Believe it or not, there’s now a tasty little restaurant within five minutes of Victoria station that’s starting to change Londoners’ perceptions of Chinese food.
I’m often dubious about using the words ‘British Chinese’ and ‘fine dining’ in the same sentence. Of course, there are the likes of HKK and Bo but they are right at the top end and their prices are hardly accessible. There’s no middle ground. That’s why I was so intrigued when I first heard about A. Wong.
Located on a seemingly unpromising street flanked by chain restaurants, they opened their doors in late 2012 and have attracted lots of critical acclaim. For us, it was their great value tasting menu that stood out. Eight courses for £38.88! Surely there must be some kind of mistake? We decided that at this price we had to give it a whirl.
We made a late booking one Friday afternoon for that evening. The only available seats were at the bar but we were told that we could order from the main menu. It was quite a long time to be sat on a high-stool but we’re always prepared to make sacrifices for the sake of our stomachs. The restaurant is modern but simply furnished and had more of a cafe than a fine dining feel. That isn’t a negative though. The emphasis is on the quality of the food and rightly so.
A.Wong is named after chef and owner Andrew Wong. He took over the family business and gave the restaurant, previously known as Kym’s, a whole new lease of life. Our waiter explained that Andrew had spent time training all over China in order to learn each province’s style of cooking. As a result, the tasting menu represents a culinary journey through China, to reflect his experiences.
We started with a very impressive giant prawn cracker, topped with fried seaweed and sweet chilli sauce. You certainly won’t see anything like that in your local take-away.
We were then taken on a trip to Hong Kong, by way of a dim sum platter. The Shanghai dumplings were so delicate that it was a struggle to pick them up without them bursting. They were filled with a lovely meaty broth, some of which ended up dribbling down my chin, what a waste! The hargau was full of juicy prawns, with the yuzu foam adding a citrusy acidity. The siu mai was served with a large piece of blown up pork fat. It added crunch but was impossible to eat together due to its size.
The next dish was slow cooked, tea-smoked egg. It was presented in the middle of a nest made from thin, crisp strings of pastry (not dissimilar from kataifi) and was intended to replicate the experience of eating street snacks in Xian. Alongside it, there was a smouldering cinnamon stick, which smelled fantastic. It was outstanding and far more imaginative than anything I’d expect to eat in a ‘regular’ Chinese restaurant.
I was looking forward to the razor clams and sea cucumber, just to see how the Hog would take to the sea slug (as I like to call it). As it happened it was diced up very finely so it just added a little jelly-like texture to the dish. The wind-dried sausage was savoury, sweet and smoky against the delicate razor clam. The waiter suggested that we should eat all of it together, like an oyster. We obliged but when you do it that way, it’s gone in the blink of an eye.
The gong bao chicken with peanuts and dried chillies was another exciting dish. You may know it as ‘kung pao’ but this was totally unrecognisable from what you’re likely to have had before. Like most Sichuanese food, it’s laced with Sichuan peppercorns, which provides heat and has an interesting numbing effect on your tongue. The chicken was tender and came with some fantastic deep fried chicken skin on top. Alongside it was some equally spicy stewed aubergine. Despite our mouths being on fire, we enjoyed the taste and sensation it offered.
The outstanding dish of the evening was the slow cooked Scottish rib-eye with Yunnan truffles, sesame cracker and oyster sauce. There were several big flavours on the plate but the quality of the beef was still apparent. It came with a side dish of ho fun noodles. This combination made me feel like I was eating a refined, deconstructed beef ho fun. The beef was cooked perfectly pink, the flavours were bold and it was a fitting end to the savoury part of the menu.
Time for dessert! First up was some Beijing yoghurt with chilli pineapple. This was followed by two delicious white chocolate mahjong tiles. They were filled with lovely salt caramel (apparently flavoured with soy sauce) and were a great sweet treat. By this point, we were starting to feel full and were craving some freshness. The final course really hit the mark. It was a sphere of meringue, filled with lime sorbet and served on lychee granita. It was a perfect palate cleanser and was full of finesse. What a great way to finish a fantastic meal.
The service we received from our waiter was extremely polished and friendly. He took time to explain the background to each dish as it was served which really added to the ‘journey’ experience that they endeavour to create.
We couldn’t criticise any of the food we had at A. Wong. It really was a great introduction to the different cuisines that China has to offer. It certainly made a refreshing change from the ubiquitous Cantonese places. Don’t get me wrong, Cantonese food will always have special place in my heart but China is a huge country and has a lot more to offer.
As well as the regional specialties, there are some familiar favourites on the a la carte. Dishes like sweet and sour chicken and crispy duck with pancakes cater for those who like to stick to what they know. We even experienced a touch of food envy watching some dishes being sent out to other tables and look forward to our next visit. Their lunch menu also includes dim sum which can be ordered piece-by-piece. We’re definitely looking forward to giving it a try.
Tasting menu for two including service and (several) beers – £106.
Address: 70 Wilton road, Victoria, London, SW1V 1DE