The Buddha Bar finds a King:
The Buddha Bar in Knightsbridge is one of those glamorous, night time venues that the bright young things of London should be seen frequenting. Although if their experience is anything like ours it perhaps might threaten the size zero Armani dresses! It is a restaurant, although the ambiance is much closer to a nightclub and my photos were something of an achievement in the heady darkness of the venue! I’m grateful that I’ve been lent some interior shots – it is a private sort of place and some food-writer turned paparazzi taking photos of the dining area and bar probably wouldn’t have been welcome even if my camera skills had been up to it.
I went along with the pescatorian hedonist, whose influence on my dining habits push me from being an extreme carnivore through to demi-vegetarianism depending on my mood. On this occasion I asked for a few excursions from the fish menu, rewarded more than amply as you’ll discover. Our purpose, to see what impact new chef King Dey had on the kitchen, was partly because I am a real fan of l’Etranger, where Dey picked up his second ‘Best London Restaurant’ award and partly just curiosity about how the venue would work for a normal dinner (I’ve been there before but only with a large party).
We started with the menu, a glass of champagne and a bowl of edamame beans. And very quickly gave up. Spoilt for choice, we asked nicely if the kitchen could serve us a selection of dishes that would showcase their work. And, it turned out that was a fine if filling way forward.
A whole assortment of starters included a stunning black cod gyoza. Would I honestly have known if the cod hadn’t been black cod? Well probably not. But, with this type of thing sometimes the improvement is quite subtle – a bit like the difference between designer and high street copies. And if I’d had two gyoza side by side I’d like to imagine I’d have picked the right one.
There was a very large Buddha Bar chicken salad, something I remember from a previous visit. It hasn’t changed noticeably, but then it was an excellent and quite unusual dish which everyone I know who tries it loves. But, as I was the only meat eater, that one was all for me, so I just had a taste of the maki rolls. These came with prawn tempura (eaten entirely by the hedonist) a filling of king crab and avocado and a spicy mango marie rose sauce which I personally found a little overwhelming.
But the deep fried spicy squid was perfect. I seem to remember the hedonist not too subtly suggesting we should leave SOME of the starters to allow room for our main courses. It’s very hard when the food is good!
My main course was another Buddha Bar classic – a five spice barbeque chicken with teriyaki sauce and shitake mushrooms. I’m ashamed to say I DID manage to eat the entire dish, the sauce managed to be light and creamy, deliciously subtly flavoured and really very moreish.
The hedonist seemed to love his chilean sea bass with golden carrot puree and tamarind sauce. This is the type of dish where I can see the influence of King Dey, a very contemporary Asian dish that fuses all kinds of flavours to create something unique.
And, you know that feeling when you shouldn’t have dessert, but you just DO. Well, we were brought a light as a feather pandan steamed pudding with white chocolate and coconut custard. It did look a bit like a posh school lunch pudding, but was a million miles away in taste. Even the hedonist who had been refusing pudding managed to eat quite a large amount of it. Meanwhile I ate the main part of the salted caramel ganache with sesame and vanilla ice-cream. We differed – for me it was a great flavour pairing but the hedonist didn’t like the sesame seeds. And therein is one of the challenges of writing a review like this, of course neither of us was right and neither wrong…there are things which are all down to personal taste.
What sits above personal taste, for me at least, is service, décor, quality of cooking and ingredients. And here the Buddha Bar was pretty flawless. If I have one doubt it is at the level of music throughout the evening. But, perhaps that’s just my age…and it’s certainly a matter of personal taste.