Andrew Wong’s new Chinese place in the City, dominated by a giant fake cherry tree – 8/10
Bloomberg Arcade caused a stir of excitement on the food scene when it was first announced in August 2017. It marks the second major instalment (following The Ned) in a continuing attempt to improve the barren dining scene in the City, which previously consisted mostly of Prets and sterile corporate wine bars (which I freely admit to frequenting), all of which are inevitably closed on weekends. If you’ve ever visited the City on a Saturday or Sunday, you’ll understand the frustration of trying to find even a sandwich in that desolate landscape, let alone a good meal.
Kym’s was a late announcement to the line-up, joining, among others, the fantastic Brigadiers (from the brains behind Gymkhana, Trishna and Hoppers), a second site for Koya (the best udon noodles in town) and the crowd-pleasing Caravan. It was set up by Andrew Wong, following his success and Michelin star at A. Wong in Victoria. In the chef’s own words: “focusing on the ancient craft of Chinese roasting and nostalgic flavours, our menu pays homage to the many gastronomic regions of China and the creativity and craftsmanship of London’s Chinatown.”
As I mentioned in my review of Kaki, I am often a little disappointed in London’s Chinese food. I am by no means an expert, but I’ve always thought that New Yorkers are incredibly lucky to have such a breadth and depth of Chinese regional eating places to choose from. I spent a large chunk of 2017 in New York and several establishments in Manhattan and Flushing in particular stick in my memory for their combination of authenticity, tastiness and reasonable prices: Xi’an Famous Foods, Mission Chinese, Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen, Nom Wah Tea Parlor, White Bear, Hunan Kitchen of Grand Sichuan and many others. I have lobbied very hard for Xi’an Famous Foods in particular to open a London branch and cure my lust for “N1: Spicy Cumin Lamb Hand-Ripped Noodles”or “NS3: Mt. Qi Pork Hand-Ripped Noodles in Soup”, but to no avail. The only dishes I have found that come close to that kind of regional authenticity are at Kaki (Caledonian Road) and Xi’an Impression (Holloway Road).
Nestled underneath Bloomberg’s vast new European headquarters, Kym’s is dominated by a 15-foot-high fake cherry blossom tree and semi-circular bar, with tables set out across two floors and a couple of high bars for hasty lunchtime diners. Any restaurant in the City is bound to have a bit of a corporate ambience, but Kym’s is relaxed – you could happily pop in for a quick lunch or come for a more formal dinner or drinks in the evening.
The menu is gorgeous, set out in both Chinese and English. To start, we go for the rice cracker with seaweed and the wild mushroom steamed buns, which are both quite good, though the bun needs more earthy savouriness from the mushrooms. The tiger prawn skewers look impressive, but the batter sadly crumbles onto my plate when I try to take a bite of them. The Sichuanese spiced aubergine is one of my favourite dishes, served in meaty cubes, delightfully fiery and heaped with spring onions and sesame seeds.
Sweet and sour pork ribs are also excellent, on the sweeter side but balanced with a sticky, smoky barbecue sauce and a topping of toasted sesame seeds. A vibrant ring of pickled daikon encircled by spicy chilli oil is the ideal side dish; the fresh acidity of the pickled vegetable cuts through the fattiness and richness of the ribs and aubergine.
The Xi’an City “Lamb Burger” with pomegranate seeds, sesame and peanuts arrives in deconstructed form with three spongy little bao buns (to be awkwardly shared between the two of us). The meat is very tender with that lovely cumin flavour particular to Xi’an’s cuisine, though it needs to be drier to aid the construction of the different elements into a truly satisfactory bun. Either due to the consistency of the sauce or my own clumsiness (probably the latter), I end up wearing half of it.
The “Three Treasures” – a holy trinity of crispy pork belly, soy chicken and Iberico pork char siu, each of which can be ordered individually – was one of the stars of the show for both of us. Each element comes with its own assigned sauce: honey mustard for the pork belly, ginger relish for the soy chicken and honey soy for the pork char siu. Being the adventurous souls that we are, we decide to try each meat with each sauce, hoping to find some new combination. Unfortunately, the only thing we discover is that the chefs at Kym’s know exactly what they are doing and each sauce is perfectly suited to its respective meat. We devour the rest as instructed.
Dessert is often a non-event at Chinese restaurants: maybe lychee sorbet, banana fritters or, my least favourite, sticky rice cakes with red bean paste. However, the Chinatown pineapple bun with custard we share is absolutely phenomenal. Its cousin at A. Wong was once described by Jay Rayner as the “single best dessert available right now in London”. It is the highlight of the meal. With no sense of decorum at all, our Mediterranean heritage gets the better of us and we tear the bun apart with our bare hands, scooping up the silky smooth custard and little pieces of diced pineapple with chunks of flaky pastry in a blissful blink of an eye. If we weren’t so full by the time we got to dessert, we would have ordered two more.
Dinner for two with a Mandarin Collins and a Yuzu Negroni cost us £120. Kym’s also offers a“Sunday roast” menu and will be launching its takeaway menu this month for City folk craving Chinese delicacies on their way home.
A Moveable Feast