William Cash relives his decadent past at a more ‘grown-up’ Mahiki, where royals and hedgies alike can be found sipping on some of London’s finest Pina Coladas
I was brought up in the 1980s era of The 151 Club on the King’s Road when a year’s membership cost £100. Call me ‘past my prime’ or plain ancient but just as I will always judge a wine merchant and restaurant by the quality of their house burgundy, so I always judge a nightclub by the quality of its Pina Colada; oh, and the type of glass it is served in. And let me start this review of the ‘cheeky’ new Mahiki in Kensington High Street by saying my favourite sort of ‘beaker’ to serve a thick, creamy, frothy, Jamaican white rum soaked Pina Colada is not a glass at all. But a scooped out entire Pineapple fruit which pretends to be a glass.
So that’s a lot of Pina Colada. Two Mahiki Coladas later – already feeling a little foggy (it was after the 30th birthday party of Spear’s staff writer Olenka Hamilton) I was explaining to the barman at Mahiki why I have a ‘special relationship’ with Coladas.
When I took my wife on honeymoon to Jamaica four years ago, we drank nothing else at dinner for a week after I discovered that a bottle of pretty awful Rioja was around $100 – anything French was $150- and that the island had at least twenty different rum brands. So I became a Pina Colada cocktail snob (note: the best rum to serve is called Smatt’s Rum).
After we came back from our honeymoon, I found myself in a basement whisky bar in Edinburgh on the night of the vote of the Scottish Referendum. I was there as a guest of hedgie turned photography rock star David Yarrow, a gravelly Scot from Glasgow who knows as much about malt as Robert Parker does about first growth clarets. It was around 9 pm – the voting had just closed – when he sat me down at the bar (there were around 200 whiskies to choose from) and the barman asked me what I would like. When I answered ‘Pina Colada’ he nearly punched me.
Thankfully, the barman at Mahiki Kensington had the opposite response. ‘That’s our house classic’ he said.’ Any preference for the rum, Sir?’.
The other reason I was rather excited when I walked in through the doors of the Kensington Mahiki – which is an altogether more grown up Mahiki than its Mayfair wild child younger brother – is that back in the eighties I knew the space when it was a fairly louche casino. I am glad got report that the new Mahiki has retained the ‘Spirit of Place’ of the old casino, both in terms of its excellent cocktails but also in terms of being a place that you went to for the quality of the restaurant food.
The key to the success of any top London casino was always to make sure you had an exotic range of menus and chefs and Mahiki Kensington has stuck to this principle. Following the success of Albert’s, entrepreneurs Jake Parkinson-Smith, Carlo Carello and Fraser Carruthers have teamed up with Piers Adams and David Phelps and head chef Sakorn Somboon, a rising star of London’s restaurant and, to create a new twist on the global success of the Mahiki brand: an exotic and escapist night club for the financial classes as much as the fiercely trendy ‘Friends of Royals’ that is as much about the quality of its pan-Asian cuisine than the ‘Aloha playroom’ – described as the ‘underworld of Maliki and the birthday party karaoke.
It’s called Pufferfish and offers guests ‘past their prime – such as myself – the chance to travel to Polynesia to experience some of the best Asian cuisine in London without having to travel to Terminal 5. The menu ‘transports’ – to use the club language – to ‘an exotic Polynesian paradise’ which truly does deliver the sort of sushi, new style chu toro sashimi, and cod tempura expertly – made to look like rocks of lava – that you normally have to go to LA or New York to experience.
The joint venture is about creating a grown up Mahiki for those – like myself – who want to remember what it was like when finding yourself at the Dover Street Tiki bar felt like you had arrived at the Castilian fountain of Roman myth. The co-founders of Albert’s private members club, Jake Parkinson Smith, Fraser Carruthers and Carlo Carello have cleverly updated Mahiki’s Polynesian paradise to a new tropical setting in the Royal Borough and you don’t even get thrown out if you are wearing a suit and tie.
Whilst I didn’t see the likes of HRH Prince William and Harry, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Jay Z and One Direction, I did see some major hedgies and other financial blue bloods there. Whilst I enjoyed Mahiki’s iconic ‘champagne treasure chests’, I found myself more interested in the restaurant menu than the cocktails: Chargrilled Padron Pepper & Lava Salt, Rock Shrimp Tempura, Nori Salt & Jalapeño dips, Grilled Spicy Octopus, Wagyu Beef & Truffle Gyoza, Chilean Sea Bass & Prawn Dumpling. It was all so good I almost forgot to order a third pineapple sized Pina Colada before the 10pm curfew – when the dining tables were whisked away, the lights dimmed and the music started to send me back to my je-jeune and decadent past.
William Cash is editor-at-large at Spear’s