I haven’t been in a commercial kitchen for many years. It was back in my university days when I had a summer job at a local restaurant, employed as a waiter to get through those student times. So entering the kitchen at Park Chinois as part of a dim sum masterclass was initially somewhat familiar, the kitchen attire, spotless stainless steel worktops, frantic staff creating checklists for the evening’s diners. That’s about where the similarities ended. Park Chinois is an establishment that has created a name for itself in the heart of Mayfair. An area where luxury brands come and go just like the exotic sports cars that flow through its streets. I used to work in the area, and admit that I was always intrigued by what sat behind the oriental gate and door that stood somewhat out of place on the Berkeley street facades.
In front of me on the shiny work surface was a knife, chopping board and the dim sum chef at Park Chinois talking me through a number of bowls that were filled with ingredients that had been prepared whilst I was changing out of my work clothes. Bowls of prawn decorated with bamboo shoots and seasoned pork were to be the dim sum fillings that we were about to be make, or at least attempt to.
First though, watch the master at work and learn. It looked easy, right. The small parcels were hand filled with rapidity and then folded with dexterity to create beautiful parcels with folds and a covering so fine one could make out the surely delicious ingredients inside. Traditional chinese instruments where used alongside more familiar culinary tools, that was all fascinating to watch and listen to. We were all amazed by the speed in which the chefs are able to bring a dish together and with such apparent ease.
Now it was my turn and it didn’t quite go to plan. Too little or too much filling can have dire consequences for how your dim sum comes together. Then there’s the delicate folding of the small parcel, a technique which appears to have gone straight out of the window and I’m struggling to find it again! Nonetheless, they say practice makes perfect, although I can’t say over the two hours I reached perfection but I reached a level that would at least keep the food together inside during cooking. I’ll see later how they taste. We attempted several different types of dim sum that all used a different dough. Hargau dough, Gyoza dough and Bao dough. They all take varying degrees of time and treatment to produce and all have different levels of yeasts and starch within them. Once filled with delicious fillings such as Har gau (which is tiger prawns and bamboo shoots) or pork gyoza (minced pork with ginger, spring onion and oak choi), they turn in to small parcels delicately placed in a steamer tray ready to be taken away and cooked. In the meantime, two hours of our experience had very quickly passed, it was time for us to head upstairs to the restaurant. For we were to taste our creations. Fortunately, we were able to select only our finest creations. Some were too far gone to be saved – even by the chefs at Park Chinois.
After changing back to my clothes and hanging up my kitchen uniform for a while at least, I was given a quick tour of the back of house rooms by the manager. The rabbit warren of corridors and prep rooms were populated by countless staff members all preparing for the evening, all meticulously dressed and polite. Continuing with the theme that Park Chinois is very much a theatrical restaurant, there’s a neon sign in front of the staff members on the wall just before they enter on to the restaurant floor. It says ‘On Air’. Reminding staff that they’re as much a part of the main event as the food and to ensure fine service for the diners. Clearly they had this down to a fine art because my evening’s dinner was served by staff remarkably attentive yet not imposing as is so often the case.
Myself and two fellow diners were presented with what can only be explained as a feast, of seemingly all the senses. Each dish on our table was a small work of art and thinking back to an hour earlier I could appreciate far more the years of training, practice and hard work that comes together to present and cook dishes of this quality.
Dishes of such high quality that the chefs that made it came to Park Chinois from very famous and highly thought of London establishments because they wanted that little bit more from the menu and the ingredients. Park Chinois was their opportunity to deliver this to appreciative diners. The flavours were wonderful with each savoured dish that we made our way through. Even a dish that’s as regular as duck spring rolls was given new life with a real punch of duck flavour, something that is so often overpowered by frying flavours in other establishments. In this flavour case, more duck roll than just roll. It was difficult to select a favourite, especially when there are those decorated with extravagances such as shaved black truffle or flying fish roe.
Club Chinois was established by Alan Yau, the brains behind Wagamama and Hakkasan and designed by Yau and Jacques Garcia, the french powerhouse in interior design, to create a world inspired at its heart by vintage Shanghai. A place at a time in the early 20th century where the Orient was meeting the western world. Today the restaurant is split in to Park Chinois and Club Chinois, where every Sunday the later brings you Twilight Dim Sum, a truly intriguing event. DJs from Ibiza play a set to guests where you can dine in opulent surroundings listening and watching to the very best entertainment and chilled Sunday vibes from the White Isle.
Park Chinois is a place where glamour meets decadence, french meets oriental, mystique meets extravagance. A place where you can dress up to your hearts content, forget about the outside world and lose yourself in a world of your senses, surrounded by stunning decor and atmosphere so unique that you won’t want to leave. This place is far more than the just the world class food that Mr Liang presents to you and whilst it’s an amazing fun experience to be allowed in to the Park Chinois’ kitchens, on this occasion leave the real work to the professionals.
N°17 Berkeley Street
T: +44 (0) 20 3327 8888