the last time i was invited to the chi kitchen at debenhams oxford street, i'd already read so many fab reviews of the pan asian cuisine that i was salivating before i even got to the end of the email. then, on the night of the visit, i never thought i'd eat asparagus so sweet and tender ever again in my life (and i haven't). then, when the second email dropped letting me know about the restaurant's christmas menu - with a twist, i already started checking my diary before getting past the subject line. that place is a fave; i will always accept an invite to visit.
this year's christmas menu is a set one, at £28 per person (minimum of two people), and is epic. we started with a couple of cocktails because it was a wednesday, and why not, before being graced with the first few dishes: chilli prawns in a sauce of curry leaves, garlic, spring onions, walnuts and salt and pepper, served with a side chilli and lime sauce, minced turkey sliders, and sweet potato and mixed berry mayo. the prawns were exceptional, and even ani - who, by all accounts has never liked prawns, thought they were delicious, and they were the first to go.
the sweet potato though? well, to quote my pal: "they should stick to what they know". the sticks (assuming they were meant to be fries) were limp and flavourless, which is just as well the mayo was weirdly delicious. berry mayo - what? i shudder to think how that concoction came about, but i ain't mad. it was taaaaasty, and made up (a bit) for the pretty underwhelming and under cooked fries, and odd inclusion of sliders on a pan asian menu. the minced turkey patties were tasty enough, but on the whole, a very western item to include on this menu. seemed odd, but tasted great.
the next few dishes were what we were really looking forward to. we were presented with grilled turkey breast with a sweet and sticky dipping sauce, grilled whole tiger prawns in a spicy choo chee sauce, a baked salmon fillet with a japanese yuzu mayo, and a bowl of suuuuper delicious egg fried rice to accompany it all as any good asian dinner should.
this time around, the turkey dish was spot on, it was marinated in aaaall the right flavours to be eligible for the christmas menu of an asian restaurant, and cooked so well that we were left wanting more, more, more. the sticky sauce was gone in seconds, poured over just about everything on our plates too. the salmon? ugh. ugggggh. it was incredible. it fell apart on the plate, and we were fighting over the last few bites, both wanting it but not wanting to seem greedy.
and finally, the prawns. not as moreish as the first course, but still well cooked, well seasoned, and well tasty. the choo chee sauce was spiiiiceeeeey, which was enjoyable to me and not ani, but still, this from a girl that prior to that meal claimed to not like prawns. i think we'll wear her down.
then came dessert. we were pretty full by that point, but then the waitress planted a palm-sized walnut chocolate brownie with clotted cream and blood orange and star anise custard in front of us and there was a conundrum. do we stay or do we go? i mean, obviously we stayed, because no man left behind and because brownie, but also: again, not something you expect to see on a christmas menu.
i mean, i see what they're trying to do. but inserting a taste of christmas into a non-western menu isn't as simple as just chucking some turkey on the menu and being done with it. i associate certain flavours to christmas, not necessarily certain foods, so the addition of orange and star anise is a great example of giving a western condiment a touch of the east, but without destroying any of the integrity of either dish. i really don't understand the turkey sliders and sweet potato fries; it feels like a bit of a ploy to get people in. which sucks, because they were our least favourite parts of the meal.
i'll admit, i didn't scope the menu out before i went, so that's on me. i expected more fish and duck, if i'm honest, seeing as those are two staples of the asian cuisine anyway, and still foods we associate with christmas. as far as the tasting menu goes though, more than half of it was incredible, while the rest was either just okay, or pretty good. which, for £28 per person (in london), isn't so great. we did share everything that came out, and though there was plenty of food, i don't feel like there was £56 worth of food - we might have had a sample serving, so it's hard to know. i don't think we did though, so i would be wary to pay that again based on those few "just okay" dishes.
i would definitely still recommend chi kitchen, as their regular menu is full of wonderfully inspired dishes, and everything i tried last time was damn tasty. i'm just not sure their christmas twist was for me.
*our meals were complimentary, but all words are mine*