Being of Chinese descent and growing up in
Having been reading into the history of Chinese cuisine, it is truly a world of multiple complexity and amazing flavours. I do believe that the modern us are only scratching the surface layers in what we are currently exposed to and eating. It also saddens me that Chinese food has the stigma of being cheap and greasy. During the imperial times, dishes are as innovative and beautifully crafted like a refined and prized ornament.
I hear a lot of comments from people moaning when they hear of Chinese Restaurants and how a vegetable dish can cost £20. That's too expensive for Chinese, so exclaims.
I am guilty of that too sometimes but then it dawned on me that that is being unfair. Possibly so for immediately dismissing Michelin rated ones. It is not possible to compare the prices of food that you can get in Asian countries to what you pay for in
Europe. The mere fact that labour costs are so much lower in the East is a differentiation that cannot be ignored and need to be considered.
If we are willing to pay £20-30 for other cuisines like Italian, German, French; why do we flinch and hesitate when it comes to Chinese?
Without this becoming a long rambling on philosophical thoughts, I decided that I should keep an open mind. Browsing the menu for Kai, I noticed that they offer a 3 course set lunch for £30, now that is affordable and a chance to taste a 1 Michelin Star Chinese cuisine. Also for me to challenge my initial view: was the 1 Michelin based on dishes for the western palate? Or is it authentic Chinese but more refined and sophisticated? In either case, is it worth the £££!
For a weekend lunch, Kai was not overly busy and we were given a choice of tables. Our impressions did not start well due to a number of incidents. The pair of chopsticks laid on the table on my side was not clean and it still had some food crust stuck to it. Inexcusable really.
It also took forever for the waiter to come back to get our orders. We practically looked around and had to wave for quite a while before we caught the attention of another waiter that was serving a different table. He had to call ours back from goodness know where. Our waiter took our orders and then we saw him just wandering around while I was still waiting for my replacement chopsticks. I seriously am not impressed with this guy.
Before our starters arrived, we were served an amuse bouche of Miso soup with Enoki mushrooms, goji berries and tofu. I was thinking miso soup in Chinese cuisine?
This had chilli flakes in it which gives it a spicy tang and there was a Chinese flavour to the soup which distinguishes it from the Japanese version. This was very much enjoyed.
S T A R T E R S
Shanghai noodle sheets & jelly-fish, sesame and ginger dressing
Enoki mushroom & pea shoot salad, spicy black cloud fungus, Tau pan bean dressing, asian pickles (v)
The entrees were a bit of a disappointment. Both were very subtle flavours and lack that kick or depth to round out the balance. It didn't help that due to the heighten spiciness in the amuse bouche, the delicate flavours of the entree were overpowered which makes it lack the final punch even more.
We were served another amuse bouche next which we were told is a palate cleanser. It was a sorbet made with blood orange. Very refreshing and citrusy.
The two amuse bouche should have been swapped around. The refreshing citrus would have made the delicate flavours of the entree stand out more while the heavier spicy miso soup would not have taken away the stronger flavours of the mains.
Needless to say, not very impressed so far and when asked by a differed waiter who came to clear our plates, that was what we said.
M A I N C O U R S E S
Soy & honey marinated Cornish lamb (Lamb cutlets, spiced with red chillies, shallots, garlic and coriander, served with root vegetable ‘chip’ and cucumber & carrot ‘achar’ pickle).
Lamb was cooked to medium and the texture played really well with the turnip cake. The turnip cake was wonderfully delicious with crispy skin and a moist turnip filling.
Roasted South Atlantic Chilean Seabass, marinade of full-bodied
I was equally impressed with my Chilean Seabass. The sauce had different base notes and I could detect tomato sauce and chillies. After the dish my tongue tingled almost like it has awakened my taste buds and leaves u wanting more.
It was a full turn around and the mains were in a different league to the entrees that was eaten earlier. There were complexities to the flavours of the mains and most surprisingly, the mains have been tweaked to suit the western palate without compromising on the Chinese flavours. It was a very successful marriage as we were able to taste the Chinese elements in both mains. It actually left us wanting to come back to try others such as their sweet and sour dish which is a classic Cantonese cuisine and even their BBQ pork 'char siu' and roast pork 'siu yuk' to see what they can do to elevate it.
D E S S E R T
Poached Nashi pear infused in red wine,cinnamon accompanied chestnut parfait
There was only one choice with dessert. Before we had ours, we noticed that the gentleman at the next table did not touch the pears at all. We assumed that it must not be great and the chestnut parfait would be the better of the two.
Were we pleasantly wrong about this. The Nashi pears slices still had its crunchy texture and works really well with the red wine, cinnamon and chocolate sauce that coated it. The chestnut parfait was actually the weaker of the two with the chestnut flavour being too mild.
We had a different waiter from the mains onwards and he was so much better which made our experience all the more pleasurable.
At the end, there were a tray of petit fours.
We started with the one in the middle which turned out to be Passion fruit macaroon with coconut flakes. This was followed by Buttered cake with a nutty crunch top layer that had been topped with sugar to give it that sticky caramelisation.
Next was a chocolate with White choc coffee ganache followed by a Salted caramel ganache.
The last two was a chocolate with what tasted like whipped Butterscotch Caramel and the other a glutinous sponge texture with peanuts.
Special mention has to be given to the wine pairings as well. For the mains, it was Mourvèdre, Hewitson ‘
Old Garden’ from which was really unique and went really well with the mains. For the dessert pairing, I could not remember the name but it was a wine that had additional spirits added to upp the alcohol level. Excellent! Barossa Valley, South Australia
The set lunch with matching wines is £39 and without is £27 not including service. I think that the set lunch is well worth it and I left Kai feeling satisfied and impressed. Definitely coming back to try the 'Classic platter of honey roasted ‘char siew’ and crispy pork belly' , especially when it has this description "After 2 weeks intensive travelling to 5 cities and 20 restaurants eating our weight in char siew with 12 good humoured friends, exploring the countless combinations of sweetness, smokiness and choice of cuts, we have finally arrived at our version of this iconic Chinese dish".
I conceded, my initial perception has been changed. There are some places where paying more for Chinese Cuisine or that £20 vegetable dish is worth it and this is one of them.
Now to the three test which I have decided to use after a dinner conversation with a dear friend of mine. Let me know your thoughts on the 3 tests.
Will I recommend: Yes
Will I come back: Definitely
Have I had better: No, there aren't many places that can combine both elements well and I do hope that there will be more like it.
Kai Mayfair, 65 South Audley St, Mayfair, London, W1K 2QU
Kai Mayfair, 65 South Audley St, Mayfair, London, W1K 2QU