I'm surprisingly sanguine about the prospect of spending Christmas on my ownsome. Christmas is about food, family, and fighting. The latter two, I'll get my fix of the week before Christmas when my family make their way to me in London (which I'll no doubt milk by nudging them towards the Prada concession in Harrods *cough* consolation present *cough*) and the former, I can get my fix of with Chai Wu's Christmas Menu - seasonal dishes with a delightful Chinese twist. So Santa, put me on your naughty list for all I care - I see your minced pies and raise you the Chai Wu scallops and foie gras in red wine sauce.
You know from my previous review of Chai Wu that this glossy Pan-Asian restaurant serves up luxurious Chinese and Japanese favourites with a literal Midas touch (gold leaf-flaked dim sum, anyone?) so I was as curious as anyone to see their tribute to the festive season. It seems that as far as flavours go, the references are subtle - such as the deliciously dense black pepper turkey roll, while the focus is rather on that hearty, homey feeling of Christmas dinner. Hence a creamy starter of avocado lobster soup topped with fish roe in a delicate glass bowl, hinting at the refinement to follow. The scallops and foie gras in red wine sauce brought glamour and decadence. The star dish was the Chilean sea bass, the skin perfectly pan-fried with the most moreish yellow bean sauce begging to be mopped up with the accompanying rice. Even humbler dishes, like the baby pak choi and egg fried rice were elevated with rich ingredients; the former with silky shiitake mushrooms in oyster sauce and the latter with bits of scallop.
Desserts at Chai Wu are always a gorgeous and elaborate affair. The Christmas special is no different - the dark chocolate orange fondant mercifully had none of that cloying chocolate orange sickliness (its popularity amongst the Brits will forever remain, to me, a great mystery) but rather a thick, rich, warm sauce that oozed with all the sensuality of a good pudding.
I made two curious observations; one: that the meal began on a distinctively Western note, and two: that despite the rather traditional Chinese home-cooking style of the other dishes, the Christmas menu evoked just the right amount of homeliness with none of the 'dated' feeling. For yours truly, that rare Overseas Chinese expatriate who eschews simple Chinese home-cooking for more time consuming-to prepare dishes such as duck pancakes, it's a compliment to Chai Wu for finding the right balance between comfort food and contemporary cuisine.
I invited Honey to join me at Chai Wu for a long overdue catchup. A seven-dish Christmas menu turned into a nearly-four hour long meal; partly because the dishes were so delicious that they begged our full attention, partly because we had so much to say in between courses, and partly thanks to the libations. As per my suggestions Honey had the signature champagne cocktail - Chai Wu Fizz - while I whet my palate with a sake cocktail I believe to be called the Gold Miyagi. And then there was the tea. So much tea - and I'm not only talking about the herbal variety but also about the jaw-dropping, scandalous variety. After what seemed like an endless and delicious wave of 'Oh my God!'s and 'They did NOT!'s the drama was punctuated with perfect comedic timing when the ever-attentive staff asked, 'Ladies, would you like some tea?' WOULD WE! The Jasmine Blossoming (how appropriate) flowering tea was a wonderful refreshing note to the end of a decadent meal and equally juicy conversation.
The Chai Wu Christmas Menu is Chinese comfort-food with the restaurant's signature luxury -
a mix of traditional and Western dishes with seasonal references.
Just the thing then, for homesick me in London, pining for the feel-good factor of Christmas.
The Chai Wu Christmas Menu is available till the end of December, and is £88 per person.
STEALING GLANCES AND TAKING BITES AT
BREAKFAST THIEVES, BANGSAR
There's a name for the international design language of post-social media cool - reclaimed Industrial chic juxtaposed against Calacatta marble, mason jars, and fiddle leaf figs - the hipster aesthetic of which is designed (that is, according to Kyle Chayka's piece for The Guardian) as a soothing balm for the "wealthy, mobile elite" who want their 'authentic and off the beaten track' with a side of wifi. Chayka calls it AirSpace, and bemoans this globalised style as homogenous. Personally? Hey, if it keeps my Instagram feed neat... In all seriousness though, I'm all for the world being a smaller place especially when said globalisation manifests itself in the form of delicious, delicious brunch.
And apart from the New Yorkers nobody does brunch like the 'Strayans. Cafe culture has spread like bushfire in Malaysia thanks to the country's relative proximity to the Antipodes. My second favourite* entity to arrive from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur is the second branch of the new Bangsar café that's got all the Instagrammers and brunch hunters excited - Breakfast Thieves.
*my most favourite is arriving today. Boomchickawahwaahhh
"Welcome, esteemed guests from five lands and four seas, to gather as friends for various delicacies"
Royal Garden Hotel, Kensington, London
However, a concept that is not alien to this Overseas Chinese Malaysian-now British expat is the comfort of authentic Chinese cooking in a foreign land. A surefire indication of such a establishment is, as is the case with Min Jiang on Kensington High Street, is a chorus of various Chinese accents: I heard the baritones of husky Mainland accents, the clear altos of the Taiwanese; the curious, sometimes soprano-like drawls of the Malaysian Chinese, with Cantonese cadenzas peppering the symphony.
That overture raised the brocade curtain on a gorgeous meal for four at 'London's most authentic Chinese restaurant'.