Perhaps best known for its Buddha Jumps Over The Wall soup that is priced at £108, Kai Mayfair is undoubtedly one of the most expensive restaurants in London but it is worth every penny and more.
A couple of minutes walk from Park Lane, Kai Mayfair is located behind discreet frontage opposite a chocolate box pretty church and a flower stall. In terms of décor, the restaurant itself is far less ostentatious than its reputation would lead you to imagine but you quickly realise from the encyclopaedia of a menu placed before you and the gasps of delight emanating from surrounding tables as the food arrives, that what you’re really paying for at this restaurant is some of the finest food and service that you’ll ever have the privilege of experiencing in the capital.
Set over two floors, the ground floor level of the restaurant is fairly compact. To the left is a small bar area with a couple of chairs where locals (or their drivers) can wait to collect their takeaway orders. Directly behind it is a small square room with banquette seating and tables for up to four diners along the right hand wall, whilst on the left hand side of the room the prime table is a large circular table directly in front of a tropical fish tank. Downstairs there are more tables which tend to be popular with local businessmen who are settling in for a long night of food and drink after a hard day’s negotiating.
During lunchtime, the low hum of deals being thrashed out hangs over every table as an international crowd of wealthy businessmen dig into course after course of Chinese delicacies. Meanwhile, in the evenings the atmosphere changes again. Fairly quiet early in the evening, diners speak in hushed tones in the way that only foodies revering a menu really can. Come 9.30pm however, and the restaurant becomes more lively as locals who live a couple of streets away pop into their neighbourhood restaurant, greeting the staff by name and chatting away animatedly over plate after plate before strolling home stuffed full of exquisitely fine food and their wallets several hundred pounds lighter.
Although there are some phenomenal dishes on the menu that whilst worthy of their price tag are extremely expensive, it is possible to eat at Kai Mayfair without having to remortgage your home and sell your children. For example, for a starter you could order the famous Buddha Jumps Over The Wall soup at £108 which is the restaurant’s signature dish requiring five day’s notice as the cooking time for the rare ingredients takes days rather than hours. Combing abalone, superior shark’s fin, dried scallops, sea cucumber, ginseng, chicken, Chinese mushrooms and gold its price tag is due to the ingredients and preparation time that you’ll be able to taste in every sip.
However, the same care and unsurpassable ingredients are used in every dish on the menu so if you can’t stomach paying over £100 for soup, try ordering another of the chef’s speciality dishes, Tan-Jia’s Lobster Broth (£18), an Oriental take on lobster bisque which is a delicate tasting soup with a beautifully tender piece of lobster placed in the centre of the soup that’s so perfectly speckled it looks more like it has had a fine pink powder dusted over it. The Hot and Sour Soup (£11) is equally delicious with a sour heat that gradually builds in your mouth with every spoonful that’s perfectly offset with scallops and king prawns. If you’d rather not eat soup the giant Wasabi Prawns (£21) are a must, the gigantic firm fleshed prawns are encased in a light crispy batter and accompanied by a spicy wasabi infused mayonnaise that is simply inspired.
The main courses are just as true to traditional Chinese cuisine whilst still showcasing the chef’s passion for cooking in every single dish. Particularly recommended are the Steamed Chilean Seabass and Chopped Snow Leaf topped with Shrimp Crumble (£32), the giant slabs of seabass taste so fresh that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t caught mere moments previously and it is so succulent the fish practically melts in your mouth. Meat eaters should opt for the Pan Fried Ostrich with Three Chillies (£22) but if you don’t like hot food make sure that you tell the chef as this is a spicy dish. The ostrich tastes similar to beef thanks to its depth and texture of the meat, incredible for a dish so low in fat. Recommended sides include a vast plate of steamed noodles served with lobster stock and shallots, ginger and sesame oil scented rice and the Funghi Foursome (four types of organic Oriental mushrooms cooked in garlic and soya sauce until they are almost meaty tasting).
Finish the meal with Pumpkin Cream with purple rice and coconut ice cream with the twist that the purple rice isn’t actually rice at all or the traditional Chinese pudding of deep fried pancake parcels filled with red bean paste although these are extremely rich so it may be worth sharing the two puddings.
The wine list is so extensive it would be a shame to drink anything else. Neatly split between European and New World wines, prices for bottles of wine start at the early £20 mark and rise to over £200 a bottle. Equally, Champagne starts at £41 for a bottle of Remy Massin et Fils but if you’re in the mood for splashing out you may prefer to order the vintage Dom Perignon Millenium Jeroboam (1993) at £2,400 a bottle. A bottle of red that’s certainly worth ordering with either meat or fish dishes is the 1998 Chateau Roudier CB (Montagne St Emillon) which has a spectacularly deep colour and rich flavour and is produced by Monsieur Cap de Mourlin. Fantastic value at £35 a bottle.
The Last Word
Kai Mayfair is one of the capital’s finest restaurants and it succeeds in bringing authentic Chinese cuisine to an appreciative and loyal customer base. Dining this fine doesn’t come cheap but with food and service this spectacular at a restaurant that is capable of lifting even the most mundane of evenings into the league of the most memorable it's certainly worth it.