Possibly the thing I love the most about London is that (almost) anything you want can be found here. The whole world is here, brought to you. Nowhere do you get more of a sense of that than when standing in the food hall at Harrods. Under ornate tiled ceilings are counters featuring just about every cuisine you could think of – the world under one roof and a sandbox in which to try new things and also old favourites. It’s also a place where you can introduce others to your favourites and that’s exactly what I got to do at Pan Chai the other weekend.
I’ve been super lucky to visit to Japan three times now for work and whilst I love it and relish the opportunity to see a country that has always fascinated me, I have to experience things there either with my colleagues or alone. I always come back with tales of the things I’ve seen and eaten that I can’t wait to share with my boyfriend when we go together (we’re planning on exploring Japan together in 2020). However, until then, we’ve found a great substitute in Pan Chai.
With counter seats and chilled glass cabinets housing an assortment of fresh fish, it mimics the sushi counters I’ve visited in Japan. However, unlike most sushi counters in Japan, they do a mean line in cocktails and we decided to partake in a Kir Royale and Bellini while we perused the extensive menu.
The menu is split up into several sections: nigiri/sashimi, salad, grill, tempura, platters, sushi rolls, ramen and more. We started with a bowl of salted edamame to nibble on.
As a starter we chose, with the assistance of our lovely waitress, an assortment of sashimi and when it arrived it was just the most stunning thing. It was placed on the top of the counter and its billowing dry ice attracted stares from everyone both seated and passing by before it was placed in front of us.
As the dry ice cleared, the sashimi was revealed, beautiful slivers of fish emerging from the mist. It was stunningly presented. We’d ordered some old favourites – sake (salmon), suzuki (sea bass) and maguro (tuna) and some new ones which I was keen to introduce my boyfriend to – otoro (tuna belly), tamago (a sweet Japanese omelette) and unagi (eel).
Salmon and tuna sashimi can be fairly easily found now both in sushi restaurants and chains and also as takeaway sushi, but otoro isn’t something you really see other than at the best Japanese restaurants. It’s from the fatty belly of the tuna and is the fish equivalent of wagyu beef. It’s marbled with fat and you can see the difference in the photo below, between the otoro (front right behind the ginger) and the maguro (back left by the tamago). The otoro melts in your mouth, it’s delicious.
When I was in Japan in January, we were taken out by some of our clients for a kaiseki dinner (a multi-course Japanese dinner), which we enjoyed in a private room in a traditional restaurant. One of the starter courses was a selection of beautifully presented little mouthfuls of vegetables and fish. One was unagi (eel – if you don’t see Ross from Friends when someone says unagi then we can’t be friends). Now I would never normally have tried eel, but when it’s placed in front of you as part of a client meal then you try anything to be polite. However, unlike with some of the other delicacies I tried (like chicken sashimi), the eel wasn’t something I had to pretend to like, it was delicious. So, when I saw it on Pan Chai’s menu I had to introduce my boyfriend to the delights of eel. It’s blowtorched and rich but so tender. My boyfriend was an immediate unagi convert.
We followed up the sashimi with a some of Pan Chai’s signature sushi rolls, the Negitoro maki, spicy tuna with mayonnaise, spring onions, topped with chopped tuna belly. Again served with dry ice – more heads were turned. The rolls were delicious and came with a little spicy kick
That was all just a taste of what was to come as a main. Enamoured with the unagi, my boyfriend chose an unagi donburi as his main dish – five pieces of grilled unagi on rice and cucumber with unagi sauce. Seriously, if you go then do try the unagi in one form or another, it’s delicious. I had ordered my main with the intention that we would share both dishes but I barely got a look in at the eel.
My choice of main was the Grilled Plum Sea Bass from the grill section – grilled Chilean sea bass marinated in plum juice and miso paste. It was delicious, perfectly flaky white fish with just a hint of the marinade. It also came with an umeboshi on the side, something else I got to introduce my boyfriend to. They’re sort of pickled plums and they are this incredible mix of sweet and sour, it’s a taste unlike anything else I’ve ever had so it’s hard to describe, but I loved this little authentic addition to the dish.
Pan Chai bills itself as a pan-Asian restaurant and in their grill section they offer a Malaysian rendang and a Korean bulgogi, however, their offering is primarily focussed on Japanese cuisine and it’s excellent so definitely go with something Japanese-y. As part of the same group at the Mango Tree, I should have known to expect a great meal, but this blew me away – it was a little slice of Tokyo in West London. We might not be planning on going to Japan until 2020 but we will be going back to Pan Chai for a taste of Japan before then!
Our meal was provided on a complimentary basis but the views expressed here are my own unbiased opinions. Thanks Pan Chai!