We Love London: Buddha-Bar

Photo credit: Paul Winch-FurnessSpotlight: Buddha-Bar London
145 Knightsbridge
buddhabarlondon.com

 

To say that Buddha-Bar London is a chain restaurant seems odd, but it’s true: The first Buddha-Bar was established in Paris in the fall of 1996 by the late Raymond Visan. The last 17 years have seen the Buddha-Bar empire expand from its original incarnation on Rue Boissy d’Anglas to outposts all around the world: Dubai, Cairo, Kiev, Mexico, and even Saint Petersburg all have their own Buddha-Bar restaurants. (At last count, there are 16 restaurants that dot the globe from East to West.)

After all these years, the first Buddha-Bar (situated cosily between Madeleine and Concorde) is still widely heralded for its signature Pacific Rim cuisine. The same East-meets-West vibe that made Buddha-Bar Paris so famous can also be found at its Knightsbridge location in London. Housed in what was once a Chicago Rib Shack, Buddha-Bar London is one giant feast for the senses.

As I walk through the front doors, I am greeted by the smells of Asian spices and the soft thump thump of the bass line of a house track being broadcast over the speakers that are discreetly placed throughout the dining area. I am led to a small table where an eager waiter recommends that I peruse the menu while sipping on a glass of champagne. I accept the glass, because … Well, what person ever actually turns down a glass of champagne?

The menu is filled with so many delicious options—pan-fried sea bass, foie gras gyoza and smoked duck come to mind—that it becomes quite obvious that I will need a little help choosing tonight’s meal. (Although I didn’t know it at the time, I would later find myself thanking my lucky stars that I brought a guest with me, because the sheer amount of food I was served could have easily fed a family of five!) Although Buddha-Bar is synonymous with Pan Asian dishes, it is interesting to note that all of the ingredients are sourced locally. This means that each Buddha-Bar location around the globe has a menu that reflects not only the Pacific Rim cuisine the chain is known for, but the flavours of the local region as well.

To begin, the exuberant Lucian brought out a dizzying mix of starters: miso soup, edamame, a line of volcano rolls and Buddha-Bar’s now-famous chicken salad. (After sampling it, I can honestly say that I fully understand why it’s become Buddha-Bar’s signature dish: It is—without a doubt—the best chicken salad I have ever eaten.) He places the food in the center of the table and tells me that, unlike most of the other restaurants I will visit in London, sharing is a central part of the Buddha-Bar experience: To share food is to share life itself.

Buddha-Bar's famous chicken salad.
Buddha-Bar’s famous chicken salad.

As I sit sipping my glass of white wine, Lucian returns bearing a plethora of suggestions for main course dishes. My guest decides to try the five spiced barbecued chicken, while I opt for the black cod with steamed vegetables. While I wait for my actual meal to arrive—although the starters I just consumed could have constituted a meal in and of themselves—I wander over to inspect the two enormous crystal dragons that flank the staircase leading to the downstairs dining area. One of the dragons curls sinuously upwards while the other slinks downwards, away from the viewer. The ruby-red crystals that make up the eyes seem to blaze in the low light, sensuous and all-knowing.

The downstairs dining area is more private and a great deal darker. The space is dominated by an impressive “floating” Buddha created by the artist David Begbie. Constructed of moulded chicken wire, the Buddha is suspended from paper-thin cables attached to the ceiling one floor above. Thanks to some clever lighting, the reflection of the Buddha looks as though its head is bowed in prayer.

This sense of calm introspection seems to flood the space. The laughter and hubbub I witnessed upstairs seems strangely far away as I peek into a private booth set back in a little niche in a corner. If this room isn’t quiet enough, book the private dining area, which can seat up to 60 guests for lunch and dinner.

As I climb the stairs and head back to my seat, I see a waiter carrying a tray laden with food in the direction of my table. Sure enough, my dinner has arrived! Just like the appetizers, all of my food is delicious. The cod—which is marinated for three days in miso sauce—practically melts in my mouth and pairs wonderfully with my glass of wine.

Before all is said and done, I have experienced a wonderful three-course meal that puts to shame any Asian-inspired cuisine I have ever eaten. If I wasn’t already exhausted from my busy day of touring—Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace and Parliament were just some of the stops I made that day—then I would have happily traipsed over to the bar across the room and whiled the night away, cocktail in hand. Maybe next time … .