When we decided to open for two nights in August we knew we had to do something a bit special as it was going to be hard to entice guests as many would be away on holidays…
Well it seemed only right and proper we introduced you to Mr Kam Po But a master Chinese chef who has just recently retired from over 30 years cooking at Ken Lo’s Memories of China in London. He has been a friend for a great number of years and is godfather to my daughter and we have often done special events together.
I also helped teach many years ago when the Belgravia restaurant also had a cookery school and so have witnessed many times B’s prowess with a wok. Many years ago we also use to meet for a game of tennis on a Sunday morning and then decamp to Soho for a late lunch of Dim Sum and even followed that by a late afternoon tea at a swanky London five star hotel.
Having also taken many friends to the restaurant on numerous occasions and also introduced many foreign friends to the art of fine Chinese cuisine we thought it would be fun to host a couple of banquet meals showcasing his talents and more importantly hopefully introduce him to the world of underground dining.
We composed a menu together as I know my kitchen and it’s limitations and we thought it would be good to balance the dishes to reflect some of B’s signature dishes. The dishes I insisted upon were his Mongolian Lamb made with Leg of Lamb and then slow cooked shin of beef – a dish not often found on a restaurant menu but although slightly heavy perhaps for a warm summers evening is an example of Chinese comfort food at its best!!!
Well we had a full house on both nights with a good mix of new and returning guests. One guest on the Saturday evening was a former work colleague from my days as a hotel and restaurant inspector and he travelled a sixty mile round trip to savour once again Mr But’s cooking as he had fond memories of a meal and cookery demo we all had once at the restaurant where some dishes then became the benchmarks at other Chinese restaurants should they wish to gain a guide book entry.
Mr But has cooked for many a celebrity, Princess Diana was a regular as was Princess Margaret, Sir Paul McCartney held a celebratory Birthday vegetarian lunch when he purchased the rights to the Michael Jackson songbook. There was the episode when he refused a table to Elizabeth Taylor as she wanted to eat late one night after closing time and then there was the King of Tonga who stationed a food taster in the kitchen to sample the dishes before he did!
B has also often been the media face for the restaurant on numerous occasions as he is a master of the art of hand drawn noodles. A magical process of taking simple plain flour adding water and then transforming them in to thin noodles all by hand with absolutely no machines !!! It took him many years to master the art and he has now appeared many times on TV demonstrating this skill. Twice on the Generation Game, BBC Food & Drink show, the kids programme Motormouth and on assorted European TV networks as well. He was the first Chinese chef to demonstrate on TV how to make Crispy Seaweed and he was scorned by fellow chefs as it forced the price down in restaurants as the secret was out it was just fried spring green leaves!
Well following the welcome glass of Cremant D’Alsace that guests partook of out on our decked terrace we sat them on two tables and served them the assorted dishes as Mr But plated them up. There was an unusual starter of Peking smoked fish. Fresh Plaice fillets that were marinated first then fried and marinated again and once cold cut into bite sized pieces. It took him a total of some three hours to prepare this dish alone!!! A smoky flavour achieved from the marinade was something to savour and appreciated greatly by one fellow chef who had never sampled it before! Next came a Classic Prawn Toasts made with minced prawn and then topped by sesame seeds and deep fried, another guest remarked he had never had such a generous prawn topping and was the best he had ever tasted!
A favourite of Mrs HC’s is the crispy smoked chicken that was tossed in a dry wok with spring onion garlic and ginger and served on a bed of crispy seaweed. We also had some fresh scallops that were very quickly steamed in his wok and then topped with a piquant black bean sauce that complemented well with the delicate sweet scallop.
Next came the Mongolian Crispy Lamb, B had poached the lamb in a scented stock of spring onions, garlic, ginger and assorted spices, Star Anise, Cinammon, and Szechaun Peppercorns till tender and then the meat is left to cool and firm. To serve we deep fried the meat and served it with washed Iceberg Lettuce leaves that are used to wrap the meat with spring onions and cucumber and a spoonful of his special Yellow Bean Sauce. This is very much a signature dish and as he uses the leg cut as it is not as fatty as belly or shoulder.
The main course dishes then meant he was solidly cooking and plating up as soon as they were ready, some King Prawns quickly stir fried were mixed with sugar snap peas and the sauce of ginger spring onion and garlic commonly known as the “Trinity” meant this was a light and colourful way to kick off.
Next came his stir fried chicken breast with cashew nuts in a yellow bean sauce. Here he just coated the chicken with the sauce unlike others who serve it swimming in a gravy… it was positively divine and soon got knocked back.
The Shin of Beef quickly followed, the beef was firstly plunged into boiling water and then removed once bought to the boil, refreshed and then added back to the pan that had then been prepared with the cooking stock. Then gently simmered for two to three hours and water chestnuts were separately simmered in the cooking stock and then placed in the bottom of the little mini woks we then served the finish dish in, he thickened the the cooking liquor last minute and garnished with some shredded red chilli and coriander – it was his favourite dish of the night and mine too as I explained to guests this is what is termed true rustic chinese cooking and not a dish you would normally see on a menu very often and suited our banquet perfectly!
Then came the fish dish… he had lightly pre fried some Panga Fillets… a fish we had purchased at Wing Yip on our shopping trip… in a light flour and beaten egg so it was like a light batter, placed onto the serving plates it was then warmed in the oven just before serving he made a piquant Szechaun sauce that was spooned over the top and served… the fish was delicate and light and I was very impressed as I admitted to guests it was in fact a frozen fish and Mr But was also pleased with the end result!
Finally he quickly poached some Pak Choy a crisp cabbage like Chinese vegetable in boiling water and then stir fried with garlic and ginger and arranged on the serving plate and topped with some stir fried Chinese Shittake Mushrooms to complete the dish, a light finish to complete the meal meant we had pulled it all off out of our domestic kitchen!!!
Yours truly then quickly knocked up the dessert I had planned, some grilled fresh pineapple that had been marinated in a stock sugar syrup infused with green cardamom and some slices of fresh banana and then a ball of Taywells finest Coconut Ice Cream and a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds… a simple finish to what had been a big feast…
The guests on both nights were then treated to a noodle demonstration that was a fascinating insight into a skillful culinary display. One guest remarked how impressed they were but more impressive was how the whole process was conceived in the first instance and it was a breathtaking demo that was over in as another guest remarked was a “blink of the eye” and there was a board covered in noodles.
It had been a real pleasure to host such an evening and I do hope all the guests who came were impressed… Mr But and his wife Sue worked hard and B talked about a future return visit… I’m sure there will be a clammer for the places when we do!
B also had copies of his Memories Of China cookery book and managed to sell all the copies he had bought with him. If others wish to purchase a copy I am able to get more copies of the book at the greatly discounted price of £6.00 and will also get him to sign them… just email me your order via our Book Now page and we will organise!
I was delighted to see how complete strangers gelled under one common bond of “good food” and there was a true buzz around the tables and I believe some new friendships were formed… any thoughts and comments would be welcomed and we now look forward to our next event in early September! For details take a look here…