Tag: Chinese

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]

Ye Shanghai, Shanghai, China

Shanghai has changed a lot over the years, and with the rise of the new wealth and the hunger for good food, there have been a lot of new exciting restaurants cropping up all over this metropolis. The area of Xintiandi, which did not even exist at the turn of the millenium, has become an affluent area for dining and entertainment in Shanghai. The pedestrianised area with the Shikumen architectural style represents one of the most successful redevelopment models.

While Ye Shanghai is a modern Shanghainese restaurant in Xintiandi, the name of the restaurant comes from a classic Chinese song from the 1930’s by the Shanghainese singer/actress Zhou Xuan, and the restaurant oozes the decadance of the fashionable Shanghai in the 1920’s/1930’s. In the evenings there’s a pianist playing music in the background.

It’s one of the restaurants that has been on my radar for a long time, and so I just had to check out this restaurant while I was in Shanghai. In fact, I ended up there twice in one month, so here’s an account on both visits:


Visit 1: 15 January 2012

The menu was quite extensive but one dish caught my eye straigh away: “Pot Pourri of 18 vegetables” – I could not possibly identify all 18 vegetables but certainly had cucumber, celery, yellow and red peppers and carrots. I was not even sure if there really were 18 different vegetables. However the dish had a nice refreshing dressing to go with it. Then I spotted Xiao Long Bao on the menu, and the crab meat and pork ones were supposed to be the specialty at Ye Shanghai, so I had no choice but to order that also. They were delicious with the pastry holding a generous amount of soup without any problems, and the pastry was not thick either. The soup base  did not leave a greasy flavour in the mouth afterwards – an absolute joy to eat.


For the next few courses, we had Crispy rice with chicken, prawns and mushrooms – this was a bit more bland than I expected, but nevertheless the dish was well cooked; Tianjin cabbage with Jinhua ham which was one of my favourite dishes anyway and my only complaint was that there was  just not enough ham (but there never would be); Dongpo Pork was delicious with a rich sweet soya sauce – the sauce was so nice that I could do with mantou (Chinese steamed buns) to soak up all the gravy, but it’s a shame that they didn’t do mantou.


For dessert, we ordered the Mango Pudding and the Ye Shanghai Steamed Black Sesame Rice-flavoured Cake. The latter looked like a piece of rich chocolate cake, but it was very sticky and gooey, and not a rich flavour at all – in fact it had a delicate flavour of black sesame (a bit like black sesame soup, but smoother), although it was not easy to take the two pieces fo cakes out from the steam basket because of how sticky and wobbly they were.


The meal was outstanding – easily one of the best meals I had in Shanghai. The food would have easily scored 9/10.

Visit 2 – 29 January 2012

Originally there was not going to be a second visit so soon, but many restaurants were in shutdown mode during Chinese New Year, even in a big city like Shanghai. The original plan of dining at 1221 did not materialise as it was closed, so in the end we decided to go to Ye Shanghai once again, especially because after the first meal we were curious about some of the other dishes. As it was our last meal in Shanghai before heading back to London, we decided to go with the classic Chinese dishes that we liked.

We ordered the Crab Roe Xiao Long Bao – while each dumpling consisted of a generous amount of soup, the flavour of the crab roe was somewhat lacking and, in my opinion, not as good as Nanxiang.

The Peking Duck came in two courses. The first course was the traditional duck skin with pancakes, and then the second course was stir-fried duck meat with lettuce. For the first course, instead of leaving everything for us to assemble, the waitress prepared the pancakes with the duck skin, scallion, cucumber and carrots for us. Nice thought but it took away part of the fun really. Also there was not enough duck but too much accompaniments, and the pancakes were a bit too thick also. For the second course of stir-fried duck meat with lettuce – the stir-fry was a bit more gooey than expected but that actually made the meat less likely to fall out from the lettuce – the flavour wasn’t quite even across the dish, so for certain mouthful the flavour of the duck was lacking.


We also ordered Stir-fried River Prawns, a classic dish that sounded and looked simple to do, but in fact really was a test of the cooking – it was a light refreshing dish, without the cornstarch paste taste that some incompetent restaurants would end up with. We also ordered Shanghai Stir-fried Rice Cakes, which was cooked with pork and vegetables – the dish was OK, nothing to write home about really. However the texture of the rice cake was not as nice as Restaurant 1931’s rice cake.


For the desserts, Russell chose the Mango Sago Cream with Pomelo while I had Glutinous Rice Balls with Osmanthus. Not being a fan of Russell’s dessert, I had a mouthful and it was actually much better than I expected – there was a nice balance of mango and pomelo flavours. For the rice balls, there was a generous amount, and the osmanthus gave the dish a more refined taste. Both were nicer than the desserts from the previous visit.


The food at this second visit was somewhat less impressive than the first one, with the Peking duck being a real let-down. But then this is a Shanghainese restaurant and so I should not expect Peking duck to match Dadong or even Quanjude.

This restaurant is a top choice for a nice meal with friends or with business colleagues – beautiful decor and professional service. There is a mixture of classic and modern Chinese dishes to choose from. Definitely a place for me to go back again next time I am in Shanghai.

Address: 338 Huang Pi Nan Road, Xintiandi, Shanghai, China
Telephone: +86 (21) 6311 2323
Website: www.elite-concepts.com/eatplusdrink.php?id=20

Opening Hours: Daily: Lunch 11:30am – 2:30pm ; Dinner 5:30pm – 10:30pm

Food: 8/10
Ambience: 5/5
Service: 5/5
Total: 18/20 [Based on 2 visits in January 2012]

Din Tai Fung, Shanghai, China

Din Tai Fung is a Taiwanese restaurant chain, but their xiao long bao is legendary. My godfather swears by it and he thinks that it’s one of the best places to have xiao long bao in the world. So naturally I just have to pay a visit to one of the branches as soon as I got off the plane in Shanghai – and it’s the branch in the Super Brand Mall in Pudong that I visited.

The restaurant was more or less packed even at 5pm! After settling down and ordered a nice pot of tieguanyin tea, it’s the difficult task of choosing the dishes from a menu which consists of mostly steamed buns, dumplings, noodles and other snacks. The list of xiao long bao was quite long and I just wished that I had a stomach large enough to try them all. But that’s not the case and so in the end we opted for:

Goose Liver and Chicken Xiao Long Bao, and Crab Meat and Pork Xiao Long Bao – Both were delicious and better than Minjiang restaurant in London (which should be the case anyway, even though Minjiang does do a mean xiao long bao) as there was less gelatine texture in the soup base inside the dumplings.


We also ordered two of the classic Shanghainese starters: Drunken Chicken which had a nice balance of meat and alcohol flavours; and Smoked Fish which was swimming in a rather sweet sauce.


The beef brisket with noodles soup was good standard fare – nothing spectacular, just comfort food for me. The Crab meat and roe with Pea Shoots was a nice dish, though it was verging on the very expensive side.


Fortunately none of the dishes were too large, and so we manage to find some more space in the stomach for the Soft gourd and Shrimp Xiao Long Bao. They had less intense flavour than the other xiao long bao we had earlier, but they were more refreshing and certainly not a filling that I had come across before. It was a nice way to finish the meal.


Even though by this point we were quite full, I just couldn’t bear the thought of missing out on the dessert, especially because it  was Red Bean Paste and Chestnut Xiao Long Bao – two of my favourite ingredients in a xiao long bao. They were very different in the sense that there was no soup base in the dumplings to deal with. They were not too sweet and I really enjoyed them, though probably more for the novelty value.


On the whole, it was a very enjoyable dinner. The very informal setting makes it a perfect place to go out with friends and family for a relaxed meal. Is Din Tai Fung’s xiao long bao the best in the world? That’s a matter of opinion – personally after this visit I have managed to sample some other xiao long bao that are better.

Address:   Unit 24, 3F, Super Brand Mall, No. 168, West Lujiazui Road, Shanghai, China
Telephone: +86 021 50478882
Website: www.dintaifung.com.tw

Opening Hours: Daily: 11:00am – 11:00pm

Food: 9/10
Ambience: 3/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 16/20 [Based on visit in January 2012 ]