Hunan, 51 Pimlico Rd, London SW1W 8NE
29 August 2015
China. A rare treat for us mouthful of earth eaters. For once we had the prospect of an unprecedented amount of choice of where we could snap up our Chinese eating experience. So we took a slightly different approach with this restaurant choice – rather than simply, can we find a restaurant, any restaurant, to eat this food at, we went for where can we eat the BEST Chinese food in London.
There is of course, an unlimited range of possibilities. There’s a Chinese takeaway on every London high street, village and next to every underground or bus station. There are also the streets of London’s China town – a wealth of Chinese supermarkets, dim-sum dineries and tempting restaurants nestled between Leicester Square and Soho. These are streets we’d all dined at many a time and always have the same dilemma – which one to pick? Which is the best restaurant in China town, do you go for a safe choice you’ve tried before or try somewhere new with the possibility that it could be even better? After much research Joe settled on Hunan – off the beaten track, well-away from China town and a pricey choice but one we thought would be well worth it.
You arrive, having walked through a luxurious part of Belgravia to a rather unassuming white doorway which ushers onto a narrow passageway looking not unlike the hallway of someone’s house. This feeling stays with you as you take the first door on the left into what looks suspiciously like someone’s front room. That, however, is where the comparison ends. Once settled into your seat amongst the throng of other excited-looking customers you begin to appreciate the seamlessness of a high-end restaurant. Plush white table cloths and napkins, beautiful glassware and cutlery and the genteel hum of happy dining. We’re given a menu which tells us that there is no menu – you simply choose vegetarian or non-vegetarian and then are presented with 16-20 small dishes in small clusters, each more interesting and unusual than the next.
Because of the lack of menu I’ve given an account of the dishes we ate largely based on what ingredients were in them. These descriptions don’t give full justice to the complexity of the dishes but they give you a flavour for the make-up of the meal.
The first dish to be presented to us was an individual delicate silky dumping, filled with pork in a warm sloop of soy-flavoured broth. For several courses this remained my favourite morsel. Next came a pork and mushroom soup. More a stew than a soup, this beautifully presented wooden beaker contained a floating cylinder of mushroomy-porky goodness floating in a broth filled with spring onion and soy. I still haven’t worked out how this feat was achieved but I was mesmerised by it throughout consumption. A lettuce roll of minced chicken followed, reminding me of a similar dish I’d eaten in Hong Kong as a child, alongside crispy green beans in a tempura-like batter and the plumpest king prawns, stuffed with spinach.
Lemon chicken and chilli squid – two takeaway favourites were fresh, tangy and delicious, nothing like the gloopy takeaway fare. Prawn toast made an appearance, looking and tasting unrecognisable – delicate prawn pate shaped into cylinders and rolled in crispy breadcrumbs. Even more unusual was a plate of sliced ox tongue and thinly carpaccio-ed duck with a red bean sauce.
Sesame-encrusted and sat in a sweet red sauce, a dish rather unglamorously described by our waitress as ‘spinach rolls’ quickly overtook the pork dumpling for me as the stand-out dish of the meal, with crispy lamb fairly close behind.
When we all thought we couldn’t eat another delicately-prepared morsel our waitress asked us whether we would prefer duck or seabass. Having seen the eponimous crispy duck with pancakes being served on a neighbouring table we opted for the seabass. Less than 10 minutes later a whole baked seabass was whisked onto our table. The glistening flesh falling off the bone, we somehow made space to pick it clean, even managing to polish off a plate of apple and banana toffee fritters with ice cream afterwards. Well, you’ve got to have the full experience.
My favourites were the pork and mushroom soup and spinach rolls. Joe and Steve were big fans of the pork char sui buns, which are I can safely say, the best char sui buns I’ve ever eaten. Chicken in lettuce was also a big hit. Not everything was universally loved – I wasn’t a massive fan of the lamb and celery – but put together the menu was fantastic. Everything was unusual and authentic and felt genuinely different. And all three of us made it through 19 dishes despite having had our three course Chilean meal for lunch.
Miles away from the Chinese takeaway you can find on every London street.
Shanghai soup and pork dumpling
Pork and mushroom soup
Chicken in lettuce
Prawns stuffed with spinach
Duck with red bean sauce
Chicken rolls with asparagus
Steamed scallops and cucumber
Beef and morning glory
Lamb and celery
Pork char sui buns
Apple and banana toffee fritters