By Jonathan Hatchman, Food Editor, @TLE_Food
Opened as the second restaurant within The Shard – the skyscraper that still divides opinion between Londoners – back in 2013, Hutong is now perched on floor 33 above Aqua Shard (owned by the same company). As well as the view, as is often the case with this type of skyscraper inhabiting restaurant, the location of London’s first Hutong, based on the Hong Kong original, has contributed to the venue’s popularity, although the building itself does seem to have managed to over shun the food that’s on offer. Unfortunately the late-July torrential rain did manage to obstruct the view upon our recent visit, peering through a cloud of bleak grey, but we couldn’t have asked for a better table from which to tuck in to our lunch, placed just centimetres from a floor-to-ceiling window that looks down onto Borough Market, the Thames and across to the City’s neighbouring skyscrapers.
Throughout the restaurant’s lunch service, the atmosphere is surprisingly tranquil, juxtaposed to the insane rush just across the river. The restaurant’s hospitable staff members manage to accentuate this element of calm, as well as the swish, albeit unpretentious, interior which even includes an illuminated wishing tree. Another thing that popularly surrounds Hutong is the often-high price of their signature dishes; the new set lunch menu on offer, however, is remarkably reasonable. Priced at £35 per person, there’s a concoction of nine dishes to share, all served at good pace, making the whole affair ideal for a quick business lunch.
Beginning with a Monkfish and Enochi Mushroom Soup, the taste is not unpleasant, yet the texture is awfully gelatinous, ruining the dish for both of our party. Fortunately, a selection of Dim Sum, from the restaurant’s newly appointed Dim Sum chef, is soon delivered in order to redeem our palates from the slimy soup. Served in a steam basket, the lightly spiced Chilean Sea Bass is the most impressive, although the Prawn and Vegetable parcels are also wonderful. Given the chance we could’ve devoured the whole kitchen’s stock between the two of us. As for the main event, a platter of titanic Guaiwei Prawns and slivers of fried Cuttlefish is good, albeit spicier than we’d expected, joined by a pickled Chilli sauce. Naturally, a menu that specialises in North Chinese cuisine will feature some chilli kick, although we’re not forewarned when ordering. Thankfully, this doesn’t prove a problem for us, although less adventurous eaters should be aware. As well as the Prawns and Cuttlefish, the menu also treats us to a gargantuan portion of Yangtze Chicken that’s mixed with String Beans and King Oyster Mushrooms, served alongside Lettuce leaves, which are intended to wrap the Stir-fried Chicken, similarly to Duck and Pancakes. As if these two mains weren’t plentiful enough, we’re each provided with a portion of Rice as well as some Broccoli, which makes good use of the stem, doused in fragrant Ginger. The result is unbelievably filling, although unbelievably reasonable in terms of price.
Dessert is not included in the lunch menu (nor is it necessary), but looking at the menu it’s just too difficult to resist. Lychee Sorbet, not Ice Cream, is deliciously refreshing, yet it’s the Golden Sesame Dumplings, perfectly round and bursting with sweet Apple and Cinnamon paste that are an absolute triumph.
Hutong can be found at Level 33, The Shard, 31 St. Thomas Street, London, SE1 9RY and their set lunch menu is available from Monday – Sunday between 12– 12.45pm.