This blog post is written by the lovely Emily Bridgewater, who writes the great blog Meet and Two Veg.
There are those which at the time were sublime, but afterwards evaporate into the darkest confines of your memory, only to be revisited in a moment of reminiscence.
Then there are those – relatively few – dining experiences where the tastes are so incredible that they will linger on your lips forever and, no matter where you are in the world, you will hanker after a return visit.
While I know there are a million more food experiences to be had, I will always lust after one more taste of what can only be described as a crispy onion pancake that we ate in House of Nanking in San Francisco.
Food memories like that don’t discriminate; they can take place in roadside shacks or prince’s palaces.
It just so happens however, that my most recent such experience took place in the very stylish Kai in Mayfair.
Kai is one of only three Michelin star Chinese restaurants in London. So good is the food that I fear every other Chinese meal I now eat will pale into insignificance.
Unlike many such celebrated establishments, there is no stuffiness and diners seemed to delight in being able to tuck into communal dishes.
We started with Kai‘s signature starter of Wasabi Prawns, which our waiter assured us was ‘not too spicy, as it was a special recipe devised by the chef’.
He also told us that during Kai‘s recent participation in Taste of London festival, they traded more than 1,000 portions of this dish.
It’s easy to see why. The jumbo prawns were delicately cooked and coated in just the right amount of creamy, ‘not too spicy’ wasabi dressing, as well a tiny flecks of chopped fresh ginger. The boy and I agreed it was a taste revelation.
We also tucked into canapes of prawn toasts and aromatic crispy duck – both excellent examples of classic Chinese fare, while enjoying a bottle of Dr Loosen Riesling recommended by our sommelier.
However, the food really came into its own for our main courses of chicken and cashew nuts and aubergines stuffed with minced prawns.
The sauce coating the chicken was deep, dark and rich with a good kick from the sundried chillis – a million miles from the MSG-laden gloop you’d find in your bog standard Oriental sauce.
And the prawn-stuffed aubergines was a superbly inventive dish, combining the smokiness of the vegetable and sweetness of prime seafood in a pulse-rich black bean sauce.
Even our waiter admitted he was dubious about the dish until he tried it.
Ginger and sesame oil, and coriander fragranced rice, were subtle yet stunningly delicious side dishes.
Puddings were zingy pineapple carpaccio with lime, lychees and lemongrass syrup, and another Kai signature dish of pumpkin cream with purple rice and coconut icecream – an intelligent dessert deconstructing the elements of a pumpkin soup and turning it into a divine velvety dessert.
Some of the prices on the Kai menu may leave you breathless, but the quality of ingredients, intelligence of the cooking and -most unusually – the generosity of the portions, make them justifiable.
This is what food memories are made of.