By Alastair Sadler
Imagine for a moment you are part of the international jet set. You’ve just flown into London for business. The deal is done and it’s time to relax with a pleasant meal at Chai Wu.
Where else would you expect the world’s finest ingredients? Harrods, of course, the retail emporium known for providing the very best that the world has to offer. (And as Chai Wu is tucked away on the fifth floor of the world’s most famous department store, feel free to stop off for a spot of designer brand shopping before or after your meal.)
Ready to dine, we are greeted by the amiable and elegant Zuzana who glides us to our seats and talks us through the menu with knowledge and charm.
Chai Wu’s ambience has a very elegant cosmopolitan feel that could suit just about any cuisine from pretty much anywhere in the world. Muted dark ceilings, spotlit tables dressed in white. A pleasant, discreet buzz of conversation surrounds the centerpiece robata grill. There’s nothing brash to demand your attention because, let’s face it, this is the place for those that have been everywhere and seen everything. Je suis de l’élite! No gilded dragons or coy carp (although sea urchins with gold leaf are available on the menu).
Chai Wu’s Wagyu beef
But where to start? Perhaps a cocktail to help process the menu’s sheer diversity? Naturally! And why have just the one? First down the hatch was a sweet and smooth Blooming Hibiscus, made form Tanqueray gin, hibiscus flower, hibiscus syrup, lychee juice and fresh lime. Next up, a Chai Wu Martini with Belvedere vodka, lychee liqueur, fresh lemon grass, red chilli, lychee fruit, fresh lime juice, lychee juice and sugar syrup – this started quite sweet for a martini but had a noticeable chilli kick.
Come time to order, it was a tough choice. Do I go for the dim sum platter or Harrods’ own sushi? Both no doubt excellent, but for me it’s the chance to try the famous Wagyu beef, the pop star of the beef world. These traditional Japanese black cattle are prized, protected and pampered. Myths that they are massaged and fed beer to relax them may be an exaggeration, but their quality is undisputed. The intense marbling is high in unsaturated fat with a surprisingly low, 25 degree Celsius melting point, so it literally melts in the mouth. Production is solely focused on quality, with cattle aged eight times longer than their western cousins. (Once every five years there’s even a Wagyu Olympics where farms compete for the coveted National Wagyu Award given to the best cattle from each region.)
At Chai Wu, Wagyu beef is available in several dishes, from an impressive one-kilogram (2.2lbs) steak to delicious pastry parcels with a flake of gold leaf for a little added bling. I went for a simple Kobe beef platter served with wafu sauce complimented by a glass of Primitivo Manduria Riserva, a full bodied Italian red with hints of prunes, cherry jam and spicy tobacco, plus notes of cocoa, coffee and vanilla.
Save some room, Zuzana had suggested, which proved to be sound advice when dessert arrived. First I try pandan ice cream, which has a unique, sweet, nutty flavor with a touch of citrus tang. Very pleasant, and complimented by an accompanying scoop of pistachio.
And then… green tea chocolate fondant with passion fruit. Zuzana recommends we break the top of this pretty fondant column and stir in the fresh passion fruit. A firework display of flavors encourage a few ‘oooos’ and ‘ahhhhs’, but just like a firework display, it’s all over far too soon.
To finish, an espresso martini, sweetened with vanilla syrup, the cool jolt of caffeine returning me back to reality, back to the real world.
For those seeking something very special when it comes to dining, Chai Wu is pleasantly unpretentious, welcoming and, above all, it lets the food speak for itself.
Now, where did I park that jet?
To learn more, visit the Chai Wu website at www.chaiwu.co.uk
Contributor Alastair Sadler has taught salsa professionally in London since 1995 and created the world’s first Salsa Rapido 1-Day Intensive Salsa Course. His hobby is stand up comedy, and in addition to acting as MC of Streetbeat’s Camden Comedy, he regularly takes his show to the Edinburgh Fringe. You’ll find him at www.streetbeat.co.uk.