As little Kiwi kid, my parents taught my siblings and I to leave the tastiest part of our dinners until last. They wisely figured out that we’d otherwise leave behind the healthiest part of our meals in favour of filling up on tastier forkfuls.
Even now as an “adult” (no-one I know can possible claim that title in full and without air quotations) this thinking is ingrained in the way that I eat. Exotic meat, freshly caught battered oysters, Brussel sprouts (yeah, I was weird but you’ve never tasted my Mum’s). The only problem we found with our afternoon at Pan Chai recently, was that everything was so delicious that deciding what to leave for last (and best) was almost impossible.
Disclaimer: We were invited guests of Pan Chai but all of my very, very many thoughts
(and rambling childhood memories) are only ever my own…
Found in Harrod’s famous food court opposite sister restaurant Mango Tree, after I wandered halfway through London (realising I had an hour and 10 minutes rather than a panicked 10 minutes to make my way over) my globetrotting, sushi loving lunch date Sam and I made our way through the labyrinthine halls of the shopping mecca.
Intended as a quick stop in the midst of shopping frenzys, we hung our
handbags, perched ourselves on our corner spot marble and leather stools and opened the extensive
menu. Beset with indecision, our lovely waitress took pity
on our indecisive selves and suggested her personal favourites. Taking
the plunge, we picked a few of the dishes to tickle our fancy and
readied our appetites.
We began as all good Japanese feasts do with warm edamame sprinkled with rock salt,
and a glass of champagne as all weekend days should. I tend to prefer
sweeter tipples but the 2007 Moutard Vintage paired beautifully with the
umami flavours to follow.
What I adore about Japanese cuisine is how refined and light each of the delectable dishes are. Our first pick of yellow-fin sashimi served on a bed of seafood salad, topped with jalapeno, caviar and fresh wasabi was succulent and piquant in equal turns. Once we demolished the slivers of sashimi, we both surreptitiously snaffled the seaweed salad with rich collagen and topped with sesame seeds, one chopstick scoop at a time.
A platter of the Harrods Special sushi arrived, 8 hand shaped slices of fresh
snow crab, avocado and spicy mayonnaise roll, topped with chopped seared
scallops, orange and black caviar and spring onions. These we declared our favorite, the combination of texture and fresh flavour melting on our palettes.
Before long, a selection of salmon and scallop slices were brought to us, served prettily on crests of daikon. Accompanied by both fresh and powered wasabi, we delighted in sampling the salmon, but both adored the buttery scallop lightly dusted with fresh lemon juice. No, these were our favorites (can you see what’s going to happen yet?)
When our salmon skin maki rolls made their presence known, we both closed our eyes in seafood delight. Crispy salmon skin contrapuntally balancing the soft, spicy mayonnaise, spring onions and dry salmon flakes. We found ourselves trying a couple of bites of everything, then leaving one or two mouthfuls for last. Utter umami heaven #swoon.
Finding ourselves still nibbly in countenance, we ordered a last round of the delicious yellow-fin sashimi, this time plain to simply let the exquisite fish shine…
…and a serving of rock shrimp in some of the most delicious tempura I have had the pleasure in trying (and that’s taking a trip to Kyoto and Tokyo in consideration). Light, crisp batter encasing delicious rock shrimp, served with a light sauce and lemon slice to balance the yin and yang of delicate ingredients. No, these were our favourite.
Served with a nettle leaf prettily tempura’d we may have tested the limits of our long friendship when faced with the last rock shrimp, ready for dipping. Luckily my childhood strategy paid off, and after a touch of yellow-fin negotiation I secured one last bite of gastronomic delight.
At the end of our feast we regretfully tore ourselves away for a touch of patisserie shopping and threw ourselves into the busy melee of shoppers near closing time on a Sunday.
With New Zealand as an island situated on the cusp of the Pacific Ocean, I’m sure it’s no great surprise that our cuisine has a heavily Asian influence (competing alongside our European settlement history) and I really miss the proliferation of good quality sushi that can be found as often as sandwiches and hot meat pies for lunch. Pan Chai is certainly priced at the business lunch end of the scale, but worth every, single penny.
Only 22 marble and leather stools line the open kitchen, all the better to watch the swift, sure action of long-trained chefs delicately sculpting the pan-Asian dishes. We claimed ours with delight, nestled in the Grade II listed building, simply watching the world go by and catching up on recent adventures. It is a perfect spot to natter with a good friend – even if the last tasty tidbit threatens upset…
Are you a sushi fan?