Kai: High-end, but worth it (July 2017)

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!).