As the waiter at Hutong showed us to a window seat my heart skipped a beat. On a clear, sunny day, 33 floors up above London in The Shard, there can surely be no more thrilling table for lunch.We were so delighted with our surroundings that we would have been happy with a sandwich. But Hutong is not just a good looking venue.
From the efficient coat check to the delightful waiter and discreet service, this is a well-polished operation. Everything spells elegance. The wooden tables sport large, red lanterns that are removed as you take your seats. There are Chinese furnishings, screens and stone lions, a wall dressed with lanterns. And then there is that view.
We booked through Bookatable.co.uk which was quick and easy. We received several confirmation emails. Although we were to sample the Bookatable Star Menu at £35, we also ordered a portion of Shanghai style xiao long boa off the à la carte list. Since we were dining on a day between the excess of Christmas and the fizz fest of New Year’s Eve, we passed on the wine list.
The first of 9 dishes – served as 3 courses – was monkfish and enoki mushroom soup. Served in dainty Chinese bowls, it looked like a miniature abstract painting – shreds of monkfish and mushroom swirling in the bowl, the pale palette enlivened by the vibrant green of finely chopped coriander. The soup was well flavoured, gentle and comforting.
Next came the Shanghai style xiao long bao. These small steamed buns contain not only a minced pork filling but also a deeply flavoursome broth which gushed into the mouth on eating.
Our waiter lifted the lid off another basket to reveal a jewellery box of dumplings – white, yellow and green. Once again, the visual appetite was stimulated before the taste buds were intrigued. One contained scallops, another seabass, a third prawn and the fourth vegetable. These translucent multi-coloured gems were little taste bombs, each with its own complex flavours and spicing.
The third course included egg white fried rice, a bowl of wok fried kai-lan (a Chinese green vegetable) in ginger sauce, Yangtze chicken and Guaiwei prawn and cuttlefish with pickled chilli sauce.
The prawn and cuttlefish dish was the highlight of an already fine meal.
The fish was attractively cut and perfectly cooked, the flavours building note by note. Guaiwei is a seasoning used in Szechuan cooking and combines the range of tastes from spicy to sweet to salty and savoury. It left the lips tingling gently and is a dish I would return for.
The Yangtze chicken was colourful with a lovely crunch – a melange of tiny pieces of chicken, red pepper, green beans and red onions. It was slightly on the sweet side for my taste and the iceberg lettuce leaves served with them were not terribly exciting. It is the only dish on the menu that I would not order were I eating à la carte.
My one quibble is that because several dishes are served simultaneously, some begin to cool before they are eaten. Perhaps the restaurant might consider an elegant table warmer?
Although the lunch menu was very filling, we managed to share a dessert. This is not included in the £35 special. We wanted to sample a Chinese dessert, the waiter having pointed out that the chocolate tart and the mango pudding were ‘Western’ options. He suggested the black sesame dumplings and he was spot on.
Three warm glutinous dumplings were dipped in finely crushed peanuts. As they were cut open, a thick black sesame filling spilled out. The sweetness was well judged and the contrast of textures added interest. A perfect end to an excellent meal.
Before dining at Hutong, I had heard positive reports so I went with expectations.I came away feeling very satisfied. From the ambience to the service and the food, this is a destination restaurant worth seeking out for elegance and quality.
Disclaimer: I dined as a guest of Bookatable.