Kai is a Michelin starred Chinese restaurant in Mayfair. During our visit on a sunny Saturday for lunch the dining room was rather full and business appeared to be thriving.
This isn’t your typical local Chinese restaurant however: this has been Mayfair-ified. There’s an exuberance of wealth everywhere you look and some serious money must have been spent on the decor. The slightly odd choice of piped music made us feel like we were in a massage parlour and not a restaurant.
The set lunch menu was £27 for three courses or £39 including 3 glasses of wine which seemed great value for a restaurant that had a worryingly expensive a la carte (starters can go up to £24).
An amuse bouche kicked things off which was a spicy miso broth with goji berries, tofu and bird’s eye chilli. It nearly blew my head off it was that spicy – my eyes starting watering and my forehead filled with perspiration. It was however really tasty and we soon ditched the tiny spoon provided and drank from the bowl. Just a little less chilli perhaps next time please.
Next up were starters. I opted for the sweet and sour glazed ribs with caramelised cashew, strawberry and grape chutney, passion fruit dressing and almonds. Three tiny little morsels were presented and I was unsure whether to use my chopsticks or fingers; I boldly opted for the latter. Sadly they weren’t very pleasant – tough and chewy at best. There was more bone than meat and what pork I did manage to extract is still stuck between my teeth even to this day. A dental hygiene kit should have accompanied. The coating was sweet, sticky and crunchy which I liked, I just didn’t like what was underneath the coating.
My gentleman companion opted for the ‘drunken’ steamed prawn which had a Shaosing and rice wine coating, pickle of shredded ginger, black fungus, XO chilli powder and wasabi mayonnaise – the latter being the only flavour present. Yes, the prawn looked attractive and the coating was made to look like its shell which was mildly clever but at the end of the day it was just a prawn. And a cold one at that. Two bites and my gentleman companion had finished his starter.
Next was a palate cleanser of cucumber and lemongrass granita which lacked the promised lemongrass. This was ice that had a subtle taste of cucumber – our palates were left feeling well and truly un-cleansed.
My gentleman companion’s main of sirloin, black bean and goji berry sauce was marginally better. Three chunks of beef were cooked perfectly and remained tender but the whole thing was a little dry. It was served alongside some steamed rice which seemed like a cheap filler as it didn’t compliment the dish whatsoever.
My triple cooked braised pork belly with wild yam mash was a catastrophe. The pork would have been cooked perfectly I imagine during the first round of cooking, why the chef then decided to cook it a further two more times is beyond me. It was the driest and most tasteless piece of pork I have ever had the displeasure of encountering. Even worse, it was full of gristle. The wild yam mash underneath was so sticky and stodgy it would have been more suited to holding up the wallpaper. The waiter could see for himself that I hadn’t enjoyed the dish as I’d left half of it. I let him know that the pork was over cooked and full of gristle to which he replied “you’re not the first person to say that”. Says it all really!
My dessert was a little better, six shades of chocolate and peanuts. It was like a slice of fancy Vienetta and the thick chocolate sauce that was poured over it made the whole thing far more decadent. A little pile of chocolate covered popping candy added some excitement too.
My gentleman companion’s dessert however was as tasteless as it gets. A crispy puffed rice base was covered in creme patissiere and topped with lychee jelly and coconut sorbet. It lacked its promised fruity flavours and therefore had very little going for it.
Yes, the set lunch was fairly cheap for a restaurant in Mayfair but the quality of the ingredients and the way in which they were cooked was shambolic. Service was hushed and mumbly, lacking any real personality which didn’t help things either. We left feeling hungry and pretty miserable.