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65 South Audley Street
Michelin-starred Kai’s big claim is that it ‘liberates’ Chinese cooking, delivering what some fans regard as the best “fusion food” of its kind in London – although the straight-backed dining rooms can feel rather staid, despite the odd colourful flourish and statement objets. Supporters are happy to forgive any excess ceremony, allowing the kitchen to play with flavours in imaginative ways. At lunch, a succession of small plates might include glutinous rice balls scented with Wagyu beef oil, while tiger prawns with crisp curry leaves recall Indo-Chinese meetings on the great spice routes. For dinner, dial things up with a plate of pan-fried foie gras, caramelised cashews, white pepper, spring onions, grapes and passion fruit dressing, followed by ‘lobster and lobster’ – a combo of the burly crustacean with ginger and spring onion plus noodles drizzled with lobster oil. Desserts are no afterthought, either – their durian and vanilla soufflé with salted caramel is likely to be the only pud of its kind in town.
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Best Chinese restaurants in London
SquareMeal 3 Stars
65 South Audley Street
Green Park Tube Station 592m
Bond Street Tube Station 665m
The Dorchester Hotel 206m
Curzon Mayfair Cinema 242m
Mon-Sun 12N-2.30pm (Sat-Sun 12.30pm- ) 6.30-10.45pm
Food & Drink:
Rate & Review
Food + drink: 5
For any restaurant to have maintained a Michelin Star for nine consecutive years, it must be doing something right. I was mighty impressed with Kai (the beholder of such an achievement), although what could have been a truly memorable experience was somewhat let down by the service. Things began badly upon arrival: half-past twelve on a Friday lunchtime and the place was deserted. The front of house did not deign to acknowledge me, choosing to carry on her phone call as if I were invisible, while a flunkey told me to wait until she was ready. What happened to the customer always being right? I did eventually get shown to a table, and gradually settled in, but at no stage during my meal did I observe any sense of warmth from or rapport between the serving staff; rather, it seemed almost as if they were in competition with each other. Fortunately, this mattered only at the margin, since I got to enjoy the view (a calm grey décor populated with modern art, a capacious fish tank and tables that were beginning to fill up) and sample some of the best Chinese cooking I have experienced in London. The angle at Kai is Nanyang cooking, namely with an emphasis produce from the South China Sea area. Diners get to enjoy cuisine that is deeply flavoured, complex and original, drawing not just on local tradition but also more international influences. A great example would be our first starter, namely Kai’s take on ‘pig in blankets’, not the British yuletide fare of a sausage wrapped with bacon, but rather Iberico pork, plum and lime dressing, chopped cashew and sliced shallots, served in a Cos lettuce wrap. It ticked all the boxes, and the food only got better. Mains of roasted Chilean sea bass with black vinegar syrup, five-hour Oriental spiced pork belly and spring chicken & Szechuan spicy crumble were all superlative, in terms of appearance, composition and flavour. Vegetarians are well-catered for, with around 20 dishes from which to choose; and, tucked at the back, there are also some ‘comfort foods’ for traditionalists, such as prawn toast. The wine list too impressed, particularly with a range of high-quality Alsace options. The only catch – it’s not cheap. Most of the starters come in at close to £20, while some (although by no means all) of the mains are pushing £50. Great for a special occasion (or if someone else is paying!).
Food + drink: 4
I booked on behalf of someone else and their immediate response when I asked for feedback was that 'timing between courses was excellent, we weren't rushed' and ‘I loved the atmosphere’.
I discovered Kai at the Taste London festival in the summer and the food was far and away the best at the festival. We subsequently booked for dinner with great anticipation. No question that the restaurant is beautifully done out, in keeping with the area it's located in, but it has an odd layout and makes for a cold and slight awkward atmosphere. That aside the service is impeccable and welcoming, but the food was a bit of a disappointment. The food is brilliantly excuted, well presented and very tasty, but there was no wow factor about it. In Square Meal's own review it comments on the “jaw-droppingly steep prices” and for this you would expect to be blown away. We had only one glass of wine between 3 of us (we were drinking tea, not sharing) and the bill was still over £300.
There was a definite consensus that we had all had a lovely meal, but there was no desire to come back and would much rather spend the money in Zuma.
There is nothing to knock Kai for, it's just missing that je ne sais quoi…
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