Posts Tagged With: Efficient service

A View to Kill For: A Chinese Soirée at Hutong

Copyright of Hutong. Sourced from Hutong website

Copyright of Hutong. Sourced from Hutong website

Cuisine: Chinese

Address: Level 33, The Shard, 31 St Thomas Street, SE1 9RY

Area: London Bridge

Nearest Station: London Bridge

Tel.: 020 7478 0540

Website: http://www.aquahutong.co.uk/

Pricing: High

Good For: Views to die for, Atmospheric soirée, Feasting with friends, Place for romance, Smart-casual dining, Efficient service

I can’t quite remember the circumstances under which it happened, but at some point during my birthday drinks I was assigned the task of booking a table at Hutong for my group of friends. We were all given such tasks during a fit of merry proactivity; it was universally decided that Hutong would come first. Hardly fair for the birthday boy, I thought, considering I had just organised a killer night at Little Nan’s Bar (still riding that train).

Since this evening was my baby as well as the first event of what I guess we can now call our Dinner Club, I was a bit nervous as to whether Hutong could deliver the quality experience we were hoping for – after all, some of the reviews I’d read decried the prices charged for mediocre food, along with the ridiculous waiting time to make a reservation (I found that around about 5pm seemed to be the best time to call their reservation hotline). Additionally, if any of the other twelve Dinner Club members flaked out at the last minute, it would have left me being charged £20 per head for their absence, and I’m not sure I really am that generous.

Naturally, such mishaps would have left me feeling just a bit embarrassed, something my friends probably would have constantly reminded me of, because they’re nice like that.

I needn’t have worried. From the moment we arrived, just in time for sunset, we had a great evening. Firstly, you are most definitely paying for the setting: there are some outstanding views across the City, made more exciting by the new generation of skyscrapers rising up in the Bishopsgate/Gracechurch areas. Being up on the 33rd floor certainly offers a different perspective on how London looks – and having our own private room in the northwest corner certainly helped.

Sunset over London

Sunset over London

Staring down my nose at those in the City. Ha!

Staring down my nose at those in the City. Ha!

This enjoyment was further enhanced by the staff, who were very unobtrusive in letting us chat and mingle as we admired the views and waited for everyone to arrive – quite a nice and delicate touch.

Blazing orange over London

Blazing orange over London

Once we were all settled, it was decided that as the token ‘Chinese’ person in the group, my friend (check out her blog here, it’s rather lovely) would do the ordering for us. She was suitably helped by our waiter, who advised fairly accurately how much we would need to feed a whole table of 13 – we hit the mark of satisfied-but-not-stuffed pretty well.

And so the cavalcade of food began, each dish arriving in very quick succession, ensuring that our table – and our stomachs – was never empty.

We had quite a range of dishes – the benefits of being a large group and able to order huge amounts – that included pork dumplings (a suitable start to the night), Chinkiang pork ribs (succulent and extremely tasty), crispy de-boned lamb ribs (could not get enough of this) and Sichuan chilli chicken (these were an astonishing savoury delight), amongst many others.

Duck sliced at the table, as it should be

Duck sliced at the table, as it should be

One highlight of the evening was of course Peking duck. Carved at the table, as it should be, the duck that gave its life for us tonight blessed us with superbly crispy skin and such delicious and soft fat – the least you’d expect for £58 a duck. The second serving of the duck, once we were done with the skin, was stir-fried mince with onions and spices, a wonderful thing to mix in with plain rice. We all hankered after the duck, but alas one duck just about squeezes out enough meat for 13 people. Would it have been extravagant for us to order one more? Maybe. But it would have been tasteful extravagance, I think.

Spotlight on the night's champion

Spotlight on the night’s champion

Another highlight was the signature Red Lantern – a basket full of Sichuan dried chillis, Sichuan peppercorns, and crispy-fried soft shell crab. Aesthetically, it is very eye-catching, all reds and golds mixed together very auspiciously. Gastronomically, the crab was all perfect crunchiness and flavour, and the mix of the numbing peppercorns with the fieriness of the chillis was just about right. Again, it was a tight squeeze for nearly all of us (nearly – one of us has an unfortunately fatal relationship with shellfish) to get some crab.

Auspicious golds and red

Auspicious golds and red

Well-satisfied with what we ordered, we were rather pleased that there was space for dessert: crispy red bean cake (earthy sweetness in lightly crunchy pastry sheets), sticky sesame balls (gooey and not too sweet) and the cutest sweet thing I have seen yet this year: hedgehog-inspired steamed custard buns.

Edible pygmy hedgehogs - living the dream!!

Edible pygmy hedgehogs – living the dream!!

We’d been talking earlier about having pygmy hedgehogs frolicking in my garden (a serious and mature conversation, I assure you), so to have a tray of custard buns arrayed before us, with hedgehog spikiness and little black eyes was good fun. I’m still unsure as to whether it’s pure coincidence or whether they overheard our conversation (if so, for their reaction to involve hedgehog desserts as opposed to slowly walking away is a credit to them), but it filled us with endless delight. It also gave us the opportunity to play with our food. Eeeee!

Hungry hungry hedgehog

Hungry hungry hedgehog

All in all, it was a very pleasant and leisurely evening: a perfect setting, unobtrusive but helpful service and well-presented and flavourful food – the inaugural night of our Dinner Club had been quite the enjoyable success.

St Paul's in light and shadow

St Paul’s in light and shadow

And the best part? Our wallets were spared a massive hit. Sure, you could get just as filling and delightful a meal elsewhere for cheaper, but you wouldn’t have the service, view or the setting. At about £39 per head (sans alcohol, mind), we were able to enjoy all that as well as treat ourselves to a veritable feast, with space to order more if we wanted without seeming extravagant (still could have done with another Peking duck though). It certainly pays to have lots of friends to share food and bills with – as they say, a burden shared is a burden halved.

VERDICT – A good place. Overall, a memorable and enjoyable experience. You could go for the setting alone and be satisfied, but thankfully the food and service were also up to scratch. I’ve always readily enjoyed Chinese food as a banquet for many, and I would heartily recommend that you go to Hutong for the same. Though I’m sure as a romantic setting for your significant other, it would also be very impressive, you big spender you…

Currently listening to: Our Lady Peace – All My Friends

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A brush with tiger’s milk: Having ceviche at, er, Ceviche

Copyright of Ceviche. Sourced from Ceviche website

Copyright of Ceviche. Sourced from Ceviche website

Cuisine: Peruvian

Address: 17 Frith Street, W1D 4RG

Area: Soho

Nearest Station: Leicester Square/Tottenham Court Road

Tel.: 020 7292 2040

Website: http://cevicheuk.com/

Pricing: Medium

Good For: Sharing many dishes, Introduction to new foods, Efficient service, Good cocktails, Zing, Buzzing atmosphere

Wow. I’d never tried octopus that good before. Seriously. The texture, the taste, the marinade… I would decimate the world’s population of octopus if I could guarantee that they would end up as this dish.

Let’s rewind a few hours. I was feeling rather sluggish after helping get a birthday girl absolutely hammered the night before (she’d boldly claimed that she was “remarkably sober” after dinner. Was that the reddest flag you’ve ever seen?), and was in need of a hearty meal, for I can assure you that thin, cold pizza, no matter how tasty, does not quite cut it.

I was therefore a bit concerned that my suggestion of Ceviche for dinner that night with a friend was a bit ill-thought through – they specialise in small Peruvian dishes, which to my mind did not quite scream, “I am a meal that will kick your hangover’s arse”.

I need not have worried though. Through a skilful and deft selection process (me and my friend are naturals at this, obviously), we managed to secure for ourselves some pretty amazing dishes.

And what was very surprising was the speed at which these things arrived at our bar-side perches. The place was full and they were only able to give us stools at the bar – not too cramped, not too uncomfortable, but all just a bit high to be good for normal-sized *cough* people like my good self – but that did not seem to get in the way of swift service: I hadn’t even had time to decide what my back-up cocktail would be (my original non-alcoholic choice not being available) when BOOM, the first dishes arrived.

To start with, we had the Don Ceviche (fresh sea bass ceviche in Amarillo chilli tiger’s milk, limo chilli, sweet potato and red onions) to enliven our taste buds and whet our appetites. For those not in the know, ceviche is essentially good cuts of raw fish, usually sea bass, marinated in a flavoured and spiced citrus mix that is often known as tiger’s milk. A very tantalising dish, of which we hoped the Don Ceviche would be an apt introduction.

The sea bass was chunky and soft, with a great texture in each bite. The marinade was zingy and crisp, with the chilli working together with the citrus/vinegar to really sting your mouth (note to self: do not have acidic dishes when you have a mouth ulcer… ouch). It was flavourful and rather more-ish.

The Lomo Saltado (beef fillet, sliced, flame cooked with red onions, tomatoes and proper chips) was ordered under stern instructions from my brother, Mr Beef Man himself, and it did not disappoint. The strips of beef were rare and tender (a bit too rare for my friend), and had a delicious umami feel about them, encased in a slightly smoky grill flavour. The oily marinade was good for dipping the chips into, but maybe if it had been made a bit saucier, we would have something more substantial to work with.

Don Ceviche and his companions, Pulpo y Chorizo

Don Ceviche and his companions, Pulpo y Chorizo

But the stand-out dish, as you’ve probably guessed (if you were paying attention earlier on), was the pulpo y chorizo (marinated and braised octopus and chorizo skewer, with a samphire and black quinoa salad). I will admit that the chorizo was the main draw for us, but woah – that octopus made a name for itself. ‘Succulent’ is definitely the word that springs to mind: juicy and tender with real substance to it, it was the texture of the octopus that really won me over. And it was a perfect match with the chorizo and the samphire salad (and I guess the quinoa too…? Slightly superfluous though). We both enjoyed this so much that we had a second portion sent over straight from the kitchen to satisfy our salivating appetites.

As a bit of an after-thought, we thought that the second order of pulpo y chorizo would benefit from being accompanied by some chicken saltado tequeños (wanton [sic] fritters filled with cheese, chard and Botija olives), primarily because we were intrigued to find out what wanton food was like. It was rather restrained; tasty and chunky filling, crispy and thin skin… a good fried dumpling, but disappointingly not excessive or gratuitous or even faintly promiscuous.

This was all a good spread for two people (if perhaps a bit pricier than expected… curse our hungry stomachs and their desire for a second wave of food), and most certainly met the criteria of being a hearty, fulfilling meal. Furthermore, although I was a bit wary of hair of the dog, my El Beso cocktail (lemongrass infused pisco, fresh lemongrass, lime, ginger and guanabana juice) was an excellent pick-me-up, keeping with the zingy feel of the evening – a kiss, if you will, to rekindle the life in my hangover-ridden body (eerruugh cheeeesy).

As the service was quick and efficient, and the food was swiftly delivered to our perches, we were in, fed and out all in just over an hour – and that only because we decided to skip dessert and go to Haagen Dazs in Leicester Square in order to develop diabetes.

VERDICT – Highly recommended. It has a fun and fresh atmosphere, which when teamed up with quick service and some killer dishes makes this a properly good dinner outing. Ceviche did a good job in introducing me and my friend to Peruvian food, and did so in an unashamed and bold manner which fits in with the rather vibrant and lively feel they’ve got going there. But less talk, more pulpo y chorizo, mmkay?

Currently listening to: Chthonic – Kaoru

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