wasabi king prawns with sweet mango & basil seed; parcels of prosperity (mini deep-fried Chinese croissants with finely chopped prawns

My dad grew up in a kampung in Malaysia, one of fourteen (that’s right, you read right, fourteen) children. The family were farmers and fishermen, definitely not wealthy folk, so as you can imagine, meal time everyday was literally a battle for the last grains of rice, and if you’re lucky, like if you’ve been really good that day, you might be allowed to add some soy sauce, to give the rice a little flavour.

Growing up with these values, my dad became an incredibly thrifty man ~ not embarrassingly stingy (although sometimes just plain old embarrassing!) ~ but thrifty. He never spends frivolously (clearly not a hereditary trait, a la moi), he uses everything until it’s broken and then he uses it for five more years, and most importantly, my dad never ever splurges on food, especially Chinese food (because Chinese food is meant to be cheap and his idea of extravagant is a $20 per head – and that’s Aussie dollars – banquet). 

So when my friends and I dined at Kai Mayfair on Friday night, all I could think was oh my gawd my dad would keel over right there in his organic veggie patch if he knew I was spending a small fortune on Chinese food.

Chinese fine dining? What is that?

The concept of paying a lot for Chinese food is completely foreign to me. It’s always been a thrifter’s meal ~ you know you can get a half-way decent gai and choi at most restaurants in China Town for £10.  And furthermore, Chinese food is just Chinese food – it doesn’t ever change that much (except when Asian-style restaurants try to funky-fy themselves and churn out fusion dishes. Not that there is anything wrong with fusion, I like fusion, but only when I go out to specifically eat fusion).

Like a small town girl in bling and tassels, you can dress up the Chinese food, but it ain’t never gonna be anything but Chinese food.

So despite its 2009 Michelin star (and several Best Chinese Restaurant awards), I wondered how Kai Mayfair would serve up traditional Chinese (not fusion) food, and get away with charging Michelin star prices.

And I didn’t have to wait long to find out.

Kai Mayfair‘s menu tells a compelling story about Chinese cuisine, from simple Chicken in Oyster Sauce, to traditional Shark Fin Soup and the seriously extravagant Buddha Jumps Over the Wall (I’ve had this in Hong Kong, and honest opinion? Meh..) which requires five days notice, and they even serve Stir Fried Kai Lan, which to me screams simplicity and tradition. 

roasted pork belly with crisp julienne apple; lamb with ginger, spring onions and oyster sauce; scallops with asparagus in XO sauce

We ordered a combination of House Specialiaties, including Wasabi King Prawns, Roasted Pork Belly and Chilean Sea Bass, complemented by some traditional oldies but goodies such as the Lamb with Ginger Hot Pot and Sirloin with Black Pepper. The flavours were all spot on, bringing back Chinese food nostalgia (because I just simply do not get enough of it these days), rendering me especially wordless and weepy with the Scallops in XO Sauce, because god only knows how much I *heart* XO sauce. 

braised home-made tofu with braised chicken; sirloin with black pepper and garlic flakes; Chilean sea bass fillet with chopped snow leaf and shrimp crumble

The only dish we thought was a miss (but you know,  it’s hard being up against exquisiteness and more exquisiteness) was the Lamb Hot Pot, which tasted a little China Town, as opposed to Mayfair, if you know what I mean. Otherwise you really could feel that every dish was created with utmost attention to taste and presentation, and the attentive and professional service upped the Michelin star ante.

Though the servings were Michelin star-sized, I was surprisingly full (ah, the rice, it’s always the damn rice), but was still crazy excited about dessert. Kai Mayfair released a new dessert menu a mere week ago (courtesy of a new dessert chef), which includes Peranakan Mango Cake – fresh mango cubes, gula Melaka and coconut milkshake and ice cream. Gula Melaka people. I think I’ve killed (possibly my brother’s pet ants) for gula Melaka as a child, and would consider killing again. Give. It. To. Me.

'peranakan' mango cake with gula Melaka and coconut milkshake; Mandarin chocolate fondant with dark Madagascan chocolate and kumquat ice cream; chocolate truffle selection

I can’t even express how amazing the Mango Cake was. I finished every last sliver of the cake, even the frothy coconut milkshake, sighed with resigned sadness for the conclusion of possibly one of the best desserts I’ve ever had and debated (out loud, my mistake) whether I should lick the plate. I was dared. And I did. Hehe! How fun it is to me as shameless as me!

All in all, the evening was fantastic and absolutely Michelin starred.  The food (flavours, textures, presentation), the service (knowledgeable, professional, always there but not in your face), the complimentary chocolate truffles and digestif tea, the overall ambience ~ everything was impeccable.  Even the fully stocked bar, with an extensive wine and cocktail list – you definitely don’t find this in your regular Chinese joint.

lychee martini with Absolut Blue, Qui Fen Lychee Liqueur and lychee juice

We all kind of nodded in enlightenment throughout the evening, thinking “ohhh, so this is Chinese fine dining? It’s good!”

Kai Mayfair
65 South Audley Street
London W1K 2QU
0207 493 1456

Kai Mayfair on Urbanspoon

6 Thoughts on “bling and tassels: Chinese fine dining does exist

  1. I loved your opening about your dad. Reminds me so much of my own! Malaysian, thrifty, definitely not stingy and grew up in tough circumstances back in KL. I admire the old man a lot. After all, without him, I wouldn’t be where I am now and eating in all these lovely places!

  2. Haha – I know exactly what you mean. As much as I make fun of dad (he knows I love him though) I do appreciate him a lot. And miss him too – my folks are back in Oz.

  3. ok i’m sold, that fish looks nice and I’ve been curious about the wasabi prawns. I wanna go I wanna go I wanna go I wanna go.

  4. I’m eating at Kai tonight for dinner and enjoyed reading this write-up. I must confess I have my doubts about whether the food will be worth the money, but your blog post is encouraging. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Have you tried Kai’s set lunch? At 19 quid per person, I thought it was a pretty good deal. Anyway, I thought that the service, which is part of the dining experience, was excellent! I agree that the Peranakan Mango cake is must order. 🙂

  6. Kang: Have you been yet? Were the fish and prawns as good as you expected?

    An American in London: It’s been a while since your visit but I wonder how it went?

    London Chow: I’ve never tried Kai’s lunch but £19 sounds fantastic. I’ll definitely have to look into that! Thanks for the tip! 🙂

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