HAKKA - Chinese cuisine with Indian flavour
BY ANGELA PIDDUCK Wednesday, February 24 2010
WITHOUT any fuss or fanfare, Marcus and Georgia Jagdeo opened the doors of their HAKKA Restaurant and Bar at 4 Taylor Street, Woodbrook, on February 3. In just two short weeks, both times I have lunched there, the beautifully appointed restaurant has been filled.
Says Jagdeo (M), an investment banker: “We have not advertised but since we opened people have been here. It has been chaotic and it’s only Carnival and Beyonce that put a halt, and even Carnival was not that bad. We had a media launch on February 1 and basically that was it. It has been strictly word of mouth and lots of repeat diners.”
Last Saturday, one diner who was having lunch, was booked again for dinner. Even the students at Fatima College converge at lunch time for very reasonably priced take aways from that section with its separate side entrance.
The Hakka people were migrants from southern China who went to Calcutta, and settled in the village of Tangra. HAKKA food, a fusion of Chinese based recipes with distinct Indian spices and flavours. is mouth watering. Succulent Hong Kong Shrimp just melted in the mouth, a very spicy Chili Fish was delicious and the Konjee Crispy Chicken is a specialty. But there are a host of other great tasting spicy, not so spicy and non spicy dishes from which to choose.
The best way is to choose different entrees which come in portions that will serve two to three persons comfortably, and sides which include various types of noodles, fried rice, steamed rice and of course vegetables, followed by an unusual dessert of date wontons or date pancakes, both served with ice cream.
“It’s not only about the food” says manager Adam Crouch, who seems to be everywhere at the same time. The handpicked serving staff are pleasant, well trained and very courteous. Bar Manager Oden Nero Jr will mix any of his signature cocktails.
The beautiful dark brown and red decor is the artwork of Khaleel Ackbarali, who travelled to India with Jagdeo to find chefs and absorb the Hakka cuisine and culture first hand. Actually, three chefs from Calcutta include executive chef Francis Liao. who worked in one of the biggest restaurants in Calcutta, and who was born in India to Chinese parents.
“In the ten to eleven days since HAKKA opened,” says Crouch: “we have had customers come in six to seven times. They try us for lunch and come back for dinner right after that. People do like the food.”
Jagdeo does not want patrons to come only to celebrate things like an anniversary: “We want them to come back all the time for a meal.”
The restaurant can seat up to 100 persons so HAKKA is available for small functions. There is also outdoor dining for those who prefer this.
Jagdeo studied Actuarial Science in Canada, where he first tasted Hakka food. After more studies in London, he was moving back to Trinidad “knowing in my mind I wanted to do some sort of business in Trinidad”.
“The restaurant business always interested me as I would go to one and see poor customer service. I knew Chinese food was No 1 in Trinidad , so why not try this Chinese based cuisine with its fusion of oriental techniques and Indian ingredients.
Part of me wanted a different challenge and I do not know if there is something more challenging than opening a restaurant. I had no experience so I went through the building with Khaleel, who designed the entire restaurant, and made decisions, for example, not having the luxury of the chef being here to layout the kitchen, so I had to do it.
“I have never been through such a level of adversity but I did not give up. It took over a year to open this place but I had set my mind to it so just stuck it our. Even to get an intransit visa from India just to pass through was a nightmare. It was a crazy project but I had good people helping me, such as, my Mom, wife Georgia and Khaleel, who all put a lot of effort into this place.”