On an unassuming street in West London, behind an unassuming and understated exterior, just down from a shop selling stuff for DJs, lives Hakkasan Hanway Place. For anyone unfamiliar with the name, this is the long-established luxury underground bunker-club-restaurant favoured by senior investment bankers everywhere.
Despite its banker-friendly reputation, on the hot Tuesday lunchtime we visited Hakkasan, suited men were nowhere to be seen. Outside, a middle aged Asian woman and her daughter scrutinized the Michelin Star-wining Chinese menu. “Stir friend mushrooms,” said one. Below ground, the restaurant was empty, frequented only by some more mothers and daughters and Chinese students trailing suitcases on wheels.
Michelle Hunt, general manager of Hakkasan Hanway Place, said the bankers tend to turn up much later in the day. “Lunch is about tourists and small local businesses. In the evenings, it’s more about entertaining guests.” Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, Barclays and HSBC are all corporate clients, said Hunt. Some banks even hold discreet Christmas parties there, but Hakkasan’s real reputation is as a place for senior bankers to eat well, drink well, and chill out after a heavy week. “We have a lot of regulars from the banking industry,” said Hunt. “A lot of managing directors and senior executives, as well as people working for smaller financial services businesses.”
The banking hideout like a Bond baddies’ lair
If you’re a senior banker who likes his life discreet but immaculate, it’s easy to see why Hakkasan Hanway Place might be your thing. Beyond the demure exterior, the restaurant is accessed down flights of black granite steps inset with red lights. As guests descend into the air-conditioning, they’re hit by a waft of Jasmine joss-sticks that’s exotic rather than bohemian. With its black floors, black tables, black leather chairs, black velvet cushions, orange orchids, black carved screens and gilt painted Chinese scenes, Hanway Place is like the antechamber to an imperial harem or a Bond badman’s lair. It doesn’t help that the vista across the cavernous interior is inhibited by carved teak screens behind which shadowy figures lurk. These shadows are attentive staff, but could as easily be Javier Bardem, wife number 24, or a client involved in a covert M&A deal.
Hakkasan is cognizant of its Bond-redolence. When SkyFall was released, they had a woman dancing in a large Martini glass, said Hunt. Really, however, the desired vibe is not so much Bond baddie as quiet perfection. “Everything has to be perfect,” said Hunt, who herself works banker-ish 17 hour days in pursuit of this ideal. “When you come down the stairs and stand outside the doors, there should be a moment of silence before – ‘whoosh’ – the doors open, and the music starts.”
Hakkasan takes music so seriously that it even has its own music director – a Paris-based DJ called Michael Adam. Adam’s lunchtime soundtrack is little bit The Orb, a little bit whale-births, a little bit St. Tropez. In the evenings things get a little bit upbeat. Sometimes, there’s even dancing. I mention that the music stopped mid-track shortly after I arrived. Hunt seems strangely unconcerned.
From Hanway Place to hotels and spas
Hanway Place opened in 2001 and was the first Hakkasan ever. In the past 12 years, the restaurant has spread its tendrils in London and around the world. There’s now one in Mayfair. There are also Hakkasans in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha, Miami, New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Mumbai. Shanghai and Beverley Hills are coming soon. “The decoration and menu are similar in each place,” said Hunt. “Like Starbucks?” I suggest. But no – more like McDonalds. “We have a local signature dish in each location,” Hunt says.
Needless to say, Hakkasan’s menu bears little resemblance McDonalds’. The food is exquisite and is ‘modern Cantonese’, rather than ‘modern American,’ which unsurprisingly turns out to be far nicer. Both London restaurants are Michelin starred. However, Hakkasan isn’t just about food. It’s also about cocktails with names like ‘Forbidden Dragon,’ made out of jasmine tea or exotic fruit. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, Hanway Place has a licence until 3am. It opened a Parisian-style ‘late lounge’ called Ling Ling late last year. “We serve a lot of VIPs in Ling Ling,” says Hunt. “We have a resident DJ and late night drinking and the restaurant will be humming.”
Hunt came to Hakkasan place in September 2012 and plans to ‘reinvigorate relationships’ with Hakkasan’s regulars. These include not only managing directors from investment banks, but high spending child-free couples in London’s West End. The company has just started a mailing list. The world is its oyster.
More interesting than Hakkasan’s own aspirations, however, are the aspirations of the broader Hakkasan group. Last year, the company became part of HKK Hospitality, a company which Hunt says plans to open hotels and spas with the same ethos of high-end perfection. Hakkasan has already opened a Las Vegas ‘entertainment venue’ which includes a nightclub, restaurant and ‘entertainment suite.’
Hakkasan bats back Hutong and Sushi Samba
Back in London, if you’re banker who hasn’t been to Hakkasan Hanway Place, you’re missing out. You may also be junior – most of the corporate regulars are senior bankers, said Hunt, declining to name names. Hakkasan is used mostly for client entertainment instead of team outings, she added. And only MDs get to entertain clients on a budget of at least £120 a head.
If you’re a London banker who likes Asian food, Hakkasan has its rivals. Hutong has just opened at the top of Shard, offering Peking duck at a third of the price. Sushi Samba has appeared at the top of the Heron Tower, offering Japanese Tempura overlooking the Gherkin. But while Hutong and Sushi Samba offer magnificent views and proximity to the City, Hakkasan offers a quiet place for senior bankers to escape, several metres below street level. Senior bankers will take their junior team members out for meals at restaurants in the City, said Hunt, but when they want to quietly impress clients or escape, they’ll come to Hakkasan in Hanway Place and stay until the early hours, drinking Forbidden Dragon cocktails.