The best kept secret in London? You can book a table for two at Hutong‘s delicious bar – whizz up 33 floors, purchase two cokes and save yourself the £32 ticket for View at The Shard’s tourist viewing deck. You know – if you’re a cheapskate, Sarf London-dwelling hobo like myself. (Although… Cokes? Whatever, I’d be dropping the plastic on a silly bottle of wine…) This modern Northern Chinese restaurant atop The Shard is the sister outpost of an original restaurant in Hong Kong, operated here by Aqua Restaurant Group.
Stepping into Hutong is how I picture Goodfellas if Scorcese reimagined it in 19th century China – all opium dens and Shanghai triads. You’d need the income equivalent of a drug lord to be coming here for your weekly noodle fix – a single dim sum here costs the equivalent of Set Meal 1 at Lin Hong Garden – but as a one off treat, it’s hard to say no to sky-high dining pleasures with the blanket of London splayed out before you.
The interiors are a delight, a cosy warren of rooms reflecting the “hutongs” or criss-crossing alleyways of old China, bedecked in decadent, bold, dark wood, latticework walls, red lanterns and a wall of compressed tea bricks. Did I mention the triple-height atrium windows offering vertiginous views? It’s all about the view, people.
Well, actually, it’s all about the taste-bud tickling, delicate slivers of cuttlefish from my starter of Braised Cuttlefish Salad with Szechuan Pepper Dressing. Sweet, like silky ribbons of sea, cut with spikey whooshes of fruity pepper and just enough tang to buzz my mouth. Absolutely divine.
Mixed Vegetable dumplings are pillowy and generous, with a touch of satisfying crunch. We drink a crisp, Washington State 2015 Riesling – Kung Fu Girl by Charles Smith, ultra-minerally with yellow stone fruits and a honeyed note that offsets the chillies and spice and gobsmacking views in a lovely, lovely way.
Mains are finger-lickingly fatty Crispy de-boned Lamb Ribs Marinated for 24-hours, Braised and Deep Fried. Served with a nose-whackingly pongy dollop of roasted crushed garlic paste (heaven!) and a tangy, rice wine dipping sauce, these are moreish and juicy. A steamed cod, meaty but delicate is almost so subtly flavoured as to be lost under the wine, yet there is complexity in it. Also it is coated in a crust of toasted garlic and chillies, which add punch if needed.
The only lack-lustre element to a thus far highly enjoyable meal is a violently expensive, and completely unexciting bowl of egg fried rice. Nothing more exceptional than you’d find in any Chinese restaurant from here to Beijing. A perfect upselling tool for the suave waiting staff, we duly fell for it hook, line and sinker. In the pit of my stomach was an insane desire for them to up their game dramatically in this area. Make the rice sing. Hell, make it dance a macarena. Anything!
Yes, Hutong is bum-squeakingly expensive, so don’t come here to eat the things you recognise – (Hello £58 Peking Duck-induced hernia). Do however come here to woo, point at skyscrapers in the distance and go “isn’t that that cheesegrater/gherkin/salad bowl/potato masher building?”, revel in the glory of London from above at all angles and serenade your palate with a raft of flavour.