If you told me a Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant from London was planning to expand with a Las Vegas location, I’d be pretty excited. It would be big dining news, even on the noisy, celebrity chef-infested Strip. The thing is, when the impeccable new Hakkasan finally landed at MGM Grand, it was attached to the biggest nightlife experience ever—80,000 square feet and five stories and more than $100 million worth of crazy Vegas fun. Hakkasan had only ever been a restaurant, and now it was morphing into this mega-thing where super-famous DJs would pack in monster crowds. There’s food?
As it turns out, there’s nothing to compare to Hakkasan the restaurant. Chinese is not the trendiest cuisine these days, and there are far fewer great Chinese rooms (Bellagio’s Jasmine, Wynn’s Wing Lei, Palazzo’s Zine) than stylish Japanese or pan-Asian restaurants on Las Vegas Boulevard. Hakkasan’s environment matches the elegance of those places with a sleek, intimate, almost futuristic edge, creating a palpable feeling of exclusivity. Most tables are for four or more, nudging you into making an occasion out of your meal before heading upstairs to party, and the cavernous restaurant space is divided into latticework-framed “cages” that only build the intimacy. It may be the most distinct restaurant design on the Strip.
The food is flawless, and while things can get wildly expensive here, there are still plenty of well-priced, impressively executed dishes. The golden, mushroom-accented Hakka noodles ($18) are a great example of that, a simple but sublime bite.
What must you try? The steamed dim sum platter ($28) is more than just the best dim sum in the city, it absolutely shames all competitors. The scallop shumai and black pepper duck dumpling are my favorites from this perfect package. Duck is a big deal here, and there are lots of ways to get it. The crispy duck salad ($28), a seemingly simple platter of luscious meat and crisp greens with bits of pomegranate, pine nut and pomelo, is a signature dish, and one I wish I could eat every day.
Hakkasan serves the best possible versions of several standards. Mongolian beef is done with plenty of black pepper and supremely tender steak. Egg and scallion fried rice is another daily wish for me. And even the hot and sour soup with chicken is memorable. That doesn’t mean there aren’t more creative or exotic offerings. Roasted Chilean sea bass is lacquered in honey and a type of red char siu sauce, an unexpected but pleasant combination. The appetizer of seared scallop with fresh mango and chili is another slightly sweet surprise, and the spicy prawn dish is saturated in a Thai-ish, almond-laden curry sauce.
Most of us won’t spend hundreds on whole abalone or braised lion head meatballs (relax, they’re pork) with truffles and cabbage. But that’s okay. Hakkasan is a surprisingly flexible experience with a long and diverse menu. Most of the attention might be directed upstairs, but this first-floor restaurant has raised the bar for Chinese food in Las Vegas.
Hakkasan MGM Grand, 891-7888. Monday-Wednesday, 5-11 p.m.; Thursday-Sunday, 5 p.m.-midnight.