Zheng He’s – Mina A’Salam, Dubai

Zheng He’s is a modern Chinese restaurant located in the Mina A’ Salam Hotel on Jumeirah Beach. The restaurant is gorgeous with its décor of dark woods and glowing red lanterns, and combines authentic traditional Oriental touches with a Western modernity. The restaurant opens out onto a terrace with outside tables that offers unsurpassed views of the Arabian Gulf and Burj al-Arab.

Dim sum trolley

Dim sum trolley

A team of Chinese chefs oversees a menu that offers a wide variety of starters and mains, as well as a choice of live seafood cooked to order. There is also a dim sum section, and of interest were the two items in the dim sum ‘gold collection’ which were prepared and steamed in front of your eyes. These included the wagyu beef, truffle, foie gras and abalone siew mai (3 pieces, AED88 – about £15) and lobster, scallop and prawn har kaw finished with beluga caviar and gilded with golf leaf (3 pieces, AED88 – £15). Both were delicious and succulently juicy. There was great theatre in having the dim sum made in front of your eyes (the standard options are prepared in the kitchen). Moreover, having the dim sum cooked à la minute gave it a freshness and moistness that is usually lacking from a usual dim sum service.

Wagyu beef siew mai

Wagyu beef siew mai

Lobster, scallop & prawn har kaw

Lobster, scallop & prawn har kaw

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Kai Chinese Michelin Restaurant

Kai Chinese Michelin Restaurant opened in 1993. It was awarded its first Michelin star in 2009, a star that the restaurant has maintained to this date. It has also won a string of other accolades including Best Chinese Restaurant in the Zagat Survey, the Highest Ranked Chinese Restaurant in The Sunday Times Food List 2012 and a placing as a finalist in Restaurant Magazine’s UK Best Dishes Awards. Celebrity chef Ken Hom also recommends Kai as his ‘go-to’ restaurant in London for dinner.

Kai is beautifully and tastefully decorated. There are the usual traditional touches of the Orient such as a fish tank and the giant Buddha heads, and to round off the glamorous finish modern glass pillars, soft, sexy lighting and expensive red tiling have been used. Head chef is Malaysian born Alex Chow who began cooking at the prodigious age of 14. He fine-tuned his skills at the famous Fullerton Hotel in Singapore before moving to London and to Kai in 2004.

Kai’s menu offers up a complex blend of modern interpretations of Chinese food as well as the more traditional Chinese dishes. It is unique and represents a compilation of special recipes that are original to the restaurant, some of which draw on ingredients not commonly used in Chinese cooking. That said the essence of the food stays true to its Chinese roots. The results are therefore a mixture of the familiar tinged with touches of the West.

The menu makes for a scintillating read and there were many dishes we wanted to try, and try we did. We started with a divine Tan-Jia’s broth (£18), a duck and carrot soup with lobster oil, a medallion of lobster, blanched baby spinach and shitake mushrooms. There was a beautiful flavour coming through from the thick, rich soup, and it made for a heavenly combination with the sweetness of the lobster. This was nothing less than classy, and it reminded me of the kind of soups served at Chinese wedding banquets in the best hotels in Hong Kong. We also opted for some matching wines with our meal, and for the soup the sommelier paired it with a 2011 Chenin Blanc, Saumur L’Insolite, Thierry Germain, Loire Valley, France (£13) that had a nice balance between acidity and sweetness.

Tan-Jia’s broth

Tan-Jia’s broth

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A Wong

A Wong is the latest ‘buzz’ Chinese restaurant in London at the moment and is the baby of chef Andrew Wong who has studied in kitchens throughout China. But Chef Wong already came from restaurant stock for his father use to run Kym’s, the Chinese restaurant that previously occupied the same space as A Wong. Basically Andrew has taken on the same address as his own and refurbished it with a more minimalist taste. The result is a restaurant with shiny surfaces and none of the Chinese chintz. Not that there is anything wrong with Chinese chintz, but this style is much more in keeping with Western ‘cool’.

Chef Wong’s solid bio shows in his menu with a diverse range of dishes drawn from throughout China. During the day he serves dim sum from Hong Kong, and in the evenings the a la carte menu includes touches of the Sichuanese, etc. The pricing of the menu is also fabulously cheap, something of a bonus in this day and age.

To the starters and sweet and sour ribs (£1.50 each) were tasty if a little overcooked leaving the outer layer of the rib a bit dry. The sauce was well made and had a lovely sticky, sweet quality to it that was delicious.

Sweet and sour ribs

Sweet and sour ribs

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Naga Restaurant

Naga Restaurant and Bar, located across the road from Kitchen W8 on Abingdon Road, is an Oriental restaurant that draws its influences from both Vietnamese and Chinese cooking. There is also a Pan-Asian twist to the menu, and Head Chef Syarief was recognised as the Best Pan Asian Chef in 2011 by the Asian Curry Awards. Naga Restaurant and Bar also won Best Chinese Restaurant 2012 from the Asian Curry Awards.

The décor is appealing, helped in part by the glass ceiling overhead that leads to a light and airy feel. It’s a comfortable, casual space that one can easily relax in.

There were four of us so had a large variety of dishes to share, starting with the silken tofu with ginger dressing (£5.70) that was lovely and smooth and very delicious. The dressing, with its sweet and savoury tones, worked really well with the tofu even if there wasn’t a strong hint of ginger. The deep fried coating around the tofu added a nice texture to it.

Silken tofu with ginger dressing

Silken tofu with ginger dressing

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China Zen

China Zen is located in the County Hall Building on Southbank and offers lovely views of Waterloo, Westminster and the London Eye. On their website they state that they specialise in Beijing cuisine, and according to some food blogs I’ve read, its Peking duck is allegedly its specialty dish. So when a TopTable 30% off special offer popped up I was rather excited. Peking duck and 30% off was something too good to miss.

So you can imagine my disappointment when I turned up at the restaurant to discover that the Peking duck was not part of the special offer. I might not have read the fine print properly, but it’s annoying when these specials hide a number of conditions. Nevertheless, I had come to China Zen to try the Peking duck, so offer or not, I decided it was still worth ordering.

But as it turned out it mattered little as the restaurant came back to us a few minutes after we had placed our order to inform us that they had run out of Peking duck. Run out of duck? On a Friday night at 7pm? What kind of restaurant runs out of their specialty dish at the beginning of service on one of their busiest nights of the week?

So began our calamitous experience at China Zen. We had also tried ordering about three different types of dumplings to be told that none of them were available. Intent on having some dumplings, we eventually stumbled on one which they said they had, only to discover minutes later that once again they were unable to deliver.

So we gave up on the dumplings and had the seafood and crabmeat soup (£5.80) and the salt and pepper squid (£7.80) for starters instead. Disappointingly, the soup was quite a small portion, and the ‘seafood’ quoted on the menu didn’t really consist of any seafood but some tiny shrimp that was extremely bland. It tasted as if it had been sitting in the freezer for far too long and all its flavour had been bled from it. The rest of the soup was decent with the crab being tasty.

Seafood soup

Seafood soup

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Ms. G’s Sydney, Australia

Ms. G's

Ms. G’s

All funky Sydney foodistas seem to looove Ms. G’s, a quirky, offbeat ‘Westernised’ fusion Asian restaurant located in Sydney’s pulsating Potts Point/Kings Cross area. Its décor is unconventional to say the least – a neon door out front, buckets hung from ropes, a graffitied wall, communal tables – all laid out over an impressive four floors of eating space. Its approach to dining is that it should be fun – take the bubble-tea cocktails on the menu, a twist on the bubble-tea ‘teas’ made famous by the Taiwanese. And that’s before we even hit its famed signature dessert of ‘Stoner’s delight’, where the secret ingredient for the dish was ‘the mind of a stoner’.

If there were there two things that were also going to guarantee Ms. G’s success, one would be that the Merivale Group is its owner, the multi-million dollar Australian hospitality business with the Midas touch that seems to turn almost every one of its bar and restaurant openings into a major success story. The second is that David Chang’s Momofuku is the inspiration behind Ms. G’s. The story goes that chefs Dan Hong and Jowett Yu hosted David Chang at a dinner at their previous restaurant, Lotus, and from that gathering the idea for Ms. G’s was borne. And to further guarantee its success, the influential Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide has also awarded Ms. G’s a ‘One Hat’ out of a possible three from its restaurant rating system.

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L’atelier des Chefs – Spanish Masterclass

Cookery school L’atelier des Chefs run an impressive range of cookery classes including French classics, macaroon making, bread baking and knife skills, to name but a few. You can also choose by length of class starting from the “Cook, Eat and Run” classes (starting from £15 for 30 minutes) to masterclasses that last for several hours and cost up to £144.

L'atelier des Chefs

L’atelier des Chefs

The school operates out of two locations, Oxford Circus and St Paul’s, and it was to the latter that I headed to for the Spanish masterclass (£144). Head Chef was Neil Matthews who comes with an impressive CV, having worked at one-Michelin starred The Castle Hotel, two-Michelin starred Gidleigh Park with Michael Caines and Roux’s three-Michelin starred Waterside Inn. Neil also did a stint at the River Cottage organic farm with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall before joining L’atelier des Chefs at the beginning of 2012.

Head Chef Neil Matthews

Head Chef Neil Matthews

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Hakkasan – The Lunch Menu

I used to love the food at Hakkasan, not to mention their specialty cocktail, the Hakka, so much so that I use to be a semi-regular at the restaurant. Founded by Alan Yau who fused sexy interior design with high-end Chinese food, he created something iconic on the London dining scene. Alan Yau sold his majority share of Hakkasan to an Abu-Dhabi based company in 2008, and since then branches of Hakkasan have sprung up all over the shop with one in Mayfair, four in the US, two in the Middle East and one in Mumbai.

It was difficult to believe that standards would stay the same with the change in management even though it has still managed to hold onto its star. I haven’t been back to Hakkasan since the sale, and to test the waters, we decided to try their three-course set lunch menu (£29). The first course of dim sum platter contained a beef ball, a steamed scallop dumpling, a char sui sou (pork with flaky pastry) and a deep-fried pork ball.

Dim sum platter

Dim sum platter

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