Breathtaking London views, incredible flavours from Northern China, elegantly arrayed surrounds and a beautiful Wishing Tree, every branch perpetually hung with lucky red wishing cards. Hutong at the Shard is both everything that you think it will be, and yet nothing quite like your imagination.
Disclaimer: We were invited guests of Hutong at the Shard (part of the Aqua group)
but my palette and misuse of ancient Chinese proverbs are all very much my own.
Invited to try out the newly launching menu courtesy of Head Chef Fei Wang’s home province of Sichuan (the home of giant pandas and Asia’s longest river, the Yangtze), Shandong (known for its Taoist and Confucian heritage) and Beijing (known as much for its modern architecture as its ancient sites such as the grand Forbidden City complex) we toasted our good fortune with crisply poured glasses of Veuve Cliquot and much laughter.
Watching the sun set over London is something I’ll never become sick of, and yet all settled around the beautiful wooden table of the private Beijing room (the largest in the restaurant) was a special treat indeed. From the 33rd floor, it is practically a game of spot the London landmarks – the Thames river surging through the metropolitan sprawl, the Tower of London’s dark history, office blocks that encase memories of long days and train lines snaking through the urban dreams past iconic buildings.
To learn [from a variety of places], To ask [until you satisfy your desire to learn], To reflect [meticulously], To distinguish [clearly between truth and lies], To manifest [that which you have learnt].
I do have a confession to make – I usually really struggle with communal dining. You know, that whole ‘family style’ in the middle type of situation. The heavily tension of the first forkful, the politics of taking the last bite, the angst when your favourite dish doesn’t quite make it to your side of the table.
But, if every meal was a delicious as our recent feast at Hutong in the Shard, I would buy a Lazy Susan (you know, those rotating turntables/rotating trays placed on a table or countertop to aid in distributing food. Thanks Wikipedia!)
We began with platters of crispy prawn rolls and vegetarian spring rolls that disappeared in a clicking of camera lenses and polite nibbles.
Bamboo mounted lengths of freshly steamed dim sum made their way from the kitchens next, heavenly jewelled morsels of tiger prawn with black truffle, and cod and seaweed dumplings with Tobiko (flying fish roe). So delicious, I struggled to photograph them both, wrestling with the twin pull of blogging and appetite.
Sitting down we were introduced to Head Chef Tei Wang, who at the tender age of 36 has been honoured with the title of ‘Sifu’, the Chinese word for master, a title bestowed to few at that young age. As he shared his inspirations with us, our table was laid with tranches of Chinese asparagus heart brushed with the chef’s signature hula dressing – chilli, peppercorn and hot oil, pan-fried fluffy wagyu beef buns and scallop and prawn wontons with a hot and deliciously spicy sauce.
People will experience sadness and joy; as the moon will appear round and sometimes incomplete (referring to crescents of the moon) – things like these have been prone to imperfection since the days of the old.
Hand carved table side with a skilful flash of knives, the classic roast Peking duck – marinaded for twenty four hours and then roasted in the restaurant’s special oven – was beautifully tender and counterpointed with mouthwateringly crisp skin.
Served with steaming pancakes, cucumber slivers, spring onion matchsticks and rich hoisin sauce, we danced a polite two-step, sharing our plates in a communal harmony with a touch of ‘no, no, I insist’ right at the end.
Confucius says, “When I was fifteen, I was focused on my studies; when I was thirty, my understanding of life [as it stands] was set firmly; when I was forty, I no longer hesitated about making my life decisions; when I was fifty, I understood the origins of all; when I was sixty, I could hear all – the positive and the negative – and not be upset; when I was seventy, I had the freedom to do whatever my heart desires, within the rules of this world [that I have observed throughout all of my life].”
With the beautiful, signature red lantern crowning our group, it was only right that our next dish of red star noodles came out to much excitement. Served in a rich and spicy Sichuan broth, the crowd pleasing presentation of red peppers hiding halibut morsels warmed the cockles of our world weary hearts.
We watched as London came alight, the twinkling buildings flickering over a picture perfect evening sky.
Rather than approaching the edge [of the waters] admiring the fish, it’s better to take a step back, and prepare to cast a net over the waters [and catch the fish]. (Edit: Or, book a table at Hutong, and let the chefs prepare a pescatarian feast for you – no heavy lifting required.)
The fiery spices of Northern Chinese cuisine really revealed themselves in the next two dishes – Sichuan-style deep fried lobster tidbits served with red and green chilli, not to mention salty black beans found in the street food markets of China.
My absolute favourite dish of the night was a surprising one – Ma La crispy eel. derived from two Chinese characters ‘Ma’ – numbing and ‘La’ – hot describing the mouth sensation created by the dish. Following this impressively delicate dish, we were further treated to aromatic beef rib braised in lotus leaf and aromatic Chinese broccoli steams. Bliss.
The heart of a gentleman cares not about his own (selfish) desires, but of all that it encompasses from his breadth of heart.
Our evening was an indulgent, wonderful medley of flavour and spice, rounded out as Big Ben struck the witching hour. We couldn’t bring ourselves to leave the beautiful, beautiful space that had so kindly treated us so well.
Second confession: I did lift the above Chinese translations from the internet, so I really hope they don’t actually translate to ‘Soup is brilliant’ like a summer holiday tattoo occasionally does. It was a risk I was willing to take though in the name of blogging amusment…
So, to summarise, Confucius said it best when he spoke about music – at the commencement of the piece, all the parts should sound together. As it proceeds, they should be in harmony while severally distinct and flowing without break, and thus on to the conclusion.
It was like he sat at our Hutong table with us.