This was totally unexpected: rarely-mentioned and almost prohibitively expensive, I thought Kai Mayfair delivered on all counts where it mattered. My dinner there yesterday evening was simply the *best* Chinese meal I'd ever had in London. Some of their dishes were better than renditions I had back in Singapore or Hong Kong.
- Hot & sour soup, with fresh scallops and king prawns: dark and viscuous, more gravy than soup, with the perfect balance of hot and sour flavours. The king prawns were superbly crunchy fresh and packed full of flavours. Definitely the best hot-and-sour soup I'd had *anywhere* in the world!
- Pan-fried foie gras - caramelised cashews, white pepper, spring onions, grapes, passion fruit dressing. Loved the foie gras and its pairing with the light, unobstrusive passionfruit sauce which allowed the earthy flavours of the foie gras to come through. Only drawback was the chewy, less-than-crisp cashews. Maybe they'd do better to substitute that with caramelised walnuts, studded with toasted sesame seeds which one finds in top Cantonese restaurants in HK/Singapore.
- Lobster noodles - lobster oil drizzled over poached noodles, shallots & coriander cress, served with lobster-meat cooked with ginger & spring onions. Nice authentic rendition, the fresh ginger and scallions were definitely there, no concession to local tastes here. But I'd had a better rendition at (much) lower prices in New Mayflower (Shaftesbury Ave, Chinatown).
- Sweet & sour pork - Kai's menu mentioned that "our version is inspired by the original South-East Asian Chinese version". I'm not sure what they meant, as I'd had sweet-and-sour pork all over China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore/Malaysia's purported SE-Asian version, and couldn't quite discern any significant differences. But tasting Kai's version last night - I'm hazarding a guess that the difference was due to Singaporean/Malaysian-Chinese' use of Worcestershire sauce (absent from Chinese versions) for the dressing. I also detected the use of black vinegar. Irregardless, the version I had here was also the *best* I'd had in London.
- "Peranakan" mango cake - fresh mango slices and mango pearls, Gula Melaka palm-sugar ice cream, pandan leaf "milkshake" & sago crisp. This dessert was a revelation for me - part molecular gastronomy, part traditional Peranakan flavours. Being of Peranakan descent myself, it was amazing to discover these familiar scent and tastes in the dessert: the heady perfume from the pandan, the deep, coconut-rich sweetness from the Gula Melaka. The only thing missing was some creaminess from the addition of fresh coconut-milk, totally omitted from the dessert here but, IMO, did not detract away from the overall satisfaction I had from this dessert.
- Durian souffle with salt caramel sauce, with durian tuille on the side: the strong durian aromas permeating from the steaming souffle suits me fine. The crisp durian tuille leaves were nice - I wondered why no one in SE-Asia even thought of inventing this.
Overall, superb meal with some really memorable dishes which jolted my palate - I loved Kai for its inventiveness and its superb execution. In fact, I'm perplexed that it's only got 1-Michelin-star. Do the Michelin folks hold UK-based restaurants to a higher standard than they do to restaurants elsewhere? Because I enjoyed my dinner at Kai Mayfair infinitely more than the one I had in Hong Kong's 3-Michelin-star Lung King Heen, Four Seasons Hotel.
65 South Audley St
London W1K 2QU
Tel: +44 20 7493 8988