Wanted: a decent Chinese meal . . . and a sausage roll
Michael revisits Chinese restaurant Kai, which has gained a Michelin star since he last dined there - and was just as disappointed
Published 11 December 2011 News Review 960th article
Michael at Kai Mayfair with the chef Alex Chow and Geraldine (Wynn Tabernacle)
On May 1, 2007 I went to Kai Mayfair, a restaurant in (bet you guessed) Mayfair. Had one of the worst meals ever. My friend the super-ace photographer Terry O'Neill, whose office is opposite, told me it had a new owner and a new chef. It had also, since my visit, acquired a Michelin star.
I soon discovered the owner, Bernard Yeoh, and the head chef, Alex Chow, were exactly the same as in May 2007.
Whoever gave them a Michelin star needs urgent psychiatric help. To say it was as bad as my calamitous 2007 visit would be untrue. It was about 5% better. That still left it in the horror spectrum.
The room is gloom. Dull, dreadful with cacophonous jazz music piped in. Some bored-looking decorative fish in a tank.
I decided to have the £27 set menu. I waited. "Perhaps they don't think I've come here to eat," I observed to Geraldine. Eventually I got the attention of a waitress. I ordered two starters.
Half an hour after arriving we got some okay miso soup, which was the send-off freebie. My steamed prawn and pork wonton was so heavy, if it had been served on the Titanic the ship would have sunk before it came anywhere near an iceberg. I've had far better - well, anywhere really. The prawn roll wrapped with crisp beancurd pastry tasted like compressed cardboard.
I went off the set menu for my main course: sirloin with black pepper, garlic flakes and sliced chinese croissant. The co-restaurant manager Wynn Tabernacle said it was his favourite.
Geraldine, who is gluten allergic, asked me, "Why can't they have a tamari sauce as well as soya sauce, because tamari sauce tastes the same but doesn't have wheat?"
"That's outside my area of expertise," I responded.
"You don't have an area of expertise," observed Geraldine. "Particularly when it comes to food."
My cut-up beef had a nice sauce or whatever, but the beef was so tough that when Wynn saw me struggling to cut it he belatedly brought a steak knife.
Geraldine greatly liked her chargrilled chicken and roasted almonds with a tau pan sauce of preserved chilli, yellow bean, garlic, rice wine. She gave me a bit on the end of her fork. It had a large chilli in it which nearly burnt off not only my mouth but my entire head.
The only triumph was, surprisingly, the dessert. It was a "peranakan" mango cake, fresh mango cubes, gulu melaka and "coconut milkshake", ice cream. The cake was sensational, the mango in perfect condition, the ice cream superb and some sort of foam.
"What's the foam?" I asked Geraldine. "The milkshake," she suggested. Go just for the dessert. If you can get a cup of Earl Grey tea to accompany it (which you can't), it would be a nice snack. Otherwise, stay away.
I'm still looking for a jolly Chinese place - prawn crackers, sweet and sour pork, crispy duck, spring rolls, all the common stuff. Michelin star not necessary.
The best sausage roll ever I ate was from Carefoot Butchers in Preston in 2009. Fresh from the oven, fantastic. The shop's glum owner, Martin Carefoot, recommended I lunch at his pub, the Duke William. It was absolutely dreadful. I asked the staff to bring some sausage rolls from the shop. These had been reheated - they tasted dire.
Years ago I went to Letchworth, where I was at school. Had an excellent sausage roll in Greggs. Tried a Greggs sausage roll at home recently - soggy, tasteless, awful.
Consumed with a determination to research sausage rolls, I then tried one from Waitrose. Clammy and tasteless. My Twitter followers were going berserk recommending sausage roll places. Top of their list: the Ginger Pig in Notting Hill. Its was the best, but so large it frightened me.
The problem is if you buy sausage rolls at 4pm - which is when my chauffeur got them - they've deteriorated. Everything should be eaten within seconds of it leaving the oven.
My cook made sausage rolls from a Delia recipe; it used bought-in pastry. Came out well. Now trying a make-your-own pastry version. Let's have your views on the sausage roll situation.
I was in Preston dining with Justine Forrest and her family for my TV show Michael Winner's Dining Stars.
Justine cooked chocolate brownies, which I praised to the skies. She now sells them to shops and on the internet. She's gone from housewife to tycoon. Good luck to her.
From Derek Long in Cornwall: Hymie's wife, Becky, is flying in a small propeller plane, just her sitting next to the pilot. The pilot suddenly has a heart attack.
Becky calls into the radio, "Mayday!
Mayday! Help me. My pilot had a heart attack. He's dead. I don't know how to fly."
A calming voice comes on the radio, saying, "This is air traffic control. Your message has been received. I'll talk you through it - I've a lot of experience with this problem. Firstly, give me your current height and position."
Becky says, "I'm 5ft 4 in and I'm in the front seat."
"Okay," says the voice from the tower, "repeat after me: Our Father who art in heaven . . ."
You kindly didn't include yourself in last week's photo at Alain Llorca. Unfortunately the glass with your false teeth was in the foreground.
Godfrey Smith, Stockport
You say My Old Man's a Dustman is your favourite song, presumably the lyrics resonate: He got married recently though he's eighty-six years old. We said, " 'Ere, hang on dad you're getting past your prime." He said, "When you get to my age it helps to pass the time."
Geoff Greensmith, Surrey
I know you hate piped music in restaurants. Imagine having to endure piped music and unwelcome TV programmes when you can do nothing about it. That fate awaits many people in NHS hospitals. Please mention this. I realise it might require you to stay in an NHS hospital. Probably a journey too far!
Dodie Gale, Edinburgh
Please tell the world: good hot food on cold plates is a no-no. Tell Ask especially - we've suffered cold plates at four different branches.
Lewis Benjamin, Leicestershire
Glad to see you've started reviewing pizzas. With practice you may learn to identify what the topping is.
Suzanna Simpson, Cheshire
There's a trendy old dresser called Winner
A critic of everyone's dinner
He married his Geraldine a few weeks ago
Now his debts are vast and simply won't go.
Philip Weisberger, London
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST or email firstname.lastname@example.org