70 Wilton Road,
Tel. 0207 828 8931
Food type: Modern Chinese
Nearest tube: Victoria
Website: A. Wong
Plenty of posts will be coming up in the next couple of days as I try to catch up with all the eating that I have been doing. As part of my birthday celebrations, the ‘Pies’ were kind enough to take me for lunch at a restaurant of my choosing in London. After much discussion, the consensus was to go to a Chinese restaurant, so we could partake in some noodles. It is Chinese custom to eat noodles on a birthday as it represents ‘long life’. This is when we then decided on A. Wong, a restaurant I have been meaning to go to, and have heard plenty of good things about from Felix and Kang. Chef Andrew Wong actually read Chemistry at Oxford University and Social Anthropology at LSE before setting out to cook in a kitchen. He subsequently went to Westminster Kingsway Catering College, and after a 6 month tour around China, took over the family business presenting his own style of modern Chinese cuisine.
Unlike many Chinese restaurants and takeaways in England which focus mainly on Cantonese cooking with a few smattering of dishes from other regions, A. Wong tries to showcase the 8 main Chinese cuisines. The menu is relatively short with a Dim Sum menu available during lunch and a more formal Tasting menu (Taste of China) available for dinner. There is also a Peking Duck menu available although they do require you to pre-order 48 hours in advance. For good reason too as Wong’s version requires 14 intricate steps. Being lunch, we ordered dim sum, many of which has been given Wong’s unique twist. A small bonus is that dim sum items can be ordered individually, so if you are dining alone you can try a wider variety of items.
The classic taro croquette features a soft cooked quail’s egg with a runny yolk. The croquette had a salt and pepper seasoning similar to the one you get with crispy squid, and a dipping sauce made from ginger and spring onions. The croquette was airy and light and the egg perfectly timed. We then split a roasted pork bun among the three of us, mainly because they had pretty much sold out by the time we sat down for our 1 pm lunch. For all his unique twists, this was very classical take – the roasted pork filling moist, with a good sweet and salty balance, and the pastry butter and melt in your mouth.
A couple of steamed items now followed. The classic Shanghai dumpling (XLB) eschews the traditional ginger and vinegar dipping sauce for a modern spherified version. The dumpling had a good pork soup filling and was generally very delicious, but I felt the molecular wizardry had slightly dampened down the kick you get from the vinegar. This is a common problem with spherification where the addition of the sodium alginate mutes the flavour of the liquid it is added to. When eating the dumpling, I just felt that it would have been better off with actual vinegar instead.
What I really enjoyed were Wong’s take on Har Gao – the skin crystal clear and translucent with a slightly chewy texture, the prawn having a firm, bouncy texture and the addition of the sweet chilli foam on top genius. This would have easily graced any Michelin starred restaurant in Hong Kong. I also really enjoyed Wong’s version of a Siu Mai – filled to the brim with prawn and pork. Instead of the crab roe on top, there is a little pork crackling on top of the brunoise of cucumber in chilli oil.
Next, a cinnamon bark incense was brought to the table, filling our dining space with the sweet, woody aroma you would get when walking into a Chinese herbal tea shop. This was followed by a tea egg cooked in a water bath at 63 degrees, on top of a nest of crispy filo pastry. The tea staining was very gentle, but was helped from the aroma from the incense. Breaking the egg, the dish is flooded with golden, runny yolk which is mixed with the strands of filo pastry. Another very tasty dish.
Up next was the mushroom and truffle steam bun dusted with a little mushroom powder to mimic a chestnut mushroom. The bun was light and airy with just the right amount of moisture from the steaming process, complemented by the meaty, woody and earthy filling. Not to be outdone, the sticky sesame dumpling featured a foie gras filling which combined sweet, salty, creamy and rich in one bite. I absolutely loved these sesame dumplings.
For the obligatory bowl of noodles, I tried the egg noodles tossed in sea urchin butter and topped with shrimp roe. One word – WOW! The noodles, not dissimilar to udon, was dusted with umami rich shrimp roe with a broth so amazingly packed full of pork and seafood flavour on the side. Serious broth here, so intense and complex in flavour you wonder if the chef starts work at 6 am every day just to get the broth simmering. I liked the little touch of serving the broth on the side, so that the customer can add the noodles to them, preventing the age-old problem of the noodles being soggy. This definitely ranks in my top 10 dishes of the year.
After the highs of the noodles, the next two dishes suffered from a common problem – being too dry. The cheung fun – stuffed with crispy bean curd and picked white crab meat was a unique twist on the classic cheung fun with crispy cruller. There was just not enough wetness from the little drizzle sauce from the pickling of the cockles that came with it. The crab had an odd, powdery texture to it which just did not seem right. Similarly the ‘Breakfast in Causeway Bay’ of sticky rice roll and crispy rice dough sticks, a play on the congee and cruller, had nice flavour but was dry.
My skewer of wasabi prawn (from the street food menu) was one of the most more-ish things I have eaten. The tail perfectly set with just the gentlest hint of wasabi and a crunchy head full of creamy brains. I’m not sure what the prawn crackers added to the whole thing, but it didn’t detract from the eating experience either.
The pièce de résistance, and final dish, was the signature duck yolk custard bun – made with salted duck egg yolks, with a crispy caramelised bottom and soft fluffy bun. The bun is decorated to make it look like a peach which is supposed to bring longevity to those who eat them (so another symbolic thing to eat on a birthday). I doubt I will ever eat another custard bun as good as Wong’s in my lifetime.
I enjoyed my meal at A. Wong. There are flashes of sheer brilliance in the cooking here with some very memorable dishes like the noodles with shrimp roe and custard bun which were unique but also extremely delicious. His classic dim sums such as the har gao was spot on, and you’d be fooled if it had come out from a high-end kitchen in Hong Kong. On occasion, the twists he introduces in the dishes may not add much to the eating experience. The Shanghai dumplings was well made, but the spherified vinegar just did not add anything to the dish that a dash of vinegar would not have. Nor were the cheung fun helped by the pickling liquor from the cockles instead of the traditional soy dipping sauce. I know many people have asked the question ‘Why does A.Wong not have a star?’ Honestly, I think Michelin have got it right here – there are plenty of good dishes which are extremely tasty, but on occasion there are a few dishes which felt contrived and overworked. It is a case of close, but not quite there yet. However, Wong is an exciting chef and I am sure that over time as he refines his cooking further a macaron will be forthcoming.