It was with some trepidation that we walked into Kai on the evening of our wedding anniversary. Their performance on Ramsay’s Best Restaurant last year had certainly piqued my interest but I couldn’t forget the surprising, and to many diners disappointing, lamb shank. Were we in line for a series of ambitious but misjudged and dissatisfying dishes, or would we be wowed by superior Chinese fusion cooking.
First impressions were strong; service was attentive and the interior was warm, relaxed and lacked pretension. The presence of a few children enjoying their Michelin starred food reminded us that this was Mayfair. The menu itself was a tome and a half, listing dish after dish and peppered with anecdotes regarding Chinese cuisine and Kai’s own approach. We ordered ‘The Parcels of Prosperity’ (£12), described as ‘miniature deep-fried ‘Chinese Croissants’ filled with finely chopped prawns’ and Soft Shelled Crab (£14), but the waiter convinced us that we couldn’t miss the Wasabi Prawns (£17). He was absolutely right, the wasabi prawns were delicious, and we could have eaten a whole plateful. The fiery wasabi mellowed alongside creamy mayonnaise and sweet mango and the prawns had a pleasing crunch . The soft shell crab paled in comparison, delivering texture but falling short on flavour. The infamous lamb shank has held its place on the menu, but is accompanied by a carefully detailed description, presumably designed to prevent the unwelcome surprises we saw on Ramsay’s show.
We resisted the £108 ‘Buddha Jumps Over the Wall’ soup (maybe for our silver wedding anniversary) and moved onto yet more prawns, this time ‘Chang Sah’ Prawns (£22). As before, the prawns were fresh and meaty and came served in a sweet, spicy sauce. An aforementioned anecdote reminded us that pork is the most widely eaten meat in Chinese cuisine, but we took a step towards China’s Western provinces and ordered lamb. The soy and honey marinated roast lamb (£18) was gently spiced and served pink. Certainly the most fusion of the dishes we had, the achar on the side reminded us of proprietor Bernard Yeoh’s Malaysian provenance.
Kai lists its deserts at the start of the menu, because they are ‘an integral part of our meal experience’. And so they were. Dazzled by choice we acted upon the advice of our waiter once again and ordered Chocolate Fondant with Pistachio Ice Cream and 6 Textures of Chocolate and Peanuts (both £11). Chocolate flowed freely from the fondant as we dug our spoons in, deliciously rich, but for me the sweetness of coconut marred the cocoa bitterness of the chocolate. The ice cream was delectably light and fluffy. This stalwart of puddings stood in contrast to the creativity of the chocolate and peanut affair we enjoyed alongside it. An array of sugary sweet, rich, chocolatey, salty treats, each one offering a different crunch, ooze, munch or pop. Six textures there really were, topped off with the crackle of popping candy. This isn’t one to eat often, we slumped into a sugar stupor quickly after, but it was a fun loving, lip smackingly yummy, surprisingly moreish note to end on.
I arrived at Kai expecting the hits and misses of highly experimental cooking, but in reality Kai serves well executed, top quality dishes, offering traditional flavours with a fusion twist. Prices on the menu can be staggering, but there is plenty that is more affordable and indeed justified by the quality of the food. The best Chinese restaurant in London may be one accolade too far, but for Chinese fine dining, Kai might just get my vote.
Kai Mayfair, 65 South Audley Street, London W1K 2QU
Overall score: 8/10
Mummy friendly score: babysitter required (unless you have older children and are willing to feed them Michelin priced food!)
Gastrodad score: 8/10