The last time I came to Kampai, I left unimpressed. A series of imperfections encountered by my friends and I left us shocked - especially that this is a restaurant loved and appreciated by many. I went back again recently and the whole experience was different. The food was good, the service has been improved and the overall ambiance was smoother. I believe that this is the Kampai people enjoy - but still it can be even better.
The restaurant, located in the heart of Downtown city, was packed 02:30pm on a Monday. Business people, families on holiday... Everyone seemed happy and satisfied. But I have to say something out loud, regardless. Considering the price paid you expect perfection at Kampai... Many details are still overlooked unfortunately.
I expected a fresher smell as I walked in; instead there was a strong fish smell. The staff was overwhelmed and lacked some basic skills and manners. A plastic bottle landed on our table, I don't think that this is okay at a restaurant where the average check is $60... especially that there are glass bottles available - Sohat, Tannourine or Aqua Panna ... so why the plastic bottle?
As we sat under the mirror, we were approached for drinks followed by the order. Kampai's menu is varied, starting with the starters, cooked plates while makis and special rolls followed. Only the special makis have photos displayed on the menu, while the others have to be explained by the waiter.
The architecture and design:
- Facing the Audi Plaza in Downtown Beirut, Kampai is located on the first floor
- A low ceiling and lots of wood, the space is an architectural innovation filled with many objects
- Facing the entrance are three wine coolers occupying the right side while the bar welcomes you as you walk in
- Around the bar, high stools fill in the space, while couple others around high tables have a closer view on the street
- A dimmed yellow lighting takes over the space while a large mirror makes the place look twice its size
- Rectangular long tables fill on the space with only one single round one which can host a party of six
- Individual black leather chairs wrapping white wood add a touch of finesse to this architectural wonder
The menu sections:
Appetizers, Soups, Tempura, Salads, Breaded, Dimsum, Stir Fru Wokky Wok, Hot Spots, From The Grill, Special Treats, Sushi, Hozo Maki, Temaki, Ura Maki, Fried Maki, Dessert
Let's have lunch:
- We ordered the famous Crispy Spicy Salmon salad, served on a round black plate. A generous portion of fresh salmon mixed with crispy crisps lying on a bed of green lettuce. The best part is the sauce; this secret mix with a pleasant spicy aftertaste makes all the difference.
- The Rock Shrimp followed; this famous shrimp served in a martini cup, was made famous by PF Chang (Dynamite Shrimps). A spicy mayonnaise mix embracing a generous portion of shrimps, all served hot. Fresh and juicy shrimps with crispy borders having an interesting texture and feel under the palate. They are served with a green lettuce for decoration.
- Siu Mai shrimp is three pieces looking like cups. Mixed vegetables and shrimps wrapped in gyoza wrapper served with gyoza sauce. Tasty soft pockets filled with a juicy filling.
- Zukury Salmon: Seven thin slices of salmon topped with coriander, togarashi, green chili, spring onions and sesame seeds. Fresh salmon that's soft like butter, tender and tasty. A must order.
- Before moving to the maki rolls, one plate was still scheduled to come, the Veggie Fresh Rolls. Mixed vegetables wrapped in rice paper accompanied with Vietnam sauce and sweet chili sauce. All you have to do is dip it in the sauce and enjoy lightness.
And now the pieces landed. All rolls, stuffed in one single plate, stacked like a mountain! Is that acceptable in a fine restaurant like this? Why not serve them in two plates? Why not separate cold from hot rolls? Presentation is half the experience...
Nevertheless these rolls were fresh and tasty and carefully made. Made with fresh ingredients, you can enjoy the flavor of every fish. Yes, Kampai has tasty maki rolls. I enjoyed their sizes, most importantly the thin rice layer and generous fish filling. My favorite was the grilled salmon roll that's really unique on all fronts.
The things I liked:
- Chopsticks are presented in a triangular shaped closed box– very nice. Chopsticks inside are now wrapped with a classy paper
- The wine glasses are nice and thin
- The crispy salmon salad is excellent
- The staff is joyful, happy and welcoming. All remarks are accepted with a smile – although like I said they need much more training
- Finishing lunch, we were offered a plastic cup which when pressed in the middle, a wet towel pops out
- Waiters can be more professional
- Please dear waiters, when taking the order, try to give your full attention to the client without jumping from a table to the other
- Glass water bottles are a must
- Presentation is key. It's completely unacceptable to serve maki rolls stacked one on top of the other like a mountain; especially in a place like this - unless I've misunderstood which category this restaurant belongs too
I've reconciled with Kampai and will be coming back for some more. But maybe this time I will go on a weekday when the ambiance is hopefully calmer.
Tags: Japanese Lebanon Sushi Restaurant Beirut Review dessert Sashimi Appetizers soups Salads tempura temaki Breaded Dimsum Stir Fru Wokky Wok Hot Spots From The Grill Special Treats Hozo Maki Ura Maki Fried Maki Kampai