Being the incessantly hungry, weak willed, food-obsessed strumpet that I am, I’m constantly on the look out for the chance to visit and eat in new and exciting places. One such opportunity came recently when I saw the chance to have lunch at Hutong and I grabbed it so tightly it almost came off in my hands. I do love a drink at a bar in the sky and sitting on the 33rd floor of the Shard, Hutong has always been the sort of place that I visited for expensive cocktails on friends’ notable birthdays to enjoy the view of London as it stretches out in front of you. But not that day – that day Mrs P and I were there to find out exactly what happens when you eat lunch at an altitude that could give a mountain goat a nose bleed.
If you’re lucky enough to visit on a good day, the view from a Hutong window is just phenomenal and you’re likely to spend just as much time looking out of the windows as you are eating. There were several parts to our lunch and we began with a chicken broth soup that was deliciously deep, warming and beautifully complex. Adorned with floating coriander and a dried then re-constituted cranberry (which brought a sweetness that I did not expect) it proved, as if I didn’t already know, that I can’t resist a broth soup and this one sucked me in with all the power of a Star Trek tractor beam turned up to 11.
UPDATE: I’m reliably informed that the berries are in fact goji berries and I stand humbly corrected. In all fairness I would never have been able to identify a goji berry by taste in order to re-educate our clearly inept waiter so I take the news as a learning experience for all concerned.
Steamed Dim Sum is not one of Mrs P’s favoured parts of Chinese cuisine as (in her words) they are invariably wrapped in the ‘wobbly and unpleasantly gooey bits of soggy and floppy dough’, and these were no exception. She did however bravely soldier through and declared that these were some of the best that I had ever forced her to try*. Plenty of filling expertly prepared and served meant that even the least appetising white one with it’s palid, vampirically translucent casing delivered a prawny centre spiked with XO sauce that was so tasty I couldn’t help diving in as greedily as Scrooge McDuck into his enormous vault of cash.
Crispy beef. I bet you thought you knew what crispy chilli beef tasted like didn’t you? Even if you, like me, had managed to tuck into the version sometimes on special at the Swan at Salford, you would consider yourself to have peaked at what crispy beef can be. Not so my friends. This is what you’ve been looking for. Not your standard chilli heat excuses, not your shredded, jerky-tough beef shavings. This was a full-on-in-my-face-crispy-coated-rocket-powered-soft-and-beefy plate of joy. Stare upon this plate of wonder and dream of what could be.
The squid came in a red chilli oil-type sauce which wasn’t as hot as you might expect but it coated your mouth in a layer of warmth that was as uncompromising as it was distinctive. Sitting next to the squid was some pak-choi, an unassuming side dish that was presented on a pretty little dish minding it’s own business. Lovely on it’s own, but when you put it with the squid it came alive with it’s garlic and subtle oyster sauce flavours. The soft squid and the just crunch of the Chinese cabbage along with the blend of the two sauces together was a combination that is etched into my memory – absolutely lovely.
Lunch was rounded off by a fruity, mango mousse that I have a sneaking suspicion wasn’t exactly classic Chinese cuisine. However, it was tasty and fresh with the zing that we needed to cut through the big flavours that we had eaten over the past hour and a half. A fresh redcurrant on the top provided a re-invigorating shot of sourness which meant that Mrs P and I didn’t feel as heavy or offensively full as we might have done after putting away such a big meal mid day.
And there you have it, a meal that gives you everything you expect from a modern, high class London Chinese restaurant. It’s not going to satisfy the Szechuan purists among you but as a lunch experience, it’s certainly the best I’ve had this year. And you want to know the best bit? It was £39 quid each – with a glass of bubbly thrown in. I KNOW! That’s insane value for eating in one of the most impressive buildings of one of the worlds most expensive cities. If you ever have the chance to go then I suggest you take it, it may not have the authenticity of China Town but it’s damn tasty and a sky high experience that you wont forget in a hurry!
*which I think we can all agree was a bit passive-aggressive