Khew, London

The Oriental food at Khew takes an exciting culinary journey from dim sum and yakatori to Thai curry. Richard Johnson loved it, despite the nightclub vibe
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There was talk of me becoming The Independent's first "embedded" restaurant critic. A trained professional who would view, up-close, the difficult and bloody process involved in soufflés etc, while at the same time, resolutely refusing to compromise my journalistic integrity. But I had to tell the editor to send someone else. You see, I found out this week I'm going to be a father.

There was talk of me becoming The Independent's first "embedded" restaurant critic. A trained professional who would view, up-close, the difficult and bloody process involved in soufflés etc, while at the same time, resolutely refusing to compromise my journalistic integrity. But I had to tell the editor to send someone else. You see, I found out this week I'm going to be a father.

To celebrate, I suggested a dinner à deux. I know (from reading Dr Miriam Stoppard) that a pregnant woman should not change the cat's litter box. Not a problem – we haven't got a cat. But I also know that a pregnant woman should not eat sushi. Despite the fact that fish supplies hefty doses of omega-3 fatty acids, you can't have your futomaki and eat it too – the only way to kill the micro-organisms is by cooking.

So I was anxious before I booked at Khew. This new Oriental restaurant, arranged over two floors in central London, prides itself on a sweeping black granite "Raw Bar". In view of the baby, I decided we would forego rawness for cookedness. With a kitchen led by Paul Day, who worked at Nobu for years before joining Nahm at the Halkin, this was unlikely to be a hardship.

I immediately liked the look of the place. With its high-back leather banquettes, smokey gold mirrors, and Japanese floor matting, it was an exciting place to "be". The subdued lighting and the intimate size created the feeling of a nightclub. But it didn't look like the sort of place that would allow Day the freedom to create something really special.

I needed a table with leg room – things get ugly if Neris is hit by cramps. But space is at a premium in Khew. I have never seen a restaurant with less room. It added to the nightclub vibe of Khew, but I don't want a nightclub vibe when I'm eating.

I could sense Neris' annoyance as I talked her through the menu. "Yes," I said, "you can have a shallow-water fish (deep-water fish are a bad idea because of the mercury) but they will have to cook it to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Farenheit for 15 seconds." And I had come out for the evening without my thermometer. So we settled on dim sum.

And what dim sum – the best I've had since Hakkasan. The highlights were the deeply savoury mushroom and corn sesame roll (£3.50) and the deeply sweet yakitori chicken (£5.50). Yakitori is now the fast food of choice in urban Japan. There are thousands of the little stands, sitting out on the street, serving skewers of grilled chicken in sticky honey marinade. Now I know why.

The confit of duck and nashi pear wraps (four for £7.80) were more of a light spa-style mouthful, but they had a fresh, delicate personality all of their own. The advantage of using nashi pear is that the ripe fruit is still hard. It combines the crispness of an apple with the sweetness of a pear, and provided a nice grainy texture to the end product.

I was using my fingers rather than disposable chopsticks. Back in the Eighties, the Chinese government promoted the use of disposable chopsticks to fight communicable disease. But the country now discards 45 billion pairs a year, cutting down 25 million trees in the process. China will consume its remaining forests in about a decade. When I later asked for a knife and fork, it was a political gesture.

I wasn't expecting to see lamb shank on the menu – somehow a shank feels too indelicate to be eastern. Full of sinews, it's one of the hardest-working muscles on the animal. So it has to be simmered low and slow, melting it into a rich pool of gelatinous sauce. By serving lamb shank Mussaman with the flakiest parata I've ever tasted, Khew made damn sure that none of my sauce went to waste.

Curry pastes are the cornerstone of Thai cooking – chefs always have at least five pastes on the go. And the Mussaman, with its hot and sour flavours, is an old favourite. Cardamom and cinnamon were brought to Thailand by Indian traders, which is why cross-border dishes using them are referred to as Mussaman (Muslim) curries.

I wanted to try the rare beef, Thai herbs and roasted rice. Then I had a flashback to the equestrian nomads - Mongols, I think -who tenderised their raw meat by placing it under the saddle before a long ride. I couldn't get the image out of my head. So we decided to share the lon guppie, salmon and prawn with crispy betal leaves.

If you're willing to try new things, the whole world opens up to you. Which is why we decided on lon guppie. We knew nothing about it, but were rewarded with a creamy coconut curry that sat well with jasmine rice. I didn't find out till later that guppie is shrimp brain. What a fiddly job, collecting shrimp brain. A charge of £9.75 seemed reasonable.

The service at Khew (especially Richard, our waiter) was excellent. And so was the food. But it was way too crowded and way too noisy. I came away lamenting the fact that we can't close our ears as easily as we can close our eyes. Who knows. Maybe that's the vibe they want down South Molton Street. But if the management want Khew to be known for its food, they need to rethink. E

43 South Molton Street, London W1 (020-7408 2236)

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