Chai Wu: Luxury Chinese cuisine at Harrods

April 22, 2016

When elements combine & form a contemporary yet classic culinary experience


I have a theory about the Overseas Chinese: that when it comes to gastronomical pilgrimage, our motherland either exists in a Bermuda Triangle or possesses the ability to bend light in to a cloak. Why else would otherwise perfectly sane Malaysians (including yours truly & family), Singaporeans, Australians etc. in search of the Chinese food of their dreams and heritage completely bypass China, instead seeking outposts far in the land of the white man?! From the accents that staccato the air outside Four Seasons in Bayswater you'd think that you can't get roast duck anywhere else in the world, honestly. Take it from this Malaysian Chinese who by the age of 12 had dined in no less than 21 Chinatowns across 3 different continents: the children of the Orient can't resist our food calling to us from foreign places. Have Chinese food, will travel - now that's an Asian Persuasion.

It's funny how this self-proclaimed East Londoner will open a blog post with a whole paragraph bemoaning the drive into Central London, yet I happily immigrated 7000 miles across the world to settle in a city where a tube trip from Shoreditch to Knightsbridge for good dim sum is no big deal.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The five Chinese elements are wood, metal, water, earth, and fire. My elements for the perfect East Asian spread are: dim sum, roast duck, a sashimi platter (plus points for a perfectly torched scallop), soft shell tempura crab, and pudding. What do these two philosophies have in common? CHAI WU. Nestled on the fifth floor of the gilded labyrinth that is Harrods this seriously sexy restaurant borrows from the 5 elements of Chinese philosophy, both in design and in name. The menu is comfort food with a touch of gold - the Chinese and Pan Asian menu offers both traditional (old-school Beijing Duck served with pancakes and fried rice) and contemporary dishes with luxe details (my childhood favourite - dim sum - upgraded with gold leaf).

The seats at the dining bar offer an up close and personal demonstration of Pan Asian cooking - especially mesmerising is the display of precision it takes to create the perfect sushi and sashimi. I was in desperate need of dirty details from Luxy's weekend, so we eschewed the view for a table in a far more discreet section. There, we settled into our elegant surroundings with a cocktail each - passion fruit for her, a bellini for me.

Fresh strawberry, fresh raspberry, raspberry liqueur, strawberry syrup, and champagne
Cachaca, cream de peach, passion fruit liqueur, fresh peach juice, fresh passion fruit juice and passion fruit syrup

Fatty tuna, salmon, yellow tail, scallop, and unagi

The sashimi platter was presented flawlessly - on a bed of ice that served to enhance the freshness of the fish and with smoke from the dry ice creating a dramatic entry. The substance matched the style - the unagi was unbelievably tender, butter-soft almost, and the meat so sweet that it nearly outshone the other pieces which were outstanding in their own right. The scallops stood out for their refreshing flavour and texture, and the rest of the fish met my exacting standards for sashimi.

Served two different ways:
1/ Fresh pancakes (with cucumber & spring onions) and mantou buns (with pickled radish & cucumber) plus a selection of sauces. 2/ Duck fried rice 

The Beijing duck ranks highest in my personal Top 3 dishes from this meal, followed by a tie between the sashimi platter and the dim sum platter (soon to come). The skin is as crispy and the flesh as tender, sweet, and moist with just the right amount of fat. This flavour party was displayed to its best advantage in a fluffy of mantou bun (above, and below left) which was just dense enough to support all the sauces I drizzled on the duck - the plum sauce and hoisin were an especially delicious combination! The translucent pancakes too were very more-ish which made the duck fried rice felt superfluous and went to waste: I'd rather do away with the second serving altogether and instead have more mantao buns and pancakes - the former was unbeatable.


Much like the duck fried rice, the king scallop alone was a good dish - beautifully presented, flavoursome, and cooked well - but was overshadowed by other outstanding dishes with the same ingredient. The scallops from the sashimi platter were so exceptional in its raw simplicity that following it with a cooked version, however well cooked, seemed almost unnecessary. Had I tasted the King Scallop first, I'm sure I would have appreciated it better.

with creamy spicy sauce 

Following in the footsteps of the other dishes - an impressive sashimi platter, a do-it-yourself roast Beijing duck, and a king scallop presented in a seashell - the relatively modest looking tempura soft shell crab runs the risk of looking homely. A single bite and all 'looks snobbery' is quashed with a rush of flavour and texture: sweet crab, hot chilli, spring onions, creamy sauce and of course the crispy tempura.

Alaskan crab spinach dumpling with XO sauce, sea bass with gold leaf, lobster dumpling
topped with caviar, scallop foie gras, prawn dumpling (har gau), and vegetarian dumpling 

When did dim sum - that beloved staple of my childhood served by a matronly Chinese lady from a pushcart to our red tablecloth round table during family 'yam cha' sessions (always on a Sunday morning) - become so luxe? Even if the gold leaf on the sea bass was purely ornamental, the caviar topping on the lobster dumpling was definitely a very grown up and glamourous upgrade from my Sunday brunches in the '90s. The vegetarian dumpling was nice enough but naturally was overlooked for my personal favourite, har gau, which I'm known to be fanatic about - when dining with friends I'll order a whole basket for myself. The Alaskan crab spinach dim sum with XO sauce and scallop foie gras were two very luxurious pieces, definitely ones to impress with.

Ice-cream scoops (vanilla, salted caramel, green tea, pandan), green tea chocolate fondant, passionfruit, dessert of the day: green tea cheese cake with berries and meringue, and finally, chocolate spheres with berries and toffee caramel

By the time the pudding came round I was positively horizontal from the embarrassment of riches, having worked my way through seven dishes. But of course I have nothing but a good work ethic, so I bravely powered through the dessert platter. I'm ashamed to say that I faltered and threw in the towel before reaching the chocolate spheres. But I can tell you earnestly that the salted caramel ice-cream was absolutely divine, and whatever that melted before I got to it made for the perfect sauce to complement the green tea fondant. Who knew that pandan and salted caramel were so right for each other? The other stand out pudding was the green tea cheese cake - not just because the meringue towers looked like to me of Saruman atorp Orthanc - but also for the well-balanced and not overtly sweet flavour.

Our meal (ideal for 2 people) plus two cocktails but not including service - which was naturally, flawless, as befitting its position in upscale Knightsbridge - would have come to just under £230. That price may seem steep to some but what you get is a first class experience of what, in my opinion, is one of the world's best cuisines. Chai Wu is also the sister restaurant to the very popular Mango Tree and Pan Chai concessions in Harrods Food Halls, so if you're not quite ready to splash out you could try those two restaurants first. But of course I encourage you to treat yourself and your loved ones to Chai Wu - it will make for a meal most memorable. Definitely one to impress a date with and/or a special occasion, or rather every occasion - as if anyone ever needed an excuse for exceptional food, especially accompanied by impeccable service in glittering surroundings!

Harrods, 5th floor
87–135 Brompton Rd, 
London SW1X 7XL
Bookings here

My meal was complimentary in exchange for this review. 

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