Come to think of it, we almost wanted to cancel our dinner reservation at Kai when we heard what an Cantonese acquaintance's take of the Mayfair restaurant during a meal at Korean Kitchen last Friday.
"I don't know what cuisine Kai serves," he lamented, "If it's supposed to be Cantonese, it sure didn't taste like it. And it was expensive as well. We paid £80 per person and it wasn't even filling!". That was quite a mouthful coming from a self-styled gourmet of sort.
We decided to go ahead with the dinner scheduled the very next evening regardless but we did step into Kai with really low expectations. Personally, I would like to try out what Harden's Restaurant Guide 2009 termed as the 'Best Chinese Restaurant in London' (source: from Kai's website itself).
Being the only Chinese restaurant in London awarded the Michelin Star in 2009, Kai is right smacked in the middle of Mayfair. The three of us arrived at Kai a good half an hour before the allocated time and were greeted with smiles all round.
There was a staff waiting by the reservation table, another waiting by the door, yet another behind the bar and the captain came up to us as we stepped into the restaurant properly, and all of them looked like they just stepped out from a toothpaste advertisement. I kid you not. Well, if the food weren't going to be good, at least we would be paying for the service, I thought to myself.
The ground floor was empty save for two Japanese gentlemen seated next to us when we settled down. Our dinner mate ordered a glass of sake (£10) after flipping through the wine menu. As Wife and I couldn't really handle alcohol, we opted for Dragon Well tea (£4.50) instead.
We noticed something rather interesting about the ala carte menu - there is not a single word of Chinese character on menu. I'm not sure about you, but I would think that it was a sure sign that Kai was really meant for non-Chinese. True enough, even though Kai was packed to the till, there wasn't another Chinese in the restaurant the entire night save for two Singaporean (it takes one to know another) families dining on the lower ground floor.
Let's get down to business, let's talk food. The Soft-Shelled Crab with Julienne Green Mango (£14) was one interesting dish heavily influenced by Japanese and Thai cuisine. The crab was lightly crisp without a hint of grease and the mango stripes that accompanied it really wet my appetite for what was to come.
We ordered one half of an Aromatic Crispy Duck (£31), which came with hot steaming pancakes with accompanying cucumber stripes and dark sauce. We were shown the entire (well, half of it) duck before it was deboned on a table right next to our table. The waitresses then wrapped a pancake for each of us just so to show us how it was done.
After removing a pancake skin from the bamboo steamer, I unwittingly left the lid opened causing the pancake to quickly cool to room temperature. A staff saw that and without a word, she quickly replaced the bamboo steamer with yet another hot piping one filled with pancake skins. I was beginning to think that the dinner would turn out well afterall.
The Lamb with Ginger, Spring Onions & Oyster Sauce (£24) came next. That was perhaps the only dish that we though could be done better. You have to admit that it is pretty difficult to go wrong with ginger, spring onions doused with oyster sauce but I felt that the lamb slices were a tad too tender. I had to do a double take to make sure that it wasn't minced lamb. Perhaps they should have gone a little easy on the tenderiser.
The soup came soon after. With a name like Mermaids in the Mist (£14), the soup had to be good and it did deliver. Two thick sea bass fillets, which sliced away cleanly, immersed in light Szechuan soup to give that sizzling taste, just enough to numb your tongue for a split second leaving you wanting for more.
The Braised Home-made Tofu with Minced Chicken (£28) came highly recommended by the captain when we asked for tofu dishes. We thought that the thin seaweed layer merged on top of the tofu was a nice touch. Spring onions and asparagus accompanying it suitably refreshed the palate.
Though I thought that the Poached Lobster Essence Noodles (£12) was a bit overpriced for what is essentially plain thin egg noodles cooked in clear lobster soup, Wife thought that the broth tasted heavenly. But we both agreed that the 'Peranakan’ mango cake (£9) was the winner for the night (together with the tofu dish that is). Firm mango sponge cake soaked in sago filled gunung melaka syrup brought back fond memories of the days when food hawkers roamed the streets back home.
To top up what turned out to be a fascinating dining experience, we were served a complimentary assortment of chocolates and a pot of digestive tea at the end of the meal.
The bill came up to close to £60 per person (service charge inclusive). With prices as such, Kai is not exactly your local diner but I would hesitate to say that it's not worth the money. The captain came up to me after the meal and asked whether everything went well and I replied that everything was perfect. Perhaps I went to Kai with too low an expectation but I wasn't being patronising when I told him that I would be back again.
Read about my return visit on Kai's £19 set lunch.
Address: 65 South Audley Street, London W1K 2QU
Tel: 0207 493 8988
Nearest Tube station: Bond Street, Marble Arch, Green Park
Ratings (out of 5 *)
Price: below £70 pp (with drinks)
Service charge: 12.5%
Suitable for: those clamouring for fine Chinese fusion cuisine and don't mind splurging a little