Kaki is a sizzlingly hot reminder that there are pockets of King’s Cross still capable of offering edgy thrills amidst the corporate gentrification. Formerly a pub called Canal 125, it is now a northern Chinese restaurant specialising in the cooking of Shandong, Xinjiang and Szechuan provinces. With its bald-and-bare canteen look of brick walls, wooden floors, unclothed tables and austerely grey walls, Kaki wouldn’t be out of place in Shoreditch.
It’s a functionally stylish setting that, combined with the owners’ apparent lack of interest in making the most of a canalside location, focuses attention on what comes out of the kitchen. ‘Kaki’ is another word for the persimmon fruit, but the ingredient that the restaurant should be named after is ‘chilli’. From boiled sea bass in hot chilli oil to chilli-fried rabbit, pig ear in chilli oil, hot and spicy dry pot lamb ribs and a spicy shrimp stir-fry pot, the long menu makes it clear that this is not cooking for the faint-hearted.
Dry-fried pig’s intestine is skilfully timed so the offal stays soft within its crisply fried casing, the flavour still funky and the whole lot coated in fizzy, mouth-numbing Szechuan pepper.
Everything is challengingly hot, making temperature and texture all the more important in dishes that arrive all at once and should be ordered with contrast and balance in mind. A cold dish of sliced beef tendon and honeycomb-like frills of soft tripe cools down the fierceness of that intestine, despite both dishes containing similar levels of chilli. If your palate is in need of something soothing, we’d recommend some meltingly soft fish-fragrant aubergine, best spooned over steamed rice that is the only flavourless thing on the menu.
It might all sound scary, but there’s a real generosity on offer here, from the big portions designed for sharing in a group to the sweet young staff who seem genuinely concerned that diners are enjoying their meal. If you can stand the heat, get into Kaki’s kitchen.