There is brunch and then there is BRUNCH at Hakkasan - Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi

I love brunch. I enjoy trying it and analysing it, seeing what makes it work and what doesn't. It gives me tremendous pleasure sharing tehse thoughts with restaurants and the public. It is therefore, notwithstanding the bubbly that flows freely, a cerebral experience because the brain is always working. It does not mean to say my mind is never open to an experience where emotion comes to the fore. I recently tried the Friday brunch at Hakkasan housed at Emirates Palace, a restaurant that over the years has set the standard for Chinese cuisine in the city. Would this be another cerebral afternoon or would I be surprised on another level? 

An afternoon of refinement and warmth

Hakkasan is all class. But it conveys this in a minimalist sort of way. The simple furnishings, accentuated by dark wood to convey that sense of the understated, ironically still speak elegance and refinement. You feel it even more when you contrast it to the opulent decadence of Emirates palace. Well spoken staff who carry themselves with grace and an air of culture , from the restaurant manager, sommelier and hostesses, to the waitresses set the tone.  The elegant brunch menu that is placed on my table is the most objective signal of the refinement I am referring to. Restaurants that do table brunches claim that they do not offer menus because they want guests to interact with staff. I don't like this. I want to know what I am having and I do not want to be lost in translation. 

An Executive  Chef and a Head Sommelier on the floor

Executive Chef Lee Kok Hua is probably one of the, to use my 11 year old's word, funnest chefs I have met. His smile is the first thing you see as you approach him or vice versa. But there is so much more to him. His experience at top restaurants around the globe as well as here in the UAE has given him a  perspective and an understanding of the market that few Asian chefs in the city have. The former head Chef of the year  as chosen by Caterer Middle East is as dedicated and passionate as he is fun. Having him on the floor at brunch creates a sense of excellence and reassures the guest. But don't be surprised by his warmth. This chef is all heart. 

Head Sommelier, Amit Chavan, has been part of a team that created one of the two best drinking experiences at a  brunch in the city. Amit has that quality that I look for in a sommelier - one who does not condescend when people ask seemingly silly wine-related questions. He is humble in his knowledge. Again, having him on the floor adds to the whole experience that is brunching at Hakkasan. 

Roasted duck lettuce wrap

Drinks, drinks, drinks

Hakkasan is only the third brunch I have experienced in Abu Dhabi with a  choice of champagne and is one of only two where one can have rosé bubbly. Not only that, but they offer two very fine champagnes in Louis Roederer Brut NV and Perrier Jouet Blason Rosé NV. When a restaurant offers a choice like this, it shows respect for the chef's cooking in that these two champagnes pair quite differently. Amit is constantly on the move, pouring drinks. The rest of the drinks are impressive too, with the Pinot Noir Homestead, Jackson, Marlborough from New Zealand and the Vina Esmerelda, Torres, Pemdedés from Spain and the Marie Christine, L"Aumerade, Cotes de Provence from France, a  rosé,  the highlights of the 5 wines available. Finally, a modest but excellent selection of 3 cocktails, with the indulgent  Qin's champagne cocktail using Louis Roederer bubbly the stand-out cocktail. Less is more. 

The evocation of emotion

Emotions have a way of being triggered. It can be a song, a word,  a smell or taste.  I spent three years in China, two in the poorest part of China, Henan and a year in Shanghai, still my favourite city in the world. Every city claims to have the old and new. Shanghai is one of those that claims it and it is actually true! 

Abalone shumai

The Foie gras and crab xiao long bao takes me to the streets, not to the fancy streets of Pudong or Puxi, but to their backyard streets, their little restaurants. The crab xiao long bao's   combination with the rice vinegar stirs me deep down. But you see, the memories were already evoked when I walked in. It is deeper than kitschy iconography. There are no qipao worn by staff here. No lanterns hanging from the ceiling. The reminders are in the air. You feel them in Hakkasan. If you have lived in China, you are likely to understand what I am writing.  China. 

Foie gras and crab xiao long bao

Finally, dishes

As good as drinks might be at a  brunch and as much as one might love the great atmosphere created by music and a full crowd, food is central, is it not? Hakkasan's champagne package is not only about champagne. There is a distinction in the dishes served. The brunch experience afforded the top tier package offers dishes that are different to the other packages. Hakkasan is possibly the only brunch that  understands that a champagne package is not just about bubbly. Expect to start with  a Braised superior seafood soup with black truffle. Soon after,  it is of course the Peking duck, but you will have it as you are unlikely to have had it before. Rather than the traditional almost crepe-like accompaniment to his beautifully crispy duck, Chef goes with actual pancake. To top it all off, caviar completes the indulgence. Hakkasan joins two other brunches offering caviar. This is one of the ways a brunch can differentiate itself from the crowd - by offering something that is exclusive. I want to mention briefly, if I may, the dim sum. The Wagyu truffle puff is just a delight. That puff just dissolves in my mouth. 

Stir fry rib eye beef
The final highlight is undoubtedly the main course, with the Stir fry rib-eye beef with mushroom deeply flavoured. But as I write this, I recall...wait, just too many good dishes to mention here. The question is: Is it worth paying the extra 240AED to avail of the champagne package? I hope from this piece it is obvious. However, having looked at the midrange menu, it is still pretty impressive, with the same wine offerings and high quality dishes on offer. 

Wok fried wild prawn

Hakkasan, as I conclude my piece, is undoubtedly a brunch experience that will mean different things to people. There are those schooled on Americanised Chinese food who will still enjoy the brunch, but it is the person who lives for that authentic Chinese dish with a  modern twist, who will absolutely lap it up. Finally, the person who spent time in China will feel his/her heart strings pulled by more than a couple things in the restaurant. Memories will certainly be awoken. As for me, I think it is just the complete brunch, notwithstanding that dessert is something  I have not written about because I feel it needs rethinking and has to reflect a Chinese spirit, but this is not enough to steer me from my view that this the among the two best brunches in the city. There is nothing  sentimental about that. 

The Essentials

Emirates palace,
Abu Dhabi
+971 2 690 7999

Friday Brunch 12pm-4pm
318AED Non-alcoholic beverages
438AED Punch, house spirits, wine, beer
678AED NV Louis Roederer Brut or NV Perrier Jouet Blason Brut Rosé, wine, beer, spirits.

Brandon Stoltenkamp