Chai Wu has long been on my list of must restaurants, so I was elated to receive an invite from my colleague to dine there last week. Chai Wu is located in the glitzy Harrod’s department store. Other restaurants in the group include Mango Tree and Pan Chai, both of which have outposts in Harrods too, owner and restauranteur Eddie Lim clearly knows his audience!
We get escalators up to the fifth floor, with only a brief pause by Shop Heaven… it would be rude not to… and enter the opulent and dimly lit Chai Wu. The interior is a mix of marble, leather and timber and inspired by the five elements in Chinese philosophy: wood, fire, earth, metal and water.
The service is impeccable, with a quarter inch turn of my head a waiter has arrived and asking if there is anything he can help us with. “Cocktails” I request – and shortly after two of their signatures drinks are brought to the table, a Chai Wu Martini full of lychee flavour and a kick of chilli and a fruity Green Dragon brimming full with tastes of melon and raspberries.
Chai Wu specialises in Chinese cooking, and we are told that a menu has been put together for us. A starter of crunchy and spicy salt and pepper squid arrives served in a martini glass, which we devour quickly. Delivered next to the table is a divine dim sum platter served in traditional bamboo basket. The rice cases contain decadent fillings like lobster and foie gras. One sea bass dumpling even has gold leaf adorning it! All are such delicious little morsels that we’re stuck for a favourite – perhaps the prawn with black truffle?
Next we are presented a theatrical sashimi platter complete with dry ice. The quality of the sashimi is undeniable; the slices of salmon, tuna and yellowtail are so beautifully soft they melt in your mouth. The fresh wasabi is a revelation, a mellow and flavourful version of the fiery paste.
The tables at Chai Wu are relatively small, which is all fine and well until you have a small army of main courses to squeeze on. Luckily we manage, and we tuck into some extraordinary dishes. The Kobe beef is exquisite, served pink in the middle and in thin slices each piece has marbled fat which melts in your mouth. Seabass served with 3 spices is akin to a sweet and sour sauce but, unlike your local takeaway version, comes complete with the remaining whole fish bones deep fried! Ginormous prawns covered in coconut and spices are punchy and sweet, and the egg fried rice has been pimped with pieces of fresh and dried scallops. We try Gai Lan, a Chinese vegetable akin to runner beans but with more bite, served in an umami-packed oyster sauce.
We leisurely digest each course, without realising that the restaurant curfew is 9pm, in line with Harrod’s closing time. We’re told that we need to finish our meal very shortly. The kitchen has kindly packed our dessert course into a takeaway box for us to try at home. Miraculously the green tea fondant has retained its warmth and goeyness when I get home. It’s moist and moresish and thanks to a side of passionfruit, not overly sweet. The perfect finish to a marvellous meal.