Monday, 28 October 2013

Restaurant review: A Wong

"The dim sum came with a bespoke topping, including a dainty little citrus foam hat on the pork and prawn dumpling - the first foam I've seen in a Chinese restaurant outside the toilets..."

Strangely enough, I don't think I've ever really wondered what purpose the restaurant reviews on my blogs actually serve. Aside from making me feel good about myself when I try to tell people that I am restaurant reviewer, of course.

I'm not particularly timely in my choice of restaurant, so it isn't like I'm getting in there with my two penneth before everyone else. Alas, my readership is probably not extensive enough to christen myself a trend-setter either; although, as Lemar said, if there's any justice in the world I would be.

So that leaves two other options: I either write them for your entertainment; or, for those of you who trust my judgement (and I've been told there are a couple), as a guide to what I think is hot and what's not. To this end, don't bother reading any further as A Wong is hot. The best Chinese food I've had in a long time and such good value that I am planning a return visit asap.

Situated on a fairly unprepossessing strip of bars and restaurants down the road from Victoria Station, A Wong is buzzy, bright, modern and friendly. All the things you don't associate with the Platonic ideal of a Chinese restaurant: paper lanterns, surly staff and ladles of MSG. This might be a touch of lazy stereotyping, but you don't need to go too far down Gerrard Street to find exactly that.

I was eating with seven others, so we missed out on the fun of the main restaurant and found ourselves banished to the basement. This wasn't a deal breaker, but if you can avoid it, I would. In any case, if you can't make enough of an atmosphere with eight of you, you need better friends.

A group booking meant we had to pre-order, which was left to me. After a series of email exchanges with Natalie, I emerged with a lengthy list:

Prawn Crackers
Dim Sum
Crispy Duck Pancakes
Dong Po pork belly
Yunan seared beef
Smoked cod cheeks
Gong Bao chicken
French beans with minced pork
Beef rump with salsify and oyster sauce
Braised abalone
Crispy chilli beef
Sweet and sour chicken with marinated pineapple
Razor clam with braised sea cucumber and dried sausage
Xinjiang barbecued lamb

My word, that sounds like a feast! And so it was. You'll be relieved to read I am not going to go for a mouth by mouth description of each dish. But as a general rule, everything that passed my lips was superb: well flavoured, no hint of an artificial colour or flavour and beautifully presented.

The dim sum were slippery and velvety mouthfuls of shrimp, pork and prawn, and chive. All of which came with a bespoke topping, including a dainty little citrus foam hat on the pork and prawn dumpling - the first foam I've seen in a Chinese restaurant outside the toilets.

The crispy duck pancakes were like the ones you usually get, just slightly better: piquant plum sauce to cut through the rich shredded duck, papery thin pancakes and the usual selection of greenery. A special mention goes to the crispy duck skin too, which deserved its own blog entry.

After a lengthy wait, the rest of the food finally arrived via a bevy of waiters and numerous trays. We had waited around an hour at this point so fell upon the food like the bunch of barely civilised tramps we are. Rather like a small boy on Christmas Day, who is presented with a pile of presents and doesn't know where to turn, I had no idea where to start, so in a rather undignified manner crammed my face with anything and everything within reach.

The razor clam and sausage paired beautifully and the abalone were excellent; although not to the extent that I understood why such a fuss is made of them by the Chinese. The barbecued lamb was fatty, spiked with cumin and had a smoky, charred meatiness, which meant much finger licking.

Those supermarket ready meal staples, the crispy chilli beef and sweet and sour chicken, were unrecognisable from the usual combination of dayglo gloop and battered shards of cheap flesh. Delicately flavoured and not drowning in sauce, I finally realised what my childhood's favourite dish - sweet 'n sour chicken - is supposed to taste like!

On and on it went. To be honest, I can't recall much more, aside from a general impression of carefully constructed dishes, balanced flavours and quality cooking. Our only serious complaint was the very long wait between the duck and the rest of the dishes, but I suppose it was a busy Friday night and we did order a lot, so I can forgive them.

Our bill, after all that food (and we doubled up on some of the dishes), beer, wine and service came to £45 a head. So don't hesitate to go to A Wong before they realise how good they are and crank up the prices.

P.S. They got a Bib Gourmand in the latest Michelin Guide, so even the fatties from the tyre company are on the bandwagon.

A Wong, 70 Wilton Road, London, SW1V 1DE

0207 828 8931

Open for lunch Tuesday to Saturday and for dinner Monday to Saturday

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