Like the original Hutong in Hong Kong, the Shard version is a glitzy place with amazing views, ersatz Old Beijing decor, and a Sichuan/Northern Chinese menu.
The Shard you already know. Hutong, half way up the Shard, needs more than just a ni hao of introduction. The original Hutong in Hong Kong is a glitzy, high-end Chinese restaurant with magnificent views, mainly patronised by expats and tourists. And this London branch of Hutong is exactly the same. The same Sichuan and northern Chinese menu, the same mix of plate glass and ersatz Old Beijing decor, the same hard chairs – even some of the staff are the same, brought over to help clone the successful original.
What’s different about the Hong Kong and London kitchens is the level of spice. The Kowloon restaurants of David Yeo’s Aqua Group give the full assault of chilli and sichuan pepper, but three of the dishes we tried in London were much less fiery. Not meek, just toned down a bit for the gweilo (foreigner) palate.
A ‘red lantern’ of softshell crabs had to be fished out of a huge bowl of decorative deep-fried chillies, a dramatic presentation which can render the edible part of the dish incendiary; yet the crisply cooked crabs were only agreeably spicy. Dan dan noodles had the recognisable ma-la (‘numbing, spicy hot’) combination of this Sichuan dish, but the dish was a bit overcooked and it was a little heavy on the peanut sauce, turning it into more of a soupy laksa than a Chengdu street snack. White meat was used instead of dark for the shredded chicken, but heck, most Estuary English speakers will prefer it that way .
Northern Chinese food is at last making more frequent appearances on London menus. A dish of deboned lamb adapts very well to the UK, because British lamb is such good quality: pleasingly fatty, it was very tender once marinated, braised and then deep-fried.
While the raison d’eat at Hutong is the menu of spicy dishes from China’s southwest and the heartier dishes from the north, lunchtime visitors who want to avoid spice all together can stick with the more delicate flavours of the dim sum menu (the xiao long bao – Shanghai soup dumplings – were good and well made).
Hutong does credit to the growing trend for offbeat Chinese dishes. The service was good, the prices high, but then this is the Shard, not Chinatown. It’s a good date restaurant. This London branch of Hutong shouldn’t be left to the tourists and the expats.
Also in the Shard:
Hong Kong restaurant group Aqua has taken over the 31st and 33rd floors of the Shard. On the 33rd floor is Hutong, a contemporary Chinese restaurant modelled on the Hong Kong restaurant of the same name. On the 31st floor is Aqua Shard, a British restaurant. A three-storey high atrium bar serves British cocktails with an emphasis on gin and tea. On the 32nd floor is Oblix, run by the people behind Zuma and Roka.