of family members at Hakkasan in Mayfair. An officious woman stood at the street door. "Are you having dinner with us?" she asked. I felt like saying, "No, I hear there's a leak. I'm a plumber. I've come to mend it." What a stupid greeting.

Inside, it was very dark and noisy. A man asked, "Would you rather go down to the table or wait in the bar?"

I said, "I'll look at the bar." This was full of people eating, the noise so loud it practically swept you back out of the door. As I didn't find the bar particularly fascinating I went to go downstairs as David and family entered.

Downstairs it was even noisier, very dark, badly lit, all the surfaces shiny so sound reverberated off them.

David said, "They've just spent £11.5m on doing up this place. The kitchens are incredible - you must see the kitchen." I had no interest whatsoever in seeing the kitchen. All I was interested in was what turned up on my plate.

David had difficulty ordering because the menu was in tiny type and where he sat there wasn't even a pool of light. First to arrive was a vegetable broth with mushrooms. Not spectacular. Next: roast duck with a meaningless dollop of caviar on top.

David said, "It's ridiculous. They showed us the duck and then it takes forever while they go away and cut it."

I said, "The skin is not crisp like it is in your restaurant, China Tang; it's all soggy. What's this stuff at the bottom?"

David explained, "It's flour. That's wrong. Duck should be served on pancakes. The only thing you put on flour in Chinese cuisine is sweet and sour pork because that has a lot of oil in it."

He'd asked the restaurant manager to move us to the private room as it was difficult to hear people sitting next to you. But the private room was taken. Other food served included rather oily salt-and-pepper squid.

David owns two restaurants in Hong Kong (where he lives), one in Beijing, one in Singapore and two in London. He explained, "Chinese cooking has to be in what is called the spirit of the wok.

Meaning you eat it off the wok when it's hot. Here, everything was lukewarm."

Of the indolent waiters David said, "Service is not hands; it's eyes. Never, ever, interrupt a guest if he's in conversation. Dishes when they're finished should be removed. The waiter must have anticipation." Hakkasan's waiter walked round the room not looking at anybody. A nuclear explosion would have gone unnoticed.

The desserts were the best thing: chocolate souffle, excellent; mango sorbet, fine. By this time I couldn't wait to get out because the noise level was horrific.

PS: David Tang food tip: take half a tin of Heinz tomato soup, add half a tin of Campbell's beef consomme. "Delicious," he assured me.

PPS: I never write about private meals without permission. David said, "Go ahead."

A waiter gave me a pad to take notes. Sir Mark Weinberg, who'd been asked late, saw me writing and said, "I thought you were taking food orders." Thus promoting me to a position well above my capabilities. If he'd said, "You look like a food critic", that would have been something even further beyond my ability.

  • My friend the very bright Adam Kenwright had a birthday dinner at Les Deux Salons in Covent Garden. It's a well-designed brasserie. Nice food included an onion tart, a sensational snail and bacon pie, a splendid rum baba.

    Adam started up a tiny theatrical advertising agency 16 years ago employing one man and a dog. Actually, I think there was only a dog. He now employs 173 staff in London, Manchester, New York and Australia. I contributed to his success by persuading him not to put on shows, but to concentrate on the core business. This was not altruistic. Every time Adam put on a play, I invested a few thousand and lost. It became monotonous.

    I did him less good by introducing Adam to a girl. Before you could say "stick it up your jumper" they were engaged. Geraldine said, "It won't work. You must tell him." Difficult to do that, as by now Adam was looking for a wedding venue, checking out Cliveden, Hampton Court, the Jewish blind school, everywhere. He'd also bought the girl a £38,000 diamond engagement ring. Then, before total disaster occurred, he realised he was barking up the wrong person and pulled out.

    He rang me and asked, "What should I do?"

    "Get the ring back," I said.

    "She won't give it back," replied Adam.

    "Cut her hand off," I suggested. The lady (don't blame her) kept the ring. She even gave up her longtime job as a solicitor to study gemology.

    "Listen," I said to Adam. "If someone gave me a £38,000 chicken I'd start a chicken farm."

    Adam now has an enchanting New Zealand girlfriend whom I call Hymie, although that may not be her correct name. Hymie, Shmymie, wha' does it matter? She's a lovely person.

    Assuming we can get our hands on it, do you think she'd like a second-hand ring?

    Michael's missives

    In last week's photo I assume the only reason Adam Stevenson and Timo the dog agreed to have their picture taken was that they could both shut their eyes and pretend you weren't there.
    Cheryl Tomlinson-Jones, Lancashire

    I think the manager and dog closed their eyes in embarrassment at your outrageous scruffiness.
    Ian Lineker, Worcestershire

    Given vouchers for tea at the Ritz, I phoned to book a date. A bossy lady specified a time and ordered, "Don't be late, or early, and dress smartly." I said, "We're going to Covent Garden afterwards." "I don''t care," she replied. "Still dress smartly."
    Barrington Black, London

    My wife and I visited the Rhinefield hotel, Hampshire, thinking of it for our wedding. Disaster. The complimentary bottle of wine had no corkscrew; towelling robes were ripped and had underarm stains; there was no sommelier to help with the wine; our first-course foie gras and confit of duck arrived from the fridge, greasy, cold and inedible; the rolls were hard as nails. I could go on. The response to my letter of complaint was poor.
    Ray Dyer, Wiltshire

    Hymie called over the waiter. "Are you sure you're the waiter I gave my order to?" he asked. "Yes, why do you ask?" replied the waiter. "Because I was expecting a much older man by now," said Hymie.
    Clive Fleckner, Northamptonshire

    Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST or email michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk