65 South Audley Street
Kai, one of London’s most expensive restaurants, sits comfortably alongside the designer boutiques and members only clubs of Mayfair. Earlier this year the restaurant received it’s first Michelin star, fifteen years after opening. So I decided to head down to South Audley Street and see what all the fuss was about.
It’s an intimate restaurant, with a whisper of plush décor. The kind of place that’s popular with the suited and loaded during the day and then by night, the lights dim and couples rendezvous in corners – not in any rude sense mind you. Despite the fact that my lunching companions and I are an anomaly amongst the business patrons, the atmosphere is very comfortable and surprisingly informal.
We decide to ignore the three-course set lunch menu for £19, although very reasonably priced, and go all out with the a la carte. However, as soon as I opened the menu, I wished I hadn’t. It’s fifteen pages long and filled with paragraphs describing every course, every dish and every Chinese custom. We didn’t have all day so we did one of those quick glances, where your eyes pick out the ‘foodie’ words and ingredients that steer your decision. I did also notice some unethical ingredients such as ‘shark fin’ and ‘Chilean Seabass’, both of which are highly endangered species, and have been taken off most restaurant menus. Obviously Kai has slipped through the net on this issue.
To start with we order big, juicy king prawns rolled in a gentle wasabi mayonnaise and a sumptuous crunch fest of crispy soft-shelled crab served with sweet julienne green mango (a slightly embarrassing tackle with chopsticks ensued). Sticking to Chinese custom, I also delved into a gloriously glutinous hot and sour soup that had a pleasant rhythm of flavours slipping across my tongue. The last and most creative of starters was a lamb shank served in a martini glass – yes, that’s right – a martini glass. The meat had been pulled off the bone and mixed with a mind-boggling marinade and topped with chicken infused crème - strange but good. We cleansed our palates with a peachy Verdicchio di Matelica wine, chosen from the standard wine list. (There is also a ‘premier’ menu, giving big spenders the opportunity to splash out on bottles priced at up to £5000. This is Mayfair after all!)
For our main course we ate a somewhat disappointing dish of sloppy scallops and asparagus with a spicy XO sauce. A classic dish of crisp sweet and sour pork was enjoyable, but the Ostrich pan-fried with three chillies was definitely the winner. The dark meat was bursting with flavour and so tender I was able to slice it with my chopstick. For dessert we ordered an un-typically Chinese yet playful pineapple, chilli carpaccio, a rich mandarin chocolate fondant and the signature dessert of pumpkin cream, purple rice and coconut ice-cream. A moorish medley of flavours that tasted much better then it sounds.
So does the experience of eating at Kai justify a Michelin star? I’m not so sure. The food is certainly tasty but it didn’t quite blow me away. I would expect more from a restaurant with this type of accolade, not just show stopping prices. That said, if you have the money, it’s an enjoyable place to splash out and if you don’t have the money (and don’t want the bailiffs chasing you), try the set lunch menu.
A three-course meal for two with wine would cost pproximately £128. The set lunch menu of three courses without wine is £19 per person.
Reviewed by: Leila Sarraf