Kai is firmly a Mayfair rather than a Chinatown kind of Chinese restaurant. The dining room is split between a ground floor and a basement, and is smartly decorated: a fish tank is on one wall, and there are plenty of mirrors to enhance the sense of space in what is a quite narrow room. There was live music this evening from a harpist, an unusual touch and no more so than when he played Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven.
The menu is very different from Chinatown too, with more luxurious ingredients and exotic names for dishes such as “The Phoenix and the Rising Sun”. Starters are £11 - £21, mains from £16 up to £118 for Peking Duck, and £53 for Dover Sole. Even rice is £5.50, though it does come with some choice (chilli, ginger or coriander) and is carefully prepared. The wine list showed unusual levels of attention in an ethnic restaurant and stretched to 11 pages with copious notes. Wine choices were from all around the world, and mark--ups were high, such as Ribeauville Riesling from Alsace 2006 at £32 for a wine that costs around £7 retail. Other examples were Dr Loosen Kabinett 2007 at £46 for a wine you can buy for about £9 In the shops, or Stonier Pinot Noir 2006 at £56 for a wine costing around £11 or so to buy.
Wasabi prawns were tender despite their size, coated in a very lightly flavoured wasabi sauce, topped with a little salad. The prawns had good taste, though for me the wasabi was overly subtle (13/20). Soft shell crab was deep fried, served with refreshing julienne of mango, a good idea to provide some acidity to cut through the inherent oiliness of the batter of the deep-fried crab (12/20).
A main course of “Chang Sah” prawns consisted of prawns fried with a rich, slightly spicy sauce from Hunan province, again tender (13/20). Chilean sea bass was steamed very carefully, the fish flakes falling apart perfectly, served in a light soy broth with enoki mushrooms. Of course Chilean sea bass is neither Chilean nor sea bass, but the cleverly remarketed Patagonian toothfish, not a pretty denizen of the sea but with reasonable taste when properly cooked, as it was here (14/20). For me the best dish was the simplest: gai lan steamed with a little garlic sauce, the vegetables arriving just cooked and still a vibrant green colour (15/20).
Normally I don’t dwell on service, as I do not include it in the score as it is to some extent a personal choice. However tonight I was very impressed with the front of house team under perceptive manager Teresa. In particular the topping up of both tea and wine was essentially flawless. Even in top restaurants there are usually slips, and either the wine is obsessively topped up after every sip or there are gaps as you stare at an empty glass. Here the staff effortlessly kept the drinks topped up perfectly, replacing the tea to keep it fresh without being asked, and indeed the whole service experience was superb. I would suggest that the high level of service contributes heavily to the undoubted commercial success of this place, which was turning tables even on a weekday in February during recession. Of course the issue here is the price, and hence the value for money quotient.