Kai Mayfair: Views from Not One but Three Bloggers!

Posted by Krista on October 9, 2009
Kai outside

Kai Mayfair
65 South Audley Street
London, W1K 2QU

Date of Last Visit: Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Victims: My fellow London food and restaurant bloggers An American in London and Gourmet Chick. I'm going to try to string all our thoughts together here so you have the full picture.  The gals should be doing the same on their own blogs today, so you'll get a chance to read them all at the same time and discuss amongst yourselves.

The Damage: About £95 each, with one glass of champagne each, one bottle of white wine split amongst the three of us, and one glass of dessert wine each.

Kai wasabi prawns

The Background, by Way of Wasabi Prawns
Me: Back during Taste of London, I fell in love with some prawns. Kai's Wasabi Prawns. Light and slightly crispy tempura batter on the outside, a good prawnish snap on the inside, and a creamy wasabi mayo all over. So I was glad to visit Kai in person and try them on site. And they did not disappoint. A hefty £21 price tag yielded a surprisingly generous portion…we thought there were just four there, but then it turned out to be five, but then surprise surprise, there were actually SIX wasabi prawns under all that wasabi mayonnaise.
An American in London: The Wasabi prawns (£21) were a great mix of flavours and textures:  crispy, sweet and spicy; crunchy and gooey.  The wasabi made it a more interesting dish such that it was one of the few dishes that justified the price tag.
Gourmet Chick: From the entree list the must order is the  wasabi prawns.  Crispy battered prawns are served with a wasabi sauce that is creamy while still managing a kick of wasabi heat. 

Kai crispy duck

Crispy Duck
: Eh, I think if you're going to eat crispy duck in an expensive Chinese restaurant, well, you shouldn't. Particularly if it costs £31 for a half-a-duck. This was good, but no different to me than the crispy duck at Crispy Duck on Gerrard Street. I did, however, note that their pancakes seemed homemade, not those ones that you know are mass-produced because the tissues that separate the pancakes all sport the same holes.
An American in London
: …while good, wasn’t £31 good.  For a one-Michelin-starred restaurant, Kai shouldn’t be playing the dishes so straight. 
Gourmet Chick
: For the pure theatre it is worth ordering the aromatic crispy duck which is presented whole and then expertly carved.  We were each prepared one duck pancake and then left to work our way through a steamer basket full of pancakes along with the rich, dark duck meat and the necessary accompaniments of spring onions, cucumber and plum sauce. 

Kai scallops

Scallops and Asparagus

Me: I missed the part on the menu that said that these were spicy. Ouch. Spent the first few minutes coughing my lungs out. But once I got over the hurt, these were quite good, fresh scallops. I was sad when I noticed our server clearing this dish with one scallop still left there…that one scallop had to have been worth AT LEAST £4. (£24 for the portion.) (Although now, after looking at the photo, there appear to be at least seven scallops there…possibly eight. So maybe £3 each.)
An American in London: …tasty but no tastier than at, say, the mid-priced Pearl Liang
Gourmet Chick: Scallops and asparagus with XO sauce did not blow me away as although the scallops were juicy and perfectly cooked the spicy sauce dominated.  

Kai prawn stuffed aubergine

Stuffed Aubergines
Me: This dish was all the way across the table from me so I only had a bite and I was already feeling a little piggy so I held back. Aubergines are one of my favorite things in the entire world–I can never understand those aubergine-haters–I would have this again. Nice deep unami savoury flavours, thanks to the black bean sauce.
An American in London: …tasty but no tastier than at, say, the mid-priced Pearl Liang

Kai pork belly

Pork Belly with Mint

: This was soft and buttery, with a nice crackly skin; I needed more of this. But it was a very paltry portion for £19. Shame on them.
An American in London
: …the other stand-out of the evening for being atypical of what you’d get at a playing-it-straight Chinese restaurant.
Gourmet Chick
: Our waiter was a little strange when we ordered the pork belly.  She told us that women never order the dish at Kai, only men.  We assured her we were pork belly fans and the pork lived up to our faith in it.  Crispy skinned fat sat atop tender chunks of pink pork.

Kai mango cake
Mango Cake
Me: One of the best things I have eaten this year. Can I go back to Kai just for dessert? I might just try.
An American in London: …good but tasted too little of mangoes and too much of a molasses-type sweetener for me to get too excited.
Gourmet Chick: The star of the show was the Peranakan Mango Cake, forget deep fried banana, this was the best dessert I have ever tasted in a Chinese restaurant.  The cake was served with fresh mango cubes, gula Melaka, coconut milkshake and ice cream. It had an almost toffee like taste to it and left all three of us craving more. 

Kai almond curd

Almond Curd with Fresh Fruit
: This was nice, but I wasn't in the mood for it. I was cold, and this dish was all about summer. Very prettily presented though.
An American in London: in Taiwan [this] is served ice-cold at street markets by the ladle-full for about $1.   Kai’s quivering room-temperature version was too anti-climactic to get excited about.

2007 Alamos Torrontés, Salta
Me: I was surprised when the wine steward steered us towards this extremely excellent value. £28! He said it was like drinking lychee juice, and boy was he right. The aroma alone was all lychee. I very rarely hunt down wines after having them in a restaurant, but this one has me looking…WineDirect.co.uk has it for–ironically–£29.57 for a case of SIX…finger on Buy button now!

Service and Atmosphere
Me: I am not sure if this was Michelin-starred service. I'm thinking about my meals at other one-stars–Claridge's, Foliage, The Lebury, Facil, Arbutus–and this fell a bit short in formalness. They were almost TOO cheerful. (The wine steward was particularly charming and happy.) And when we ordered the pork belly, the woman taking our order reminded me of my German Aunt Ursula…jokingly reprimanding a table of three women for ordering what she said was a very masculine dish. The service was good, don't get me wrong. But it was just so NORMAL.
An American in London: The service was friendly and chatty, which I liked, and the women were super stylish in their Shanghai-Tang-looking purple-and-green outfits.  The décor was high-end circa 80s lounge style, and for what it’s worth, no Chinese diners.
Gourmet Chick: The look is corporate with bling.  Lacking the wow design factor  Kai emphasises its expense with a Mayfair address and plenty of chandeliers and mirrors. 

The Loos
Me: Cool sinks. Good tilework. Good products. Nice.

Me: I ordered pink champagne at the bar when I arrived. The bartender poured me a "regular" accidentally. So we got two glasses for the price of one! This was extremely good because when I checked the bill later, my one glass of Laurent Perrier Rose was £20 quid…

The Verdict (Three of Them!)
Me: If I were going to make a list of the top 10 dishes I've eaten this year thus far, the Wasabi Prawns and the Mango Cake would be on it. That being said, I'm not quite sure the other dishes surpassed what I'd get at a regular neighborhood Chinese restaurant. You'd think you'd get a little something extra…better plating, better presentation maybe. But no. And the price tag…ouch. So I probably wouldn't go back unless someone else was paying. Or if I had a huge craving for that mango cake!

An American in London: Whether it’s fair or not, I left Kai last week feeling that while the majority of dishes were delicious, very few dishes were worth the high price tag. 

In deciding how to describe Kai, I’ve been wondering whether it’s fair to demand creativity from a one-Michelin-starred restaurant – more specifically:  isn’t it enough that Kai cooks classic Chinese dishes very well?   Am I holding a one-Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant up to a higher standard than I would, say, a similarly-starred Modern British restaurant?  In asking these questions, I’m assuming there’s consistency in the way Michelin rates restaurants, which I suppose there isn’t (compare ho-hum Arbutus to never-lets-you-down Ledbury, for example).

Gourmet Chick: You can drop some serious money here, there is a soup on the menu for £108 which needless to say we avoided.  However, it feels like the quality of the ingredients justifies the cash.  The food at Kai was excellent and it is worth going for the mango cake alone, however the restaurant did lack atmosphere and the wow factor.

4 Responses to “Kai Mayfair: Views from Not One but Three Bloggers!”

  1. Good Stuff, Girls,

    The Tempura looks good-and it’s very hard to get right…

  2. adriansabah
    Oct 11, 2009

    It’s been decades since I’ve been to London. I guess the prices (ouch!) reflects the change. A couple of more meals like that, you can fly to Sabah and eat the freshest seafood imaginable.

  3. London Chow
    Oct 21, 2009

    This is one expensive experience. We spent around almost 70 quid per person and there wasn’t even any alcohol!

    Then again, food was exquisite, service was great. Would definitely look forward to return again.

  4. CheChe
    Jul 25, 2010

    Wow £95 per person, I think I would need a very good reason to blow that much on a Chinese meal. The desserts looks good though. I prefer peking duck if out at a nice classy restaurant.

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