Carla had just got a new job, and we were in the mood to celebrate. By wonderful coincidence I had been invited that same weekend to road-test Chai Wu’s ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ menu, which although suitably celebratory also seemed a little alien, but only because I am a practising glutton whose natural ladylike demeanor does not stretch to mealtimes. Sod being a lady at the table; you’ll never get the last rib that way.
Nonetheless, posh Chinese food is one of my favourite kinds (see Hakkasan), so, for the first Sunday in weeks, I got out of my, ahem, ‘lounge pants’ and prepared to be on my best behaviour…
Incidentally, I’ve also tried to be healthier lately, which is why I’ve been blogging a little less about food. I’ve even joined Weight Watchers (username: SecretSnorlax), so alas my dining out has had to be curtailed. The Ladies’ Lunch at Chai Wu is, fortunately, not a big old fat fest, so I didn’t come home hating myself…always a bonus.
The first course – more of a nibble, really – looked reassuringly healthy. It actually reminded me of that bit in the finales of RuPaul’s Drag Race when RuPaul invites finalists for an intimate candlelit dinner and gives them a single bean. They probably didn’t have a further six courses to come though.
Next came the dim sum, fleshy bundles of steamed lobster and sea bass swaddled in little boats of delicate, gelatinous casing, topped with completely unnecessary but wildly indulgent flecks of gold and glossy black gobs of caviar. I love dim sum for its big mouthfuls, each one a single, wonderful smack in the chops, and couldn’t resist eating it whole.
Carla is a pescatarian so (alas) was more than happy to eat her dumpling, though the chefs were kind enough to bring out the vegetarian alternative too, which came out as a trio of white puckered peonies, stuffed with crunchy bamboo and mushrooms. It lacked the flavour and texture of its shellfish meat cousin, but frankly I’d like to meet the chef who can make bamboo taste better than lobster, so I’ll let it slide.
Next was a big glass teapot of chicken soup, teeming with swollen goji berries that swam around little bullet-headed little goldfish. It came with a pudgy jelloid of collagen on the side, designed to melt into the soup, endowing it with a glistening film of fat and turbo-charging its soothing chicken flavour.
Carla, of course, was out, but instead got the Vegetable Hot & Sour soup, which I will be attempting to recreate at home because I actually, secretly, might have preferred it even to the Chickeniest Soup Of All Time. It was like Asia’s answer to French Onion Soup: hot, thick and good, tangy with soy sauce and marvellously rich.
After a refresher of creamy avocado and lemongrass shooters (!), we were ready for the main course. Now, full disclosure: I hate salmon. Hate it like I hate beetroot and Jeremy Clarkson. (You may remember me passing over the Hotel Cafe Royal’s rather top-heavy smoked salmon muffin.) So it was with consternation I saw that the main event was a) baked salmon and b) enormous. Carla eyed it like a seagull.
I tried a little bit, because it would have been rude not to.
And it was delicious. I ate it all. Inhaled it. Perhaps it was because the salmon’s natural fishiness was tempered by its sweet Manuka honey and Shaoxing wine marinade. It was tasty enough to make forget all about the unfortunate decorative plate smear – with food this good, you don’t even care if it looks like someone’s wiped their arse on the crockery.
We had to pause for breath after the salmon and, as I always say, a pause is best enjoyed with a cocktail in hand. My Blooming Hibiscus (£12) with gin, hibiscus syrup and lychee juice was a solid choice: sweet but not sickly. Carla chose the Chai Wu Martini (£10), one of the cheapest on the menu but absolutely splendid – heavy on the lychee and pepped up with lemongrass and chili. It was almost (almost) as good as UNI’s Chili Mojito, one of my favourite cocktails of all time. In fact, if you’re in Harrods and just fancy a drink, pop to the fifth floor even just for a drink. Order the martini. Order two.
AND look at the glasses. I was furious to discover that Harrods doesn’t actually sell these curved stem beauties, which to me look like a palm tree caught in glass, swaying in the wind, or a fabulous, high-end glass dildo.
We had a sort of mid-meal amuse-bouche cum palate cleanser in the form of a completely ridiculous (but rather fabulous) raspberry sorbet lipstick…
And on to pudding, a green tea fondant with milk and collagen ice cream. Which, I think we can all agree, on paper sounds kind of shit.
I mean, yeah, they’ve put a beautiful sugar glass wafer on the ice cream, but isn’t that the saddest, dumpiest little pud you ever saw?
Turns out it had the last laugh though, because it was fantastic and I ate it all. The outer shell was very soft and very light; the green tea fondant intensely creamy but not heavy, and completely without the pond taste that often accompanies very strong varieties. (Macha, I am looking at you. You nasty.) In was weird and wonderful, and if you’re not having a full meal I’d recommend getting one to go with your martini.
There was just time for a final cocktail, which is included in the £70 set menu: a pile of strawberries drowned in champagne and a dollop of cream, all served in one of those magnificent curvy stem glasses.
We left feeling indulged but not bloated or guilty, a rare combination, I find. At £70 a head, it’s not cheap, but it’s worth popping in just for a cocktail or two next time you’re in Harrods. And maybe a dessert.
Chai Wu, Harrods 5th Floor, 87–135 Brompton Rd, London SW1X 7XL
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.