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Chi Kitchen

Chi Kitchen

If I were to tell you that Debenhams on Oxford Street is the place to go for a really great meal, you would probably laugh in my face.  To be fair, I wouldn’t blame you.  Department store eateries are generally a little bit sad.  Old ladies and bored husbands huddled around weak coffee and dry cake, surrounded by beige formica.  No thank you.  And Debenhams?  A middle-of-the-road shop with about as much character as a clothes peg; the one that’s not as classy as John Lewis.  But…department stores are realising that shopping habits are changing and that it’s going to take something extra to get customers through the door these days.  And that something is great food.  Selfridges, unsurprisingly, led the way with the likes of Hemsley + Hemsley and Aubaine.  John Lewis has outposts of Benugo and Comptoir Libanais.  Debenhams has welcomed Chi Kitchen.

Chi Kitchen is a pan-Asian restaurant, part-owned by Eddie Lim of the renowned Mango Tree in Belgravia.  The executive chef is 2014 Masterchef winner, Ping Coombes.  I remember watching Ping’s Masterchef journey and thinking that her food looked amazing right from the outset.  So Ping Coombes plus Eddie Lim plus Debenhams added up to a very intriguing proposition.  “Pan-Asian”, however, is a concept that always feels a bit wishy-washy to me.  Just because a group of dishes come from the same – vast – geography doesn’t necessarily mean that they will all gel together harmoniously.  I guess this is where Ping’s skill as executive chef comes in because, despite the humongous menu, nothing that we ate felt jarring or out of place.

So, about that humongous menu.  I defy anyone to visit Chi Kitchen and not find something that they would like to eat.  There are a whopping 13 sections to choose from, including dessert and sides.  Two sections are dedicated to sushi alone.  This is before you even reach the small plates (i.e. starters).  Then you’ve got noodles, robata, signature dishes….  We had to enlist the help of the restaurant manager to guide us through this epic tome because, basically, I wanted to eat it all.

We started with a selection of smaller dishes to share – Alaskan crab and XO dumplings, salt and pepper baby squid, and the Chi Kitchen maki rolls.  The squid was perfectly moreish; the crispy exterior giving way to tender pieces of squid, with a chilli dipping sauce on the side.  I could have grazed on this all day long.  The dumplings looked pretty and were generously stuffed with crab.  Most importantly, the XO sauce didn’t overpower the delicate flavour of the crab meat.  A huge slab of maki rolls was presented with a jug of dry ice on the side; a slightly pointless piece of theatre when the dish looked impressive enough anyway.  They, too, were loaded with seafood and avocado, with slices of extra fish laid over the top of each roll for good measure.  Again, very easy eating – well, except for the fact that I’m rubbish with chopsticks!

We ordered two of the signature main courses to share between us.  The Thai green chicken curry and the nasi lemak.  Thai green curry is pretty much a classic dish now, one that I have had many times.  Nasi lemak, however, was completely new to me.  It’s from Malaysia and was described on the menu as “chicken curry, dried anchovies, sambal, peanuts, egg and fragrant coconut rice”.  I totally expected it to be a big bowlful of curry but, in fact, it was daintily presented as separate elements on one plate.  We were advised to dive in and mix everything up together.  While it tasted good, the chicken curry bit was actually one thigh and one breast covered with a few spoonfuls of sauce, so I found the whole dish a little dry.  A little more sauce – and maybe a little more chicken – would have been ideal.

The Thai green curry, however, was on another level entirely.  As I mentioned, I’ve eaten quite a few versions of this dish over the years but this one is probably the best I’ve ever had.  The sauce was silky and soft with coconut cream; a big bowlful of warmth, spice and love.  Chunks of aubergine amplified the lusciousness, while a surprisingly fiery kick of chili kept everything from getting too rich.  If you only order one thing from the mega-menu, make sure it’s this.

Sides included the usual rice, but I recommend getting the roti with Malaysian curry sauce on the side.  The bread was thin, flaky and finger-lickingly buttery.  And when I say “curry sauce”, I don’t mean the sort of thing you get with your chips on a Friday night.  This sauce was vibrant and velvety, with a little heat but not overwhelmingly so.  Just like the salt and pepper squid, if someone presented me with a plate of just this bread and sauce then I would be more than happy to sit there and demolish the lot.

Desserts in Asian restaurants can be tricky – unless you’re a big fan of tropical fruit – and Chi Kitchen was no exception.  They have a couple of interesting dishes, particularly the baked green tea Alaska, but they didn’t live up to the standards of the savoury courses.  This isn’t to say that they weren’t very good, but that Thai green curry was a lot to live up to!  My partner ordered the green tea Alaska, which looked super-cute, but the ice cream was rock hard.  Green tea is very much the in-thing at the moment, so if you’re a dedicated matcha lover then it’s worth giving this dish a whirl.

As for me, well it had to be the chocolate sphere with hot caramel sauce.  This dessert is getting to be a bit of Instagram staple, and rightly so.  Who doesn’t want to see a chocolate ball slowly melt and ooze into a naughty, saucy puddle?  The waitress poured the hot caramel over the chocolate; a piece of theatre that was justified in this case.  The chocolate slid away to reveal a centre of vanilla ice cream and berries, now surrounded by a pure chocolate and caramel sauce.  The berries were a welcome surprise as the dish was more than a little sickly, so their fresh sharpness was exactly what was required.

The addition of Chi Kitchen is a savvy move on the part of Debenhams.  I’m not a fan of spending time on Oxford Street or in large chain stores.  But I’d definitely go back to Chi Kitchen, which means that I may well end up in Debenhams more often than I usually would.  And that also means that I may spend more money there.  Is department store dining the way forward?  Who knows…  Two things are certain, however.  I need to start working my way through more of the Chi Kitchen mega-menu and I definitely need more of that Thai green curry.

Chi Kitchen, Ground Floor, Debenhams, 334-348 Oxford Street, W1C 1JG
A meal for two people, excluding drinks, averages £40 per person

Many thanks to Chi Kitchen and Neil Reading PR for inviting me to visit.  All opinions are, as ever, my own.

Tang at St Giles

Tang at St Giles

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Don’t get me wrong.  I love autumn.  In fact, it’s probably my favourite time of year.  But the combination of the clocks going back and stupidly long hours spent in the office have left me in need of a little pick-me-up.  And pick-me-ups don’t get much littler than Tang.  Not because it didn’t have the desired effect, but because it is genuinely tiny.  This weeny Chinese restaurant is hidden away in one of those strangely unpalatable parts of the West End, just off Tottenham Court Road, and you’ll definitely need to keep your eyes peeled to find it.  It’s worth wandering up and down the tourist-choked streets of WC1, however, because Tang is a hidden treasure.

Tang is actually is part of the St Giles Hotel, which is another reason why you might walk straight past it as it’s a singularly unattractive building.  The hotel is more than a little dated, particularly when compared with some of their other hotels, but Tang itself radiates hipster chic.  The walls are covered with Chinese newspapers and old photographs, and you sit on long wooden benches at long wooden tables.  Perhaps this is a sign that the St Giles hotel group are moving towards a more contemporary feel.  Another sign is our reason for being there in the first place: the launch of St Giles 360.  This is a new immersive marketing tool aimed at giving visitors a window into each of the 6 locations where St Giles are based – London, New York, Manila, Penang, Sydney and Kuala Lumpur.

St Giles 360 is a really fun, innovative device but I’m all about food, not technology.  The team at Tang served up a tasting menu containing some fabulous Asian comfort food.  We started with the ambiguously named Black and White.  This was crispy homemade black bean tofu with a white miso dipping sauce.  Now, I probably wouldn’t order something like this if I was presented with a choice.  I would always choose something meaty over boring old bean curd.  However, this was probably my favourite dish of the night, which surprised me as much as it surprised those who know me well.  The little tofu bites were perfectly cooked, with just the right texture, and the miso sauce was delightfully tangy.  I could have happily spent the entire evening stuffing these into my face.

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Next up was a fried chicken bao served with hot sauce.  So basically an Asian-style chicken burger.  Was Tang taking inspiration from Colonel Sanders?  Don’t be daft.  For a start that hot sauce was HOT.  Seriously.  We were all doing that thing of trying to casually maintain conversations and style it out, as the sweat began to drip off our foreheads  But the chicken was that great combination of crispy and tender, which went perfectly with the soft little bao.  Again, I could have devoured a few more of these despite the face-melting sauce.

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We were then presented with a bowl containing braised beef short ribs, Asian vegetables and jasmine rice.  The smell coming off this dish was fantastic.  Just one whiff transported me straight to the Far East.  It was intoxicating and got me really excited about tasting it.  Sadly, the flavour did not live up to expectations.  Yes the meat was rich and tender, but overall the dish was bland.  I have no idea how something can smell so incredibly appetising but then fail to deliver on taste.   I hadn’t actually spotted the little pots of sauces on the table, which was a shame as they probably would have given this course the extra bit of ooomph it needed.

At this point I was pretty well stuffed but there was still one more course to go.  This was the chicken tang: a roast chicken broth with poached chicken, bean sprouts, egg, ginger sauce and noodles.  This is exactly the sort of thing you should be eating on a cold, damp November night.  I could feel that ginger sauce valiantly fighting off any winter lurgies that may have been hanging around.  Chicken soup is always a winner when you need bucking up and when it comes packed with all sorts of lovely extras, like that soft boiled egg, it’s a sure fire hit.

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Tang is a charming little bolthole, where you can eat the Asian equivalent of soul food and pretend that the outside world doesn’t exist.  It helps that there are no windows – not as grim as it sounds, honestly – so you can forget that you’re on that nasty corner by Tottenham Court Road tube, the Dominion Theatre and a Crossrail crater.  The menu is extremely reasonably priced – the most expensive dish is £10 – and the servings are generous.  I loved the extra little touches, like the beautiful crockery, that made the place feel more like someone’s kitchen instead of a restaurant.  Avoid the soulless chains and seek this place out because Tang puts the heart into an area of London that needs it most.

Tang London, 111 Great Russell Street, WC1B 3NQ
Many thanks to Talker Tailor Troublemaker, Colin Woods and St Giles Hotels for inviting me to the launch of St Giles 360.  All views, as ever, are my own.  

Tang Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato