Kai of Mayfair

(Visited: December 2012)

Kai is as soulless as they come. You are not unlikely to be sitting near members of the money elite from this or that part of the world. Not a crime being filthy rich, of course, more annoying though is being loud and boorish. But the draw to this place (see our previous visit here) are the lightness and clarity of flavours that are the hallmark of their cuisine. And that the lunchtime deal, unlike the a la carte, is oh so light also on the pocket.

Beautiful this steamed sea bass (farmed for sure, but of good quality) in an aromatic  broth that left breathing space for the fish to express its delicate flavour (how many chefs kill steamed fish with too heavy accompaniments!)

Sea bass

Sea bass

But this time it wasn’t always perfect.

The fried dumpling was indeed a gooey, undercooked mess with in addition another meaningless mess of eight (the point being?) vegetables inside:

Fried dumpling

Fried dumpling

This is the only duff dish we’ve had at Kai so far and so they are forgiven. Pretty though.

Instead the dessert, a pannacotta with all kinds of exotic fruits, was perfect -the texture that wobbly creaminess that is the whole point of mild-tasting pannacotta, and again so light- to finish.

Dessert

Dessert

Oh no: THIS is perfect to finish:

Petit fours

Petit fours

very well made: thank you very much!

All this for £27. In the midst of the most expensive real estate in the world, it’s amazing: you can gladly cope with a service that does go through the motions more than correctly but all too obviously doesn’t give a damn. Nor do we, till prices and flavours continue to impress.

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Kai of Mayfair (London)

(Visited: April 2012)

(Note: a more recent visit is described here)

Venturing in money-oozing Mayfair, here are some quick comments from memory about a recent lunch at one of the local institutions, the upscale Chinese Kai. 



This an expensive restaurant for dinner, and we are not sure whether the experience justifies the prices, but the lunch option is very approachable and very good value at £27 for three courses (£39 with matching wines).

For some reason (perhaps some negative review read and forgotten but lingering in the subconscious) we didn’t have high  expectations, but we were positively surprised by the quality of the produce and of the cuisine.

Slow cooked pork belly in particular was impressive for the elegant presentation, apt cooking and deep flavour lightened and lifted up by the condiment (ginger, cinnamon, soy…) by someone who clearly knows how to treat pork, oh yes he/she does, look at that sticky glistening dark colour:

Perhaps even more impressive was a ‘spice route’ lobster (£12 supplement, deserved), the spices a a complex affair that yet respected, and indeed formed an elegant flavour robe for, the good produce:

Whoever the chef is, he/she can strike several chords, not only powerful grand flavours: a starter of Loh Bak Goh Turnip cake was ever so airily crispy and fresh and cleanly presented, a delight to eat.

So was the other starter, a crispy duck that is definitely not your local Chinese version (well, unless you live in Mayfair, that is):

Desserts were quite good too, with an intriguing 6 textures of chocolate and peanuts

 

and a not earth-shattering, but pleasant and waistline-friendly almond curd with fresh fruit:

Service varied from charming to uninterested to poor. Houston, you’ve got a serious problem in this department. The wine waitress (an Italian) was particularly incompetent. She didn’t know, or didn’t want to tell us, the optional matching wines. She only assured us that she would tell us at some point before serving. This was already quite incredible and bad enough, but after a few minutes she was trying to fill Man’s glass, without showing the wine bottle, and with no word of explanation. We’ll spare you the tense exchange that ensued… the conclusion is that no blood was spilled but we had tea, which  was excellent. 

And aside from the matching wines, the prices of wine on the list really go too far in their aiming at the superwealthy Mayfairites:  tea looks like a better option.

Well, no single dud dish today, and a couple of impressive ones. And at £27 in Mayfair! We were satisfied with the food at Kai. Compared with Yauatcha, for example, this is a more stayed, less hip but also more elegant experience. Mayfair vs Soho, you understand. So satisfied were we in fact that we left with the intention of trying, at some point, the more wallet-busting, but also even more ambitious, dinner menu.

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Royal China (Docklands, London)



 (Visited Saturday 25 February)


We entered Royal China Docklands (part of a historical mini chain in London with the mothership in Queensway) prepared for their renowned sullen service.


Well, it is true that they won’t win any cheerful hospitality award, but apart from some linguistic difficulties with the ‘lower ranked’ members of staff (who however even regaled us with some smiles, unbelievable, and certainly not to be expected from the managers – they clearly have deep problems to solve, their time too precious for smiles), overall they were not positively rude, which was a gratefully received achievement. And certainly they were efficient.


And it was a beautiful day, the room is pleasant, with spacious and well spaced tables and fine views of the river. And if you go in the warm season even better if you can sit outside; that would be a bit of London Dolce Vita.



No great choice of teas. They insisted very forcefully that we have jasmin because ‘we would find everything else (2 choices) too strong’.


Of course we avoided jasmin and opted for the other two choices.


We tried the dim sum on a weekend lunch (no reservations taken, arrive early enough if you don’t want to wait).


The overall quality of the food was not stellar as at Yauatcha, but it was still well above that of your average Chinatown restaurant. Actually the steamed dim sum was sometimes really well executed and delicious, only the soups disappointed.


The soups were hot and sour vegetables, and Rainbow been curd. As we said, disappointing, watery and without depth,

 



The dim sum, showcasing some quite brilliant flavours and fine making of the dumpling, included prawn and chive, crab and spinach, vegetable. We also had pork buns, whose filling was reasonable but not in the right proportion to the dough and really nothing to write home about (again, a poor show compared to the Yauatcha version), and a vegetable cheung fung which was instead very good..

 

 

 





The properly Chinese desserts (i.e. not Westernised) were worth the slightly long wait: a nice steamed sweet lotus paste bun, and a truly lovely Black sesame paste dumpling in peanut crumbs.





The cost for this type of lunch is very reasonable, around the £50 mark for two, which makes this branch of Royal China, considering the food quality and the surroundings, one of the best value for money for Chinese food in London.


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Yauatcha (London): impressive

(Visited 27/12/2011)



When expectations of surly, pushy staff (as we’d read on some sites and experienced ourselves in the past) are so spectacularly broken, with the trademark slick, dark, night-sky effect room adorned by a long fish tank along the bar, full (the room, not the fish tank) of efficient, UNpushy young waiters always swift to remove finished dishes, things can only look up. 
 
And they did.
 
The dim sums were as beautiful and good as they come (we have been to China). We had the regulation scallop shui mai, a steamed vegetable dumpling, a steamed prawn zucchini and cattlefish dumpling and a baked chicken Shanghai  dumpling.
 

 

 

 

 
In all, the pastry was light, tight, pleasant; in the steamed ones the gentle cooking method only adding to the sense of lightness, while the grilled ones offered crunchiness. In the scallop shuimai, the key is the balance between the scallop and the prawn (paste) flavours, with the gracious visual addition of the tobiko (flying fish roe).  Perfect. A similar balance shone in the colourful zucchini specimen. 
 
The sauces accompanying the Shanghai dumpling were a delight, one nutty, the other sharp.
 
A chicken hot and sour soup

 

impacted first with the heat assault, then gave way to uncover the delicate sweet, sour and umami feast. 
 
We love vegetables, so we felt compelled to try a Spicy aubergine, sato bean, okra and french bean with peanuts
 
 
which was rich, unctuous, varied, vibrant of intensely satisfying colours and flavours. Only but not negligible defect, a piece of inedible fibrous material left in one of the vegetables.
 
Instead of the regulation crispy duck, we had the crispy duck salad variation
 
 
executed with skill, crispiness and moisture both there, and many textures in the vegetables (unfortunately once again including some inedible fibre, tsk tsk).
 
Yauatcha is at heart a tea house (-cha…), offering a unique selection of fine teas. Instead of wine, drinking which somehow feels silly to us with this type of food, we had an ever so delicate white Silver Needle and a stronger blue High Mountain Fo Shou. We are mentioning the names just to impress, as we’re no tea experts and we have no idea of where these teas stand in the pecking order – but they tasted very good to us. The two pots, at £8 and £7.40, were more than enough for the whole meal.
 
Yauatcha has the rare virtue of being able to cater for large numbers at a very high level of quality. Except for a couple of slips in the preparations of the vegetables, our lunch today was excellent. True, the conditions were ideal, the room only half full projecting a sense of calm as well as slickness and the large number of staff being able to attend solicitously to every table without effort – no doubt things might get a little messier and less smooth at peak times, yet what we’ve seen witnesses to a very sharp organisation in the kitchen and in the room.
 
At less than £90 for two including service, this was both one of the best value for money meals in recent times, and an excellent meal by absolute standards.
 

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