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Creating feast from fire

After 14 years, Porthleven restaurant Kota Kai has undergone an extensive revamp. With a change of decor comes the arrival of an impressive new piece of equipment in the kitchen; the Josper Grill. Words by Jude Kereama.

Josper is one of the leading pieces of charcoal cooking equipment in the hospitality industry, and I feel very proud to have one in my kitchen. It is essentially a charcoal oven that reaches temperatures of up to 400°C, giving food a distinct charred and caramelised flavour. Although it is very hot inside, the outside is cool to the touch as it is so well insulated. We’ve been getting on so well with it that we’re now looking at getting another Josper product called a Basque Grill. This is a charcoal open grill with winches to bring the grill closer or further away from the hot coals we will cook on. These are very exciting times for us indeed.  

The grills are real centre pieces in our open kitchen where diners can see the fire and flames from us cooking, as well as smelling the food coming from the grills. The Josper Grill brings that really fantastic smoky flavour you get from barbequed food, adding that extra layer we’ve been after. We use it for cooking lots of different types of meats, seafood and vegetables, and it can also be used for cold smoking. The new Kota Kai menu was written around the Josper Grill – it has quickly taken over the way we think about how we cook – and we’re busy designing new dishes so that we can utilise it even more. As it is so hot,  it cooks everything really fast. It certainly helps having that kind of firepower in the kitchen when  we get to our busiest summer-time services.

As I am half Chinese/Malay and half Māori, cooking on fire is perfect for the Asian dishes  that I am heavily influenced by. I draw on the whole of the South East Asian countries for inspiration for new dishes and have been really pleased by the feedback so far from our new menu concept.  The charcoal flavours have allowed us to cook beef with Asian green sauce; a grilled Thai chicken dish called Gail Yang; crispy pork belly called pork char siu; grilled fish with curry mussel leek sauce; grilled scallops with XO sauce; and other heavily Asian influenced dishes that really suit being cooked over coals.

This summer will see a lot of other grilled items coming on such as lobster, whole fish, squid, octopus, and a hot-grilled seafood plate... mackerel will be fantastic on it too.  We’ll also be serving hot-grilled peaches and apricots with vanilla ice cream and raspberries that will surely be a hit in the summer weather.

Along with the kitchen, the bar has undergone some serious work, with a complete new installation designed around functionality. This has allowed us to hone our cocktail offering and really speed up the delivery of our drinks service.  We have been working with Chris Jarrett who, along with my team, has designed some brilliant cocktails that really suit what we are doing at Kai.  A great seasonal wine list and plenty of local beers and ciders have also been well thought out. In addition, we have a little bar being built down stairs just in time for the summer that will service the outside area.

It’s not been all about Kai though… Kota has also had a kitchen revamp. We have invested in induction cooking which has made our kitchen super slick and clean. It has given us more firepower than we have ever had as we look to build on what we established 18 years ago when I first opened Kota in 2006. Kota saw a change last year with the return of one of my old chefs Ross Sloan. Ross and I first started working with each other 14 years ago and I am so pleased to have him back at the helm. Kota has always been on the finer dining side of  the  two restaurants and has continued to evolve to reach where we are now.  

Today we offer seven-course tasting menus alongside an à la carte menu that takes a selection of those dishes from the tasting menu which are designed to be bigger and more substantial. Our produce remains local where possible and is sourced completely seasonally from the best suppliers we can find. We are continually looking at achieving as little wastage as possible, with every trim of vegetable, meat or fish put into a stock, purée, powder, fermentation or sauce of some kind. It has been really fantastic to see how Kota has developed over the years and I’m very proud of the continued respect we have for our produce. This is also reflected in the accolades we have won over the years; from a Michelin Bib Gourmand, three AA Rosettes, listings in Top 100 Square Meals, Top 100 Hardens Guide, Restaurant of the Year, Chef of the Year and many other awards that show our dedication to detail and passion for what we cook. 

We are all excited for the year ahead, and especially for the end of 2024 when we get to give Kota her very own revamp, which will include a three-bedroom apartment to add to our existing three bed and breakfast rooms. After 18 years, I think it is going to be a welcome change and shows that there is always something driving us to the next level.

Grilled Flat-Iron Steak with Asian Herb Dressing

Barbecuing is a fantastic way to get extra flavour into a steak with the charring it gets over the coals, and the quick marinade in this recipe ramps up the flavours even more. It also works really well with chicken thighs if you decide you like it as much as I do. My favourite accompaniment to the steak is a light, crisp salad, full of textures, herbs and colour – and my Asian take on a chimichurri-style sauce adds extra freshness and bite.

PREP TIME: 45 minutes plus two hours to marinade

COOK TIME: 20 minutes


4 sirloin steaks, about 200g each

For the marinade:

3 tbsp soy sauce 

2 tbsp mirin

1 tbsp caster sugar

3 tbsp Shaoxing cooking wine 

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp ginger, minced

1 tbsp toasted sesame oil

For the sauce:

100ml cold-pressed rapeseed oil 

100ml toasted sesame oil

3 tbsp rice wine vinegar

½ baby shallot

3 cloves garlic, minced 

2 tsp ginger, grated

½ green Jalapeno 

1 tsp fish sauce 

Sea salt

1 lime, zest and juice 

50g flat-leaf parsley

50g coriander leaves 

50g basil leaves

25g mint leaves

For the garnish:

½ bunch spring onions, chopped 

30g coriander leaves, torn

30g mint leaves, torn 

2 red chillies, sliced


Start by mixing all the marinade ingredients together, then coat the steaks in the mixture. Cover them with cling film and leave in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

To make the sauce, blend all the ingredients – apart from the parsley, coriander, basil and mint – until they are smooth. Then add all the herbs and blend until smooth again. Adding the herbs later ensures they don’t overheat, keeping them fresh.

When you are ready, barbecue or grill the steaks until they are medium rare –approximately 6 minutes on each side – and leave to rest.

To serve, slice the steak thinly and arrange or plates. Dress with the sauce and sprinkle the garnish all over.


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