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Chai Wu at Harrods – Stylish Modern Chinese:
I still get lost in Harrods. That’s despite the helpful doormen. Somehow ‘turn left at Armani and take the Egyptian Escalators’ doesn’t ever seem to stick in my head long enough to get anywhere in particular. On this particular occasion, finding our way to lunch was made even more confusing because the email we’d been sharing talked about the previous restaurant we’d reviewed in Harrods and both of us initially tried to go elsewhere. There are three Asian restaurants in the famous department store, two located in the food halls and one, Chai Wu, on the 5th floor. By the time I’d reached the food halls, I realised that not only was I going to the wrong place but that my companion, who I’d arranged to meet there, would also be doing the same thing. AND, horror of horrors, I’d forgotten my mobile.
Gentle reader, I come from a generation who grew up without a mobile phone. In fact, I helped to launch the first GSM mobiles (ones you could use abroad) in the UK. I remember vividly the brand research. Why is having a mobile abroad going to be valuable? we asked a group of senior executives. Not, as we’d anticipated, because they wanted to have some way of closing that all important deal, or keeping in touch with the office. No. These individuals wanted a mobile phone so they could keep in touch with their family – call the kids at bedtime, that kind of thing. The advertising went out with a picture of a Richard Gere type character clutching a teddy bear and a mobile. It was a great success and the rest is history.
I felt so vulnerable. Without my phone, he couldn’t call me and I couldn’t call him. I couldn’t check my mail and I couldn’t send a text. Instead, I navigated my way up and down the floors at Harrods until we eventually found each other. Chai Wu occupies quite a large space on the fifth floor of Harrods and, in addition to some seating around the central charcoal grill there are tables and cosy booths. The latter are very comfortable – and after our unplanned exploration of Harrods, we were pleased to sit down and relax with a very welcome glass of champagne.
The menu is luxurious and comprehensive. Grilled Lobster with Caviar anyone? or Chilean Sea Bass with champagne and honey…
We struggled to choose but ended up with a portion of Grilled BBQ Eel with rice and a dish of Chilean SeaBass with Salted Egg Yolk, which I really enjoyed despite an aversion to ordering anything with the word egg in the title. The grilled eel was particularly delicious – full of flavour, tender and with a fabulously rich glaze, though the sticky rice was on the generous side.
We carried on drinking wine by the glass rather than ordering a bottle, in some effort not to over indulge.
And both of us choose the mixed seafood grilled platter, which comes with half a lobster, a king scallop, tiger prawn and Alaskan king crab legs.
It was picture perfect and very nicely presented so that eating with chopsticks wasn’t an issue
Despite that, it fell just short of the wow factor I was hoping for when we got over how pretty it looked. Really we should each have picked different dishes to allow us to compare and contrast.
The best single component was the king scallop which was plump, juicy and beautifully cooked. The lobster and tiger prawn were both pleasant but unremarkable and the overall impression was that this dish was more form than function.
I was, however, really impressed with the Chai Wu Fried Rice and rather pleased we were encouraged into ordering it. It was packed full of seafood and vegetables – a meal in itself.
For dessert, the chocolate sphere with berries and toffee caramel was beautifully constructed and served with a warm toffee caramel
Of course, the caramel melts the chocolate and creates a bowlful of sweetness, which I believe my companion found a little overwhelming. He doesn’t have a particularly sweet tooth though and I suspect if I hadn’t been concerned about the presence of strawberries in the berry filling, we’d have swapped and I’d have loved it. Certainly, I enjoyed my taster of the chocolate and caramel mixture.
Our other dessert, the green tea chocolate fondant was another showstopper. Before, it’s an immaculate and pretty plate of food
Cut into the green tea sponge and it oozes, almost disturbingly. It tasted delicious though and the passionfruit was a good counter to the intense filling.
After a coffee, I left feeling well fed but just a little underwhelmed. I suspect it was partly down to our menu choices. My companion is pescatarian which meant choosing the signature Beijing duck was not an option. And, we didn’t try the dim sum which I’ve heard are remarkable (certainly I’ve enjoyed the dim sum at both sister restaurants in Harrods, Mango Tree and Pan Chai). It may also have been partly that I really enjoyed Pan Chai and was expecting this to be better and got something that was much the same in terms of quality.
The space, set back from the main shop floor, is more relaxed than Pan Chai or Mango Tree and this is perhaps somewhere to come if you want to linger over your lunch. I’d certainly be trying the dim sum if I returned and perhaps some of the sushi too.
Harrods, Fifth Floor,
87-135 Brompton Road,
Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7XL
Disclosure: We dined as guests of Chai Wu