The Manchurian Candy Date. Or the Mancunian Candidate. Whichever pun takes your fancy, Bill Borrows had a very, very nice time at Kai in Mayfair, thank you.
I am over-dressed. The jacket is bespoke but the shirt is only Thomas Pink. My dinner guest, a high-rolling gambler of international repute (his proudest boast: ‘I haven’t worked a day in my life or paid a penny in tax) arrives five minutes late wearing shorts and a fleece with tube socks and trainers. The dress code is smart casual so, I guess, between us we just about nail it.
He has to remain anonymous in this piece for several reasons – the only one I can extract is that he should not be in London at this precise moment – but the restaurant was his choice. It is, appropriately enough, very discrete. You could walk past it and not know it was there.
‘They know me here. It’s certainly the best Chinese restaurant in London, probably one of the top three in the world.’ It certainly has a Michelin star, awarded in 2009. ‘Food is everything to me,’ he says. And then he spells it out, ‘Ev-e-ry-thing. I don’t care who’s paying for it, whether it’s me or somebody else but it has to be the best.’
At one point, just between the Seared Diver Scallop in XO sauce and the Soft-Shelled Crab in spiced batter – more of which later – it occurs to me that he might actually be a Michelin ‘inspector’ involved in some kind of witness protection programme. He insists upon ordering for us both. A la Carte, natch. But not before he’s asked/told me to read the menu. I soon understand why. It’s less a list of the dishes available and more of a revolutionary manifesto.
The desserts come first. The reason: ‘We view desserts as an absolutely integral part of our meal experience and we hope to persuade you to leave enough space by presenting the dessert menu before you consider your food.’ This now makes perfect sense to me.
The rest of the dishes, ordered by my companion in some form of rapid-fire culinary tic-tac, arrive like supermodels at a movie aftershow party, looking sensational, and only when they want. In fact the only difference between the vast majority of the latest crop and the honey-roasted Duke of Bedfordshire Pork appetiser is that the latter has more meat on it and comes with steamed pancakes and pickled cucumber. At £21 it is certainly in the same pay grade.
Next down the catwalk is the Pan-fried foie gras with caramalised cashews, spring onions and strawberries – I’ve no idea how it works but it does and is so filthy it should be given a Victoria’s Secret contract immediately. The scallop is my only suggestion, immediately accepted across the table but perhaps only because Mr Big Shot is concentrating on the wine – a 2011 Pouilly-Fuisse ‘Les Sceles’ (melon and apple, lemon yellow, perfect) and a dark, dark red 1996 Urbina Gran Reserva Rioja.
The soft-shelled crab edges around the mouth before slipping down the throat with a healthy bolt of Pouilly-Fuisse and for no apparent reason makes me think of my son watching SpongeBob Squarepants. Kai Mayfair make no apology for serving comfort food alongside their signature dishes – including the ‘Buddha Jumps Over The Moon’ soup that, thankfully, requires five days to prepare and put the restaurant in the Guinness World Records for selling the most expensive soup in the world (£108, since you ask).
The abalone soup is still there but the ‘Chang Sah’ Prawns with mandarin peel and shallots, garlic, coriander thing they do so well proves more alluring to my date, as does the bizarre-sounding but sensational Scottish Beccluech Sirloin with garlic flakes and Chinese croissant – a meat dish jumping the guest list ahead of the adorable Lobster & Lobster. These are noodles infused with lobster oil and lobster – hence the family business-sounding name.
I only see the back of the Chicken Cashew Nuts, unusually attired with seaweed on this occasion, as by the time I go to look for them they have disappeared – and I’ve got a good idea where. The ‘Chang Sah’ Prawns don’t hang around long either.
The 6 Shades Of Chocolate and Peanuts that have been loitering with intent since we entered the restaurant and are now the last ones at the bar. From the biscuity peanut daquoise, through cold milk chocolate parfait with chocolate pearls to Bill Mitchell’s popping chocolate candy, it is obvious that they have been subject to unwanted advances all night but are now waiting for the High Roller and his hanger-on to make their move.
A restaurant review would normally set the scene first but as they are putting their desserts first, I’ve left this until last. The almost sino-décor is just the right side of unthreatening business class lounge but the service is faultless and… well, I’ve been in the same room with some fantastic Chinese food but nothing like this.
It certainly comes at a fair premium but as the restaurant itself states in its manifesto: ‘A truly fine meal is enjoyed not once but three times, – in anticipation, in consumption and in remembrance’. Luckily this meal won’t so much as repeat on me, as be happily downloaded off Netflix for continuing pleasure.
Visit www.kaimayfair.co.uk or call +44(0)20 7493 8988 to make a reservation.