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Miami is known for many things — sun, sand and lots and lots of skin — but fine dining was not usually noted as one of its strongest attributes. That’s starting to change. With all the new hotels opening this year, a crop of eateries are springing up to join the old standbys like Casa Tua, Nobu and Ago. Among them is the first U.S. outpost of London’s Hakkasan, a Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant favored by celebs from Jennifer Lopez to Lady GaGa, which just opened at Miami megaresort Fontainebleau.
Hakkasan’s owner, Alan Yau, admits to specific reasons for opening in Florida. “The New York market is a bit more challenging. Through working with Fontainebleau we felt we could achieve a better soft landing in the United States,” says Yau, who is no stranger to bumpy rides. (Restaurant watchers may remember him as being originally slated to open Park Chinois in Ian Schrager’s Gramercy Park Hotel before talks fell apart and Yuji Wakiya was brought in to open Wakiya.)
Though Yau says finding experienced wait and kitchen staff in Miami was somewhat challenging, choosing head chef Wen Ten Sian was not. “We had a target of five chefs in mind,” he explains, which culminated with tasting sessions in Beijing. “[Wen] turned out to be the most compatible in terms of what I wanted to achieve.” The menu will retain greatest hits like stir-fry rib eye beef in peppercorn, the grilled black cod with Champagne and honey and the jasmine-tea-smoked chicken, but Sian also takes advantage of local ingredients. “The seafood — squid, octopus, kingfish — is incredible,” says Yau, pointing out that they can source fresh soft-shell crabs rather than frozen.
The ocean-side location offers views of the Atlantic, but the restaurant retains the feel of the London original. Design firm Gilles & Boissier (also responsible for New York’s Buddakan) arranged Chinese-inspired teak panels, ornate screens and embroidered leather banquettes, along feng shui principles.
As for his reception in America and his further goals of expansion, Yau is very Zen himself. “I think competition is good,” he says, explaining he aims to try again in New York after possibly working with the Fontainebleau in its Las Vegas property. “I like to work on things in an evolutionary way. So by the time we hit New York, I would like to think we understand the culture a lot more.”