Tag: 20/20

A Wong, London, United Kingdom (Part 2 – A La Carte Dinner)

A Wong, London, United Kingdom (Part 2 – A La Carte Dinner)

This is the second part of the review of Restaurant A Wong in London – if you haven’t read the first part on the A Wong’s dim sum lunch, you should also read it!

The style of cooking at A Wong does not resemble what you find in a typical Chinese restaurant – without experiencing the food, often people would have mistaken it as “westernised” Chinese cuisine. However, Chef Andrew Wong has travelled around China extensively before opening his restaurant and his wealth of knowledge in regional Chinese cuisine, through his research, amazes me – the way I’d describe his cooking is modern Chinese cooking, giving some of the classic dishes a 21st-century twist and improving the dishes by taking a different perspective on the cooking techniques. Not everyone would understand or appreciate Chef Wong’s work – I have heard a few Chinese people not liking this place, because of the price point but also not the standard fare in other Chinese restaurants.

I have dined at A Wong many times over the years, and the menu has constantly evolved – the following are some of the dishes I have eaten and enjoyed in the last 2 years.

One thing I rarely order at Chinese restaurants is the crab claw (釀蟹鉗). Don’t get me wrong – I love stuffed crab claws but many restaurants do it the same way and it’s almost like coming straight out of a production line. The way it’s done at A Wong – I must admit I have not seen it done like this before. It resembles the look of a sea urchin (except the colour) – the “spines” are actually made from deep-fried rice vermicelli, and then stuck into the round ball containing the crab meat and scallop. The flavour does remind me of the typical crab claw, but this is far less greasy than the usual crab claws, and with the ultra-crispyness of the vermicelli, the contrast in texture is more pronounced and interesting.

Another of my favourite snacks / appetisers is the Chengdu street tofu – the mixture of the soy sauce and chilli sauce works so well together with the beancurd, crunchy peanuts, the preserved vegetables and chopped spring onions. Definitely order one for each person – it’s not something you would want to share! Whilst it has chilli oil in the sauce, it’s not too spicy and so unless you are totally intolerable to chilli heat, you should be fine with this!

One of the signature dishes which is perfect for sharing is the Shaanxi Lamb Burger (肉夾饃): the “burger” is the gua bao which is a kind of open steamed buns from Fujian province in China, and is a perfect way to make your own burger. The filling is made from a mixture of pulled lamb (slow-cooked in a sauce for a few hours), shredded lettuce, pickled onion and pomegranate salad, coriander, white sesame seeds and a sesame dressing – you mix them all together and then just fill the bao up! The first time I had this, it did remind me of my trip to Xi’an – with the influence of the Muslim community in the cuisine in that part of China. The “Xinjiang” salad is almost linking the Chinese section of the Silk Road together, and this plays an important part of the muslim culture in China.

Another sharing dish that I have discovered and am very impressed with is the “moo shu” pork (木須肉). It’s a dish that I would never dream of ordering usually because it’s done quite badly in many Chinese restaurants, but I fell in love with it when Andrew gave it to me to try! The flavours of the pork and wood ear fungus are perfectly balanced with the sauce, and the different ingredients provide an interesting mix of texture. The dish is served with pancakes, hoi sin sauce and spring onions, so you would eat it in the same way as Peking duck / crispy duck. For the gluten-intolerant folks, the pancakes can be replaced by lettuce, which is more similar to what many Chinese restaurants would do.

A dish that I haven’t seen for years was the steamed king crab with egg white (賽螃蟹) – this was actually an Imperial dish created in the Qing dynasty in China. Empress Dowager Cixi wanted to eat crab but the Imperial kitchen didn’t have any, and so the chefs cooked the egg white to mimick the texture of the crab meat! It’s not easy to achieve this kind of texture in the egg white, and so I haven’t seen it much outside China – I think the last time I saw this dish was in Shanghai over 10 years ago!

A relatively new dish is the steamed cod cheek – this is served on the bone…. I am not so sure how non-Chinese people view this dish as you have to know where to find all the meat, but it’s no challenge for Chinese to eat it (I’d like to think that it’s in our genes to eat fish cheek). However, the sauce is the star here – the mixture of the sweetness, sourness (typical flavour of Hunan cuisine) and the warm heat from the chilli in the sauce is a perfect accompaniment to a bowl of plain rice!

A few other dishes are worth ordering, especially if you happen to order a bowl of rice to soak up the sauces:

From February 2022 onwards, the restaurant will no longer offer a la carte menu in the evenings. Instead a set menu for the day will be served. I suspect some of these dishes I have mentioned will be featured on this menu – I will provide an update after my next visit to A Wong for this “secret dining” experience.

Address: 70 Wilton Road, London, SW1V 1DE, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)207 828931
Website: https://www.awong.co.uk/

Opening Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 12PM -2:30PM, 5:30PM -10PM

Food: 10/10
Ambience: 5/5
Service: 5/5
Total: 20/20 [Based on numerous visits 2013 – 2021]

A Wong, London, United Kingdom (Part 1 – Dim Sum)

A Wong, London, United Kingdom (Part 1 – Dim Sum)

I’ve lost count how many times I have been to Restaurant A Wong over the years – as long as someone wants to have a good Chinese meal, this is one of the very few Chinese restaurants in London I would take them to. The list of friends who want to go there with me seems to be growing all the time, especially in the last few months when the restaurant won 2 Michelin stars, the first Chinese restaurant outside Asia to have achieved this level of success.

I have to split the review of this restaurant into 2 parts, otherwise it will be too long to read in one go. Also the dim sum lunch and the a la carte dishes are quite different and I think they merit separate reviews.

For dim sum, this is not the place to go if you only want to spend £20 per person (go to Chinatown instead!). However, the dim sum lunch here is impressive, whether you order a la carte or the “Touch of the Heart” set menu.

Take the Xiao Long Bao (小籠包) for example – being a real lover of Shanghai soup dumplings and also been to Shanghai several times, I’d like to think that I know a thing or two about Xiao Long Bao. Many Chinese restaurants in the UK that serve this dish can be disappointing (Min Jiang in Kensington being the only exception). At A Wong, don’t expect a list of fillings to choose from, and you won’t find a serving dish of vinegar with julienned ginger on the side – instead, the vinegar is already injected into the soup dumplings. The dumpling is plump and filled with a generous amount of filling, whilst the skin is thin and translucent – unless you pick this up in a rough way, the skin doesn’t break apart despite the weight. A fine example of a good xiao long bao.

There are some of the standard dim sum such as har gow (蝦餃) and siu mai (燒賣) but they have additional elements added to them…..

One of the more recent additions to the dim sum menu is the “scallop cheung fun” (帶子腸粉) – Isle of Mull seared scallop and honey glazed Iberico pork cheung fun. Instead of just steamed rice roll with scallop and pork instead, the A Wong version is presented like a sandwich – the layers of deep-fried spring roll pastry gives this a very interesting contrast in texture, and the flavour and the delicious fat of the Iberico pork works so well with the scallop.

Another dish that I really like is the wonton with garlic, chilli oil and soy poached yolk (红油抄手) – the addition of the egg yolk just gives the sauce a creaminess texture. But be warned – if you can’t cope with spicy food, you may not enjoy this as much. It won’t blow your head off, but it does have a kick to it. And for those who loves spicy food, keep the sauce and order a bowl of plain rice – You won’t regret it!

When it comes to presentation, the 999 layered scallop puff with XO oil (帶子酥) does look impressive. The threads of pastry wrapping round the filling and the delicate texture reminds me of silk worms in their cocoons (not that there’s any silk worms in the dish!). The flavour is amazing also.

Other dim sum dishes you may want to explore would include the abalone flaky tart with aged balsamic vinegar (酥皮鲍鱼撻) and rabbit and carrot glutinous puff (兔肉咸水角).

No matter how many dishes you have ordered or how full you feel, one piece of advice – make sure you order the steamed duck yolk custard bun (流沙包)! The salted duck egg yolk custard bursts out of the perfectly shaped bun when you cut into it – imagine when you cut into the most decadent lava cake and the liquid just oozes out! The custard bun is like that, but million times better!

As I mentioned, there will be a separate post about the a la carte dishes…. (When I get round to write it)

Address: 70 Wilton Road, London, SW1V 1DE, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)207 828931
Website: https://www.awong.co.uk/

Opening Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 12PM -2:30PM, 5:30PM -10PM

Food: 10/10
Ambience: 5/5
Service: 5/5
Total: 20/20 [Based on numerous visits 2013 – 2021]

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Rock, United Kingdom

Sometimes part of the fun of planning a holiday is to come up with excuses for the destination. For me, I have mastered this art to a new level: a weekend break in Ludlow in Shropshire has turned into a 10-day long holiday, including a “detour” of over 200 miles to Rock in Cornwall. This year I decided a two-night stay in Rock would be a good idea – with both evening meals at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw. Last year when we went there for one night, the only thing in Rock that we manage to visit was Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, which had opened for merely a month and was still finding its feet in the new venue of St Enodoc Hotel at that point. Within a week of sorting out my reservation of two dinners at the restaurant (it was that good last year that one dinner would simply feel too much of a wasted effort to travel all the way there) and the stay at the newly-refurbished hotel, the restaurant was awarded two Michelin stars. It was a good sign and it was just what I had expected.

Now that I have been to the restaurant a few times and got to know the staff a bit, it felt like going to visit old friends rather than just a visit to a restaurant. The service was friendly and informal, and it was nice to see that they were not trying to cram in more seats – the restaurant still felt spacious enough that each table still had its privacy.

As the restaurant only offers one single set menu these days (which was a wise move given the capacity), I was concerned about dining on two consecutive evenings in the same place. However, I was assured that I would get a different menu on the second evening.

Dinner 1 (19 April 2011)

The amuse-bouche was mackerel with horseradish salad and wholegrain bread – it was an impressive start: a deliciously moist piece of fish.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Mackeral with Horseradish salad on Wholegrain bread

The first course was John Dory with tarragon, St Enodoc asparagus, bacon and hazelnut: the fish was firm and beautifully cooked, and the tarragon sauce was bold without overpowering the flavour of the fish.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - John Dory

The next course was crab salad with apple and fennel. Crab was one of my favourite seafood. The crab here was fresh and cooked nicely (anything less than that, I’d have thought “what a waste of food”). The combination of the apple and crab pate worked well in this very refreshing dish.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Crab Salad

The third course was bream with saffron, mussels, olives and pepper. These ingredients produced a rather bold but refined bouillabaisse flavour. It was as if I was suddenly transported to the south of France. Another impressive dish.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Bream

The “main” course  was turbot with lamb belly, beetroot and rosemary. As it’s lamb belly, the dish had a rather strong smell which could be problematic for some people if they did not know the strength of that smell. But for me, it’s not a problem. I thought that the lamb belly would overpower all the other flavours of the dish, but to my surprise it provided a nice balance to the sweetness of the beetroot discs and jus, and the flavour of the turbot was not buried underneath all these other flavours. Another well-executed dish.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Turbot

After such a flavoursome main course, it would be hard to find something to cleanse the palate sufficiently for the desserts. But here it was: Rhubarb jelly with vanilla cream, rhubarb and ginger sorbet. It was a light pre-dessert, with the rhubarb pieces not too sharp or overpowering. I usually would not go for ginger biscuit but this one had a nice clean taste to it without being too much of the ginger taste lingering afterwards. All the ingredients just worked very well together.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Rhubarb Jelly with Vanilla Cream

The dessert was chocolate orange cheesecake with orange-yoghurt sorbet, cocoa syrup and orange curd. If there’s anything I did not like about this meal, it would have been the use of milk chocolate but that’s more a personal preference of  dark chocolate and I thought the taste of milk chocolate was a bit wishy-washy and might have worked better with a darker chocolate which would give a stronger body of flavour. However, the orange curd and sorbet were delicious.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Chocolate Orange Cheesecake

Petit fours

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Petit Fours

Dinner 2 (20 April 2011)

For the second evening, we had a different menu.

The first course was lemon sole with crispy oyster, cucumber and dill. As usual, the fish was cooked to perfection – at this point I must say I’d expect nothing less than perfection really on the fish-cooking front. The sauce had a flavour that was a cross between mayonnaise and tartare sauce, and it went well with the fish and the oyster. If there’s anything I had to nitpick on this dish, it would have been the batter of the oyster – I thought it might have worked better with a lighter batter.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Lemon Sole

The second course that arrived at our table won hands down on the colour alone: Bream with beetroot barley. The vibrant maroon red colour of the beetroot was stunning on a white plate. Often at many places the beetroot would have such a vinegary taste that it would ruin the rest of the ingredients, but not here – the beetroot had sufficient flavour without overpowering the fish. The smoked bream pate on top of the beetroot and parsley had a nice flavour, and the these two main ingredients provided an unforgettable mixture of texture and taste.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Bream

The third course was sea bass, brown shrimps and shellfish sauce. Often I’d get very frustrated with people overcooking the seabass, to the point where the flesh of the fish would just disintegrate at the slightest touch. Here, the cooking was once again impossible to fault. The shellfish sauce was sweet and provided an interesting extra dimension to the dish.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Sea Bass

The main course was turbot with piccalilli sauce and ham hock – again a combination of flavours and texture that worked perfectly together: the freshness of the fish came through in the middle of the saltiness of the ham hock and the vinegar flavour of the piccalilli.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Turbot

As we enjoyed the meal so much, we decided to just be a bit greedy and added the cheese course. We had a selection of six cheeses: Wyfe of Bath, Stratton Belle, Tunworth, Keltic Gold, Davidstow ‘3 Year Old’ Crackler, Beenleigh.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Cheese

I must admit when I saw the menu, I was not looking forward to the pre-dessert of Sea buckthorn cream and sorbet. Maybe it was a bad experience I had with sea buckthorn elsewhere the year before. But the concern was totally unfounded – this dish was so nice that I could easily have had another one without any problem. The ultra-smooth sea buckthorn cream and sorbet were refreshing and light. It was a truly pleasant surprise.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Sea Buckthorn

The dessert was chocolate sponge, with coffee syrup and vanilla ice-cream. This was a variation of chocolate fondant with a smooth ice-cream. The syrup had a nice sweet flavour. Once again the meal finished on a high note.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Chocolate Sponge

Both dinners were exceptional, but if I really had to choose, the second dinner had a slight winning edge – it was probably the best meal I’ve had in the past 12 months also (and this was reflected in the perfect score).

Considering the size of the kitchen and the number of staff, it was impressive that Nathan Outlaw managed to produce such a consistent set of dishes. If you are after really fancy elaborate cooking in the Heston Blumenthal or John Campbell style, you won’t find it here. This is returning to the basics: good quality fresh food with simpler cooking style in order to let the ingredients speak for themselves. Nathan’s use of locally-sourced seafood coupled with flawless cooking has made this one of the best restaurants not just in the Southwest England, but in the whole of UK.

My Favourite Restaurant is here!

Address: St. Enodoc Hotel, Rock, Cornwall, PL27 6LA, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44(0)1208 863394
Website: www.nathan-outlaw.com

Opening Hours: 
Lunch: Friday & Saturday 12:30 – 14:00
Dinner: Tuesday to Saturday: 19:00-21:00

Food: 10/10
Ambience: 5/5
Service: 5/5
Total: 20/20 [Based on two visits in April 2011]