Hakkasan, Las Vegas

If you walk through the doors of a Hakkasan restaurant, anywhere in the world, you are guaranteed a great meal. The Hakkasan group of fine dining restaurants in London is renowned for serving the best Cantonese cuisine in the city. The branch in Las Vegas, however, is best known for its exclusive nightclub, but it was the food and service that made this place special for me.

We were greeted by a group of welcoming staff, who helped us navigate our way through the dimly-lit maze of tables. After a glass of fine Louis Roederer champagne we started looking through the extensive and luxurious menu. Though I recognised several dishes from the London eatery, there were a range of unique new recipes to try.

If you feel like something fun and fabulous, you are in Vegas after all, order one of the ‘Only in Vegas’ cocktails, more specifically the ‘Buddha’s Palm’ – a mix of Buffalo Trace bourbon, Velvet Falernum, yuzu juice, yuzu marmalade, black grapes, white balsamic vinegar, mint – it has a vibrant and exciting taste. The black grapes offer a particularly interesting flavour, a rare and unusual fruit that I had never tried before.

Our waiter highly recommended the signature Crispy duck salad with pomelo, pomegranate and pine nut, and I would agree it is a must. The neat stack of leaves and crispy duck meat was delicious enough, but the addition of the red jewel pomegranate and toasted pinenuts created an irresistible texture and balance of sweet and salty flavours. I also loved the Hakka steamed dim sum platter, a basket of beautifully made coloured dumplings, each filled with a different delicious delicacy of vegetables, fish or meat.

For main course we chose the Roasted chicken with satay sauce, Stir-fry black pepper beef ribeye with merlot, Pak choi with garlic sauce and Steamed jasmine rice. Portions are generous and the food is rich, but it is so tasty we couldn’t resist finishing the feast on our table. My favourite was the decadent Hakkasan classic stir-fry, high quality beef cooked in a sophisticated red wine sauce. The dish is artistically presented in a crispy rice shell, which you can eat if you’re still peckish. The roasted chicken is a simpler dish but equally well executed and served with a creamy, moreish peanut sauce.

We tried a trio of exquisite deserts, all new to the menu. Prepared with great precision by the pastry chef, they looked almost too beautiful to eat. The highlight was the Sicilian pistachio semi-freddo with violet crème, yoghurt meringue and cassis sorbet. It is a light and palate-cleansing final course, with an exciting range of flavours and textures.

After our meal we were lucky to have a sneak preview of the fashionable 3-level Hakkasan Nightclub, with its oversized VVIP booths and epic dancefloors that play host to the world’s biggest DJs. It is one of the most popular party spots in Vegas, but for me the magic of Hakkasan is still down to its faultless food and thoughtful service.

More information on Hakkasan Las Vegas here.

Love & Liquor, Kilburn

Love & Liquor sheds light and laughter on an otherwise quiet area of Kilburn. The younger sibling of popular Paradise by way of Kensal Rise, the venue has quickly won fans. I chose the bar for my birthday bash, and invited a group of friends to join in the fun: photoboothing, cocktail drinking and dancing.

There are various table and VIP area options for special occasions. We were allocated three tables near the entrance which suited us perfectly. My friends are keen cocktail drinkers so we made good use of the alluring prohibition-style drinks menu. The rum based fruity daiquiri and mojito were delicious but I was particularly impressed with the quirkier more inventive recipes that kept me refreshed all night.

My favourite feature of this bar is the Mighty (photo) Booth. Located in a corner, this vintage style machine allows guests to print three poses. Each strip costs £2 (coins are exchanged for tokens at the bar) and TWO copies of your photos shoot out almost immediately. It is a great momento of the night and a fun chance to strike a pose. I ended up spending most of my night in here, obsessed by the brilliant concept. Be warned though, your photos are likely to pop up on Facebook the following day for all to see.

It is chaotic at the door if you arrive any later than 9.30 pm. Even guest list and table parties will have trouble gaining entrance. After 10 the prices are bumped up, and the door staff are unwilling to compromise.

Venture further into the club and more madness must be endured, a squash of unruly guests shoving each other, grappling for space. The loos are a wreck, soaking wet floor and toilet roll nowhere to be seen. Basically avoid making a toilet trip and you should be fine.

Currently the club is thriving thanks to a Friday night residency from popular DJ Idris Elba (of The Wire), get yourself on the guest list quick.

Love and Liquor is a great venue with tasty drinks, exciting DJs and a super fun photobooth. But … the club is currently only open on Friday and Saturday nights which means you’ll always have to fight for a place in the bar and then continue to guard your territory all night.

More information here: www.loveandliquor.co.uk



The Best of Beirut in Summer

The Beiruti bohemians know how to have a good time any time of year, but in the hot summer months the Lebanese capital sizzles with excitement as the rooftops are revealed and the city is set alight.

Much of my last visit was spent exploring the beaches and clubs that make Beirut’s summer so fabulous and fun. Especially as violence and trouble nearby threatens to dampen spirits, it seems important to stress the vivacity and joie de vivre of the passionate people in this city. Personally I found it especially refreshing to experience a place where negativity just doesn’t exist.

Soak up the sun…

The city gets hot and humid especially in July and August, the beaches (usually just pool resorts on the seaside edge) become very popular and are a lovely way to enjoy the sunshine and top up your tan.
La Plage served us well. Located opposite Vendome hotel (with free access for hotel guests) this pool and bar/restaurant is extremely convenient. A hip gang hang out round the pool and order pina coladas in the water bar while looking out at the rippling Mediterranean. Entrance fee for non-hotel guests is approx $25 a day, food is reasonable and decent.
Edde Sands is located a bit further out of town and is the biggest Beirut beach. Geared more towards families, this huge resort aims to provide every amenity you could wish to find, a great day out.
Orchid – the 45 minute drive is worth it for this stunning beach, a sophisticated, elite crowd lie languidly by the sparkling pool. Blend in by wearing a bright bikini and big sunglasses. Be warned you may feel like you are in an episode of Made in Chelsea.
Amethysthe, located within the Phoenicia Hotel is a gem of a pool, themed with purple and always playing popular tunes, it is a lovely place to spend the day and a real asset to the Phoenicia empire.

Feast on…

As the light lasts longer, meals become later… many eateries stay open 24 hours a day, ideal for an extra 4am bite on the way home.
Leil Nhar – quick service Lebanese fast food eatery-pizzeria and coffee shop serving a variety of dishes, coffees and smoothies around the clock… cheap, cheerful, the ideal early morning hangover cure!
Al Balad – offers tasty and authentic Lebanese dining. A relaxed and friendly restaurant, the prices are very reasonable.
Barbar in Hamra serves up insanely good grub, ask for the chicken Shawarma and you will be instantly addicted. Open late.

Cocktail hour at…

Iris – this chic lounge bar serves food and drink on its attractive rooftop floor. The food is modern and striking and the cocktails are innovative and creative… equally impressive in taste and visuals.
Le Capitole – chilled out and relaxed this is the perfect place to enjoy a few dishes off the contemporary menu and order a drink or too from the barman who is happy to make any cocktail of your choice.
Cherry on the Rooftop is the seasonal bar in the luxurious Le Gray Hotel. The bar offers enviable views of the city and a great menu of snacks and cherry inspired concoctions.

Dance the night away…

Skybar – the hottest rooftop club in Beirut. The place to be and be seen.
Pier 7 – An epic sized fashionable club with bright lights and trendy design. Drink, dance and delegate someone else to drive home.
White – super slick and shiny bar and club, find some friends to get you in then fight the regulars for a seat at the bar. Excellent DJ sets and dance routines on the bar make for an exciting and exhilarating night… Fridays and Saturdays are the best nights.

Shop till you drop at…

Mishmaoul – this pop-up shop no longer has a home at the Souks but the designer’s work is still very much alive and in demand in Beirut. The Middle Eastern bright and pop-arty cushions, prints and accessories will animate up any wardrobe.
Patches and Cream Boutique – a small independent shop in downtown Beirut selling quirky and wearable clothes from a variety of unique designers. I was pleased to notice an abundance of neon in the collection!

Doze off…

Vendome – a beautiful boutique hotel, with homely rooms and friendly staff. You will never want to leave.
Le Gray – a divine, luxurious hotel in the heart of the city, Gordon Campbell Gray’s fabulous world of intriguing artworks and distinctive style is inimitable and very special.

Beirut is blissfully beautiful in summer and hopefully my recommendations will help you experience the best of the thrilling city during this hot and fabulous season.