London: Chinois Chic

Two new upscale outposts

London's Chinese restaurants have long been associated with aggressive service, viscid sauces, and a dragon on every chopstick, but these clichés have been banished at two new upscale outposts. Hakkasan, in the West End, is spectacular, designed by Christian Liaigre with lattice screens, slate walls, a 53-foot-long bar, and baby-blue leather seating. Waitresses in fuchsia silk cheongsams are high on looks, slow on service, but the open kitchen turns out dishes that are worth waiting for: dim sum by day, à la carte by night. Recommended: the shark-fin and bird's-nest soups and roast silver cod with Champagne and honey. Chelsea's Mao Tai, with far less of the downtown attitude, caters to a local clientele looking for a relaxed dinner. The menu includes impeccable Chinese staples (dumplings, crispy Szechuan duck) and dumbed-down comfort dishes (scrambled eggs with tiger prawns and leeks; sizzling Angus sirloin steak in oyster sauce). Organic meats feature prominently. Hakkasan, dinner, $145. At 8 Hanway Pl.; 44-20-7927-7000, fax 44-20-7907-1889. Mao Tai, dinner, $75. At 96 Draycott Ave.; 44-20-7225-2500.