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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Launceston Place

My last meal at Launceston Place was around the time Tristan Welch was competing on The Great British Menu. He came across as such a likeable fellow, and the rhubarb and custard crumble served in a cone with ginger and orange sauce that he prepared on the show seemed so enticing that I was really excited to try it at Launceston Place. Things have moved on since then and Tristan has long left to be replaced by Chef Tim Allen who took over the reins in February 2012.

Allen has done what Welch wanted to achieve but was never able to at Launceston Place, and that was to win the restaurant a Michelin star. Having come from a two Michelin-starred background after seven years at Whatley Manor in The Cotswolds, and having worked at The Landmark and the Michelin starred L’Ortolan in Berkshire prior to that, it was perhaps unsurprising that this Michelin success would flow over.

Launceston Place is part of the D&D restaurant group and is located in a regency house tucked away in an adorable part of Kensington. The street is beautiful and grand. As for the décor, it remains very formal and austere with its dark, greyish colours.

For a Michelin restaurant, they do a surprisingly good value Sunday lunch menu with three-courses for £29.50. Unlike some set lunch menus, there were a good range of options within each course. Furthermore, there appear to be only minor differences between the options on the lunch menu and those on the a la carte menu priced at £48 for three courses.

While we deliberated on what to order we started with some G&T’s, delectably served with a thyme-infused ice cube in a very stylish glass. What a great refreshing way to start a meal! We also snacked on some lovely gougères with béchamel that were really nice – the choux pastry was fluffy and warm, and the béchamel was gooey and soft.

G&T

G&T

Gougères

Gougères

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The Greenhouse

My previous visit to the one Michelin starred The Greenhouse restaurant was in November 2011 for the glorious Laurent Perrier champagne tasting menu cooked by Chef Antonin Bonnet. Bonnet has since left The Greenhouse to pursue other ventures and was replaced by French born Arnaud Bignon as Executive Chef in March last year. Bignon comes from a wealth of Michelin experience. Prior to his arrival at The Greenhouse he headed up the kitchen at Spondi, a two-star Michelin restaurant in Athens, and previous to that, he was Eric Frechon’s sous chef at the three Michelin starred The Bristol in Paris.

Before dinner we sat in the bar area for drinks (the lychee martini was blindingly good) and canapés which included a deconstructed chicken Caesar salad, a soft mushroom meringue and minced prawns with spices and peanuts. The Caesar salad was a spherified drop of lettuce jelly containing a liquid centre and topped with Parmesan, a squid ink crisp bread and an anchovy. This was reminiscent of the spherified Greek salad canapé that Bignon served at Spondi, a dining experience that I am able to share with you in this blog post. Cleverly done, it exploded in your mouth with the flavours of a chicken Caesar salad to create an electrifying effect. The soft mushroom meringue was fabulous for it teased with a gentle earthy mushroom flavour and was also light and airy in texture. The prawns were pleasant from the spicing and the nuttiness of the peanuts.

Canapés

Canapés

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Alyn Williams at The Westbury

It’s been about a year and a half since Alyn Williams opened his self-named restaurant at The Westbury Hotel on Conduit Street, during which time the restaurant has increasingly grown in fame. And no wonder. For five years Williams was the head chef at Marcus Wareing’s restaurant at The Berkeley Hotel where he was instrumental in helping Wareing win two Michelin stars. Foodie establishments have also acknowledged Williams’ prowess, with Michelin awarding him a one star and The AA Three Rosettes.

The restaurant is is decorated in a style that becomes a restaurant in a 5-star hotel. It has an elegant feel to it with lots of soft furnishings, warm brown colours and soft lighting. It might be stuffy for some, elegant for others. I liked it, although I despaired at the size of the table leg that was almost as broad and wide as the table itself. It was like a tree trunk and left virtually no room for your feet to land. It didn’t create the most comfortable space in which to sit.

But the reasonably priced menu at Alyn Williams at The Westbury heals all wounds. To be sure, £60 is not an insignificant amount of money. But £60 for a seven-course tasting menu cooked by a Michelin starred chef in the heart of Mayfair is good value indeed. In fact, it’s probably the best value Michelin tasting menu in London. Both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian tasting menus are available throughout the week, but the à la carte menu (three courses for £50) is only available for dinner on Monday through Thursday.

To kick off, we were presented with some gougères while we reflected on the menu and decided on drinks. These had been gently warmed and were light and fluffy with hints of blue cheese running through them for a savoury flourish.

Gougères with blue cheese & parmesan

Gougères with blue cheese & parmesan

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la vie, Osnabrück, Germany – Visit #2

la vie

la vie

Last year, I was lucky enough to be invited by Executive Chef Thomas Bühner to his restaurant la vie in Osnabrück, Germany where I had a sublime dining experience. You can read about that meal here. At that point la vie held only two Michelin stars, but last November it went on to win its third Michelin star to become one of the elite few to ever reach this special level of achievement. la vie was also a new entrant in the 2012 San Pellegrino Best Restaurant Awards and is currently ranked number 72.

la vie dining room

la vie dining room

To sample its new three-star Michelin menu, I was again invited to la vie recently where we had a 3-course lunch (four-courses is priced at €89) followed by the gastronomic 7-course Le Grand Chef tasting menu for dinner (€198) with matching wines (€285).

la vie

la vie

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Vineyard at the Stockcross

The Vineyard at Stockcross

The Vineyard at Stockcross

My first visit to The Vineyard at Stockcross in Newbury was a few years ago when I stumbled across a last minute special offer of a weekend night’s stay in one of their delightful Atrium suites for £120, a room that normally costs several hundred pounds. I was well happy, not just because of this bargain rate, but also because this 5-star hotel was truly a delight. It has a luxury Californian vineyard feel to it, boosted by the spa facilities that make this a great weekend escape. We also had an amazing meal, cooked by John Campbell who was the Head Chef at the time and helped The Vineyard to two Michelin-stars. As part of his tasting menu I had this salad which long lives in my memory as one of ‘the’ best salads I have ever tasted.

John left in 2010, and chef Daniel Galmiche, who was previously at the famous Cliveden and Michelin-starred L’Ortolan in Berkshire, has since replaced him. Daniel continues to hold a one Michelin-star at The Vineyard and occasionally features on Saturday Morning Kitchen.

Other changes since my last visit include the installation of a spectacular glass-panelled cellar in the lobby that showcases some of the 30,000 wines housed at The Vineyard, some of which are Californian award winners. Custodian of the cellar is the charming Head Sommelier Yohann Jousselin who was The Academy of Food and Wine Service’s (AFWS) 2011 UK Sommelier of the Year.

The cellar at the Vineyard at Stockcross

The cellar at the Vineyard at Stockcross

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Lima

Peruvian restaurants are all the rage right now. At one end of the spectrum, there is the ever-busy, ever-popular crowd pleaser Ceviche. But towards the more upmarket end, there is Lima on Rathbone Street, a Peruvian restaurant that blends the traditional with the contemporary and which was recently voted as the ‘One to Watch’ at the 2012 National Restaurants Awards.

The people behind Lima include chef Virgilio Martinez, who is currently chef patron of Central restaurant in Lima, named as the best restaurant in Peru by the 2012 Summum Guide. Prior to that, he headed up the kitchen at Astrid y Gaston, a notable restaurant in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Lima’s Head chef is Virgilio’s long-time friend Robert Ortiz, who for the last five years has been part of the creative team at Central. There’s a strong cooking pedigree behind the restaurant and the menu reads like a dream – exciting, creative and enthralling with its strong use of South American ingredients. Lima is refreshing and modern in its design with an Aztec-like feel running through the restaurant.

A starter of bay scallops tiradito (raw), yellow aji emulsion, umami salt and cassava (£8) was distinctively interesting. The scallops were sweet and the emulsion added a delicate hint of spiciness to this beautifully presented, eclectic and delicious dish.

Bay scallops tiradito

Bay scallops tiradito

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The Cube by Electrolux – Simon Rogan

The Cube by Electrolux

The Cube by Electrolux

The concept behind The Cube by Electolux – a “pop up restaurant” – is intimate and original. Sponsored by Electrolux, the restaurant showcases the use of Electrolux products by a roster of Michelin chefs who rotate kitchen duties on a weekly basis. The restaurant, seating only 18 guests, is perched on the 6th Floor of the Royal Festival Hall, and its glass-paneled walls offers luxurious views of The Thames, Big Ben and The Houses of Parliament. An open-plan kitchen affords diners an interactive and visual experience with the Michelin chef in residence.

Simon with his back to us

Simon with his back to us

Lunch is priced at £175 and dinner is £215 for a minimum six-course meal and matching wines. There is also a champagne reception which is enjoyed on the balcony – a treasured moment to allow all guests to drink in the gorgeous views.

The Cube by Electrolux

The Cube by Electrolux

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