Hutong – Shard – London SE1
August 8, 2013 § 2 Comments
High expectations are met on (almost) every level at this world class, Northern Chinese trendy restaurant
On a stunning summer evening, I was lucky enough to be enjoying a view over London, from 800ft up, on the 72nd floor of The Shard. Without a cloud in the sky, the view was jaw-dropping. But what awaited me, 39 floors down, proved to be just as mesmerisingly good.
The original Hutong at 1 Peking Road in Hong Kong, which overlooks the striking skyline of Hong Kong Island, is undoubtedly my favourite restaurant in the world. The food, the service, the views and ambience are for me, second to none. Needless to say my expectations for Hutong – Shard, were fairly high (no pun intended).
Arriving early enough to enjoy a drink at the Hutong Bar, our group sipped on ‘Lychee Martinis’ (£12.5) and ‘Lucky Beers‘ (£5.25) whilst taking in the views of The City and the meandering Thames, before moving through to the dining room, which offers a completely different view, looking west, across London. Indeed, the restaurant wraps around three sides of The Shard, with Chinese styled furniture, Chinese walls and decor breaking the 200 seat restaurant into various smaller sections, creating the illusion that you are dining in a much smaller and more intimate restaurant. Chinese lanterns adorn the tables injecting light and colour into the otherwise seductively dark and trendy dining room. Unfortunately the light British summer evenings do not play well into this theme and in truth detract from the overall ambience. It wasn’t until the end of the evening, when the dark skies had closed in around us, that the magic of Hutong really came alive. However, that being said, after a simply spectacular sunset, with an ever changing skyline, watching the lights of London awaken across the city, one is not in a position to complain.
I was charged with the responsibility of ordering – a duty I gleefully accept wherever I dine. Starting with ‘Chilled spiced razor clams: steeped in Chinese rose wine, fresh garlic and chilli dressing’ (£13) and ‘Hot and sour soup‘ (£7), we were off to a good start, our appetites sufficiently fired up for our main dishes.
The ‘Grouper with black bean’ (£24) was every bit worth the price tag – the generous portions of meaty fillets swimming in a tangy black bean sauce that bar perhaps lacking a little bit of extra chilli heat, couldn’t have been improved. A dish of ‘Kai lan‘ (£9) – a Chinese kale, sautéed in garlic and oyster sauce was a refreshing light and flavoursome last minute addition to our order, adding some much needed healthy greens to the meal.
The ‘Spicy eels’ (£22), despite inviting some awkward looks from my guests when first ordered, were incredible – in truth they were simply unrecognisable as eel, which is not necessarily a good thing in my opinion, but nonetheless they were possibly my favourite dish; sweet and crispy, with a hint of spice and packed with flavour. Certainly one to try.
The infamous ‘Red Lantern: crispy soft-shell crab with Sichuan dried chilli’ (£28), was a true test, as it is possibly one of Hutong – Hong Kong’s most well known. It passed with distinction. The delectable soft shell crab had the perfect crunch, the soft white meat was moist and tasty, the spice perfectly complimenting the dish. (Note: do not eat one of the chillies – you shall regret it after about 15 seconds, as one of my foolhardy guests found out, to much laughter and a few tears).
The one disappointment of the evening was the ‘Crispy de-boned lamb ribs: marinated for 24 hours, braised and deep-fried‘ (£26), a dish that is an all time favourite for mine and my family in HK. I cannot put my finger on what was missing in the dish, but it lacked the overwhelmingly ‘wow’ that the original dish instills.
Our meal finished with a selection of savoury desserts and cocktails; the ‘Custard buns’ (£5.5) playfully presented as hedgehogs, were well executed and enjoyed by all.
Hutong – Shard was not quite able to knock the Hong Kong original off its top perch; with a few teething problems with regards to service, which was at time a little too slow to be forgivable, and a couple of the dishes not quite ‘wowing’ with the spectacular style expected, it isn’t yet quite “up to scratch”. But, and this is a big but, I am comparing it to the best restaurant I have ever dined at – my expectations were always going to be hard to meet! And the fact that this brand new restaurant isn’t yet living up to it’s name is not to say that it isn’t superb. It is in all honesty truly spectacular, delivering a style of cuisine that is still a rarity in London. Couple that with the striking views and I can say with certainty that should you choose to dine here, you will enjoy a fantastic evening.