Anyone old enough to remember pre-Netflix entertainment may recall an episode of Father Ted when the priests get lost in the lingerie section of a large clothing store and they have to hijack the speaker system to ask all women to exit the building. Classic comedy and it pretty much sums up a lot of men’s feeling about department stores (the hopelessness, not the lingerie section-crawling). So it’s fair to say that when I embarked for Debenhams, Oxford Street for my first visit on one of the last true days of summer, I didn’t expect to be served one of the finest Pan-Asian meals that we’ve ever experienced outside of Asia. But that’s what happened.
I am pleased to say that our expectations were once again met when we popped in to try out their special Christmas menu on Friday evening, with the restaurant brimming with couples and groups enjoying the excellent cuisine and cosy atmosphere.
The ground floor restaurant’s décor is simple and clean with wooden tables and comfortable blue padded banquettes and chairs. The large floor-to-ceiling windows lend a bright, airy feel and the blue lanterns hanging throughout the clothing departments add a nice touch, guiding you to the restaurant at the back of the store.
We’re struck by how hospitable all the staff are, from our delightful host and her team to the chefs, who seem genuinely grateful for our praise on the delicious dishes that they prepare for us. Chi Kitchen is the first restaurant project for Ping Coombes, winner of Masterchef 2014 and opened at the end of 2015. The restaurant is designed to take you on a culinary journey through South East Asia with its all-day dining menu. It opens early at 7:30am on weekdays, serving an excellent breakfast, and if you want to pop in after work for some evening sushi and cocktails, they stay open until 11:00pm.
The menu offers pretty much something for everyone from Chinese and Malaysian dishes to Korean and Japanese, including their fabulous sushi bar, serving freshly prepared sushi and sashimi. The meat is all halal, with the chicken coming from France and the beef coming from as far away as Australia.
The first in what proves to be an absolute feast of small and large plates arrive and we dutifully tuck into the Thai green curry. They’re not reinventing the wheel here, but just making sure that it’s spinning smoothly with large strips of tender chicken breast and aubergine floating in the basil leaf-tinged broth. On the lighter end of the spectrum, a duck salad is sublime, the soft, shredded meat layered on top of a collection of crisp lettuce, cashews and a kind of pomegranate-flecked salsa, sweetened further by the addition of watermelon chunks. We’ve had crispy fried duck before, but never like this.
We would recommend the grilled starter platter of beef kushiyaki, chicken yakitori and chicken satay, beautifully presented on a grey slate. And special mention has to go to the popcorn shrimp; we’re not usually fans of the deep-fried, but these tempura-coated shellfish are one of the standout dishes, the sweet wasabi dressing making the crunchy little morsels go down almost too easily (we finished the whole lot within minutes). Balancing out the batter, we tuck into a fillet of sea bass that’s coated in the typical Thai combination of lemongrass, garlic and lime, thin slices of red chilli adding a piquant punch to the translucent green seafood sauce that the fish is coated in.
If like us you love sushi, then opt for one of their freshly prepared platters at the sushi bar. The Chi Kitchen roll is delicious, as are the Sambal prawns, which should definitely be high up on your things-to-order list. Another well-presented and utterly sumptuous dish is the Nasi Lemark, which comes in a bowl and consists of chicken curry, ikan bilis, sambal and a hard-boiled egg, served with coconut rice.
The wine and cocktail list is comprehensive, with labels from around the world as well as bubbly from France and Italy. We opt for a light and perfectly chilled Unoaked Australian Chardonnay, which has an intense aroma with hints of ripe peach and passion fruit, pairing perfectly with all our dishes. The cocktails are refreshing and innovative and reasonably priced, starting from £8.50. They also offer a selection of fresh juices if you are looking for a super healthy meal.
With bursting bellies and happy heads, we bid adieu to the friendly staff and roll out of Chi Kitchen, some three hours after we’d entered. The restaurant lives up to its bold promise of a culinary tour through one of the most exciting foodie continents, all without leaving your seat.
The Chi Kitchen 2017 Christmas menu offers an alternative twist to the traditional dinner with a choice of three dishes made with festive ingredients such as turkey, infused with pan-Asian flavours.
We start with a tasty Salt and Pepper Smoked Turkey and selection of Winter Vegetable Tempura of asparagus, baby corns, broccoli and carrots. The main course winner is the Salmon Teriyaki with Brussel sprouts, which is so flavoursome you’ll want to eat it all, whilst the Turkey Randang is a vivid Malaysian red curry. Be warned though, the Stir-fried tofu with chilli bean sauce, mixed peppers and onion is not for the faint-hearted as it packs a spicy punch!
We had eaten so well we were not sure we could manage dessert, so rather than order two, we succumbed and share the Ginger Brownie, which consists of a rich chocolate brownie with honey and ginger ice cream and is quite filling but a satisfying end a relaxed an excellent meal before venturing out into a cold Oxford Street adorned with Christmas lights and late-night revellers.
Chi Kitchen, Ground Floor Debenhams, 334-348 Oxford Street, London, WC1 1JG
Tel: +44 (0)20 3841 6888
The restaurant is on the ground floor of Debenhams with its own entrance at the back of the store on Henrietta Place. Alternatively, you can go through the main store entrance on Oxford Street and walk to the back of the store. The closest Tube station is Bond Street on the Jubilee and Central lines. It is open Monday to Friday from 7:30am to 11:00pm (last orders at 10:15pm); Saturday from 9:30am to 11:00pm and Sunday from 11:30am to 10:00pm (last orders at 9:15pm).
Type of Restaurant: Pan-Asian Restaurant
Bite-sized review: “Chi Kitchen serves a panoply of SE Asian delights that are designed to blow your socks off with their brave and intense flavour pairings.”
Price Band: Medium
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10 for quality of the food
Simon Burrell is Editor-in-Chief of Our Man On The Ground and David Harfield is a freelance food and travel writer.
Photographs by Simon Burrell and Chi Kitchen