Having forgotten to get anything for one of my close friend’s birthdays, I wanted to take her out and treat her to a glam ladies night out. A great opportunity for me to get out of a busy and messy house (three dogs = total chaos), and a nice distraction from the disappointment of the London property market (we accepted an offer on our house, and had our offer accepted on a new house we loved, then the offer on our place fell through at the last minute and it all went a bit Pete Tong). My friend has been feeling a bit down in the dumps too, so an evening of catching up over cocktails and yummy food was the perfect antidote, and a great excuse to get a little glammed up and wear something snazzy.
I’m not the biggest fan of Chinese food (it conjures up images of greasy and sickly sweet takeaways and cheap restaurants), but Chai Wu in Harrods promised a very different take on Chinese cuisine – lots of fresh fish, fragrant spices, and even sushi (which is actually Japanese).
On my way to the restaurant, I got completely and genuinely lost in the overly perfumed department store. It’s so insanely huge, and I couldn’t seem to find an elevator anywhere, so ended up taking the infamous escalators all the way up to the fifth floor (where I ended up getting lost again). Harrods is such a strange and alien world to me, where swarms of locals and tourists seem unperturbed by the idiocracy of the products and the prices. There’s fur, gold, and bling absolutely everywhere you look (none of which are my cup of tea), with small bored children trying on £15,000 designer shoes, anorexic and botoxed women browsing through Dolce & Gabbana baby clothing which their children will no doubt grow out of in 6 – 8 weeks (a white babygrow will set you back £225), and there’s a heavy and nauseating cloud of cologne hanging heavy in every room, to the point of making your eyes water.
Then, in between rows of clothing, Chai Wu sits in a corner surrounded by sportswear. It was not how I imagined it, but I had high hopes for the food itself. I approached a waitress to introduce myself (a review booking had been made for me), but she wasn’t expecting me, didn’t have the booking anywhere, and seemed very confused by our arrival – it was all a bit awkward, as I had to scroll through my emails to prove that it had in fact been organised. We were then brought to a tiny cramped booth next to the till, where we dumped our coats on our seats until we could catch someone’s attention and ask if there was a wardrobe. You would be forgiven for assuming they were super busy, but aside from one other couple (who spent the entire evening glued to their phones), the restaurant was empty.
We were brought the menus and there was quite a selection of delicious sounding food, lots of fresh shellfish and seafood, Asian inspired dishes, wagyu beef and dim sum, and a sushi menu. But in typical Harrods bling style, there wasn’t one thing that wasn’t covered in caviar, truffle oil or gold leaf. It all seemed rather excessive, but heck, in the words of Ron Burgundy; ‘when in Rome’! If you’re going to have dinner in Harrods, it may as well be covered in caviar. So we went to town, and asked for a little taste of everything.
To start the evening, we each had a lychilli martini – a sweet and spicy martini with lychee liqueur, lychee juice, and red chilli. It was mostly sweet, but with a light kick to it.
No sooner had our cocktails arrived, and the fried squid arrived – which I have to say were absolutely DIVINE. They were light and fragrant, topped with chilli, lemongrass and fried onion, and had a perfectly crunchy texture without feeling greasy or deep fried. Seriously very scrumptious.
Eager for more, we were then presented with jewel-like dimsum; filled with lobster and sea bass, and topped with gold leaf and caviar. We dipped them in soy sauce and slowly devoured them – they had a very subtle taste, and had a great consistency; chewy but not rubbery, and after being dipped in sauce they didn’t fall apart (like so many dimsum do).
Next it was time for the platter of sashimi, beautifully presented and brought out on a steaming plate of dry ice. Thickly cut slices of salmon and tuna belly, served with pickled ginger, wasabi and fresh wasabi (which really packs a punch!).
For the sashimi our cocktails were replaced by a glass of fine white wine, which was so delicate and light it went down like water.
My friend wasn’t overly enthused by the idea of California rolls, but quickly changed her mind when they arrived containing scallops and again topped with caviar.
Some sea bass arrived with foam on top and a pot of honey and lemon dressing, this was the least glitziest but the most delicious course of the evening. It was very light and refreshing, with the honey dressing providing just a little sweetness that the acidity of the lemon and the lime then cut through.
They then brought out some wagyu beef pastries, also topped with gold leaf and caviar.
As a final dish we were given some chicken pieces, which although beautifully presented in colourful dragonfruit, it was the most disappointing course. Covered in a sickly sticky sweet sauce, and with an odd texture and no flavour in the chicken at all, it tasted like battery chicken that was deep fried from frozen. With no mention of sustainable sourcing or free range chicken on the menu, I can only assume that it was probably imported, which made me feel a little sad.
In contrast, the wine we were offered to go with the meat was absolutely exquisite, and seemed wasted on the chicken. A full bodied red, it had us sipping and smacking our lips for the rest of the evening – which was sadly short lived as we were quickly asked to leave as the restaurant closes at 9pm (when Harrods closes).
As the lights were being switched off, the candles and water glasses were being removed from our table, staff were scurrying around in a rush to leave, and announcements on a loudspeak could be heard reminding us that we were still in a department store, our dessert platter arrived – shortly before the flowers were also removed from our table and we were politely told once again that Harrods was closing.
Chocolate truffles, a green tea chocolate fondant and a deep chocolate fondant, both with decadent oozy insides, and vanilla, pistachio and green tea sorbet to cleanse the palate.
As it was a review, the meal was kindly complimentary, but the bill would have come to £307. We picked up our coats, and wandered through the empty department store to the exit, with mixed emotions about the evening.