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May 20, 2013 02:40 AM

London - Superb Chinese meal at Kai Mayfair (Best I'd had in London)

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.

Address details
Kai Mayfair
65 South Audley St
London W1K 2QU
Tel: +44 20 7493 8988

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    1. re: zuriga1

      LOL! Yes, it's not cheap by *any* standards.

      1. re: klyeoh

        Maybe there is no recession. Well, it looks superb and we only live once.

        1. re: zuriga1

          I think you'll be "safe", June, as long as you don't order Kai's "Fat Tiu Cheung" (佛跳墙) or "Buddha Jumps over the Wall" soup which is priced at a jaw-dropping £108 for a single serve - not surprisingly listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most expensive bowl of soup in the world:

          1. re: klyeoh

            What can one expect to find in the soup? Good grief.

            1. re: zuriga1

              Normally, this soup should include abalone, sharksfin, fish maw, shitake mushroom & other stuff, in a flavoursome consomme made from slow-boiling chicken, dried scallops, Jinhua ham & other ingredients.

    2. I am often perplexed by Michelin decisions, particularly at the 1* level.

      1. I stumbled upon Kai purely by accident while looking at reviews on Google for Princess Garden. I'm a bit dubious of Zagat ratings these days (26/30 here) but klyeoh, if you're throwing your weight behind it, I'm making the booking. If I get it, since it's for next week which I imagine is pretty short notice, I'll be back with a report!

          1. wow looks unbelievable, i want to far ahead did you make a reservation?

            id go either way, but how much was the meal?

            2 Replies
            1. re: Lau

              I did a walk-in, but pretty early - 6pm, I think. I was banking on last minute cancellations and was lucky as I did see a couple of other walk-ins being turned away.

              It costed £120 without drinks.

              1. re: klyeoh

                ah cool, ill def check out next time im in london...sounds wonderful!