There are lots of things in life that could reasonably be described as ‘a lot.’ Visiting the in-laws can be ‘a lot,’ as can indulging your drunk uncle in conversation when he’s offering his take on cancel culture. Marzipan is also ‘a lot’, and so is trifle.
All of these over-stimulating experiences pale by comparison to Park Chinois, the Mayfair restaurant so wildly ostentatious you can only assume the police are moments away, coming to shut the whole thing down.
Only west London would have the nerve to open a restaurant like Park Chinois. In the east, it’s about stripping things back: simple, high quality food, served in straightforward environments. In the west, and especially in Mayfair, where I rarely venture except when I want to feel like I’m on holiday, some of the most popular restaurants are decorated as if someone exploded ice cream factory condiments over them.
Park Chinois somehow makes this aesthetic look appealing. It is a shimmering red and gold, smallish space, accentuated by lighting, which pulls the eye to its hundreds of design details mirroring Chinese styles. I’m here because this Alan Yau-conceived restaurant (he’s not involved anymore) has a new nightly cabaret show inspired – much like the food – by Shanghai dining clubs of the 1930s.
I’ve been to west London restaurants promising cabaret before, only for a singer to struggle to deliver showtunes while everyone spoke over them. But Park Chinois, as you’d expect, doesn’t do things by halves.
As the lights went down, like in an actual theatre, three petite women foxtrotted across the restaurant in luminous blue, green and yellow outfits with lumps and bumps protruding from them. My guest mouthed to me: “Two words: sexy Teletubbies”. They swirled around in neat choreographed skits and then darted out through a side door with the exactitude of an actual West End performance.
Then the DJ – wearing a suit! – chucked on some house music (reader, stop here if you aren’t keen on engaging your diaphragm to yell rather than speak while dining, as this music is loud) before we tucked into some food. First came a spectacular dim sum platter involving splodges of caviar, Atlantic sea scallops and mui choi dumplings.
Uh oh! Lights down again and a guy in flashy neon lime green boots sang a handsome show tune. Lights up, house music on: out comes a bowl of glass noodles decorated with A-List king prawns as thick as chunky chips.
Someone opened some wine, and then over came wagyu steak, pre-cut and served like a stir fry. The steak – mouthwatering in flavour and eye-watering in price at more than £70 – was sadly overpowered by lashings of a needlessly rich, sweet sauce. It came embellished with strings of thin greens and rectangles of veg.
Next up was sea bass fillet with soya, ginger and green onions; also too sweet although the fish was gorgeously dense and springy. Then a violinist clamped her hair to a harness and spiralled around in mid-air contorting her body into unusual shapes. She used her hands to create something like fins on the side of her face as she spun, with the stunning sidelighting reminding me of scenes from the West End production of Cabaret at the Playhouse.
Park Chinois’s new cabaret night – called Rebirth and celebrating colour, movement and light – has a headset wearing production team running around re-jigging rigs for performers all night, reminding you that this intimate, brashly beautiful restaurant is also a properly functioning theatre.
Sure, there could be more diverse body shapes, and less gratuitously naked women but this is decent theatre and pretty good food, which, let’s face it, are difficult things to pair.
This type of experience thrives in west London and, like going on holiday, you should really only do it once or twice a year.
The Club Chinois Show Reborn runs every Wednesday to Saturday from 6pm to 2am at Park Chinois. Upstairs is the Salon de Chine, with live jazz from Monday to Sunday