Does an average diner reach the same conclusions about restaurants as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Tom Parker Bowles and reader Sam Pope compare notes on A. Wong.
Tom Parker Bowles is a food writer and restaurant critic for the Mail on Sunday. His latest cookbook is Let’s Eat Meat.
Sam Pope is a designer from Greenwich who eats out around five times a month. Her best eating out experience was at Richard Corrigan’s Lindsay House 20 years ago and has yet to be beaten, although Hix Soho comes a close second.
Andrew Wong’s restaurant in LondonVictoria is a dramatic modernisation of his late father’s restaurant – Kym’s. The fresh new space has a bright dining room with a view over the big open kitchen, and a more atmospheric area just to the left. It brings together cuisine from all over China, and the menu is divided into snacks, dim sum (only available at lunch), wok, dishes (only available at dinner) and dessert. Expect everything from prawn crackers to Scotch beef rump with ginger and oyster sauce. The menu is best enjoyed as a selection of sharing plates, with small plates and bar snacks and larger dishes. There’s also an eight-course tasting menu.
Service was brisk and smiling, and our waitress knew the menu backwards.When we arrived there was only one other table of four, and yet it took an age for dishes to arrive. Ribs appeared fairly quickly, but there was a seemingly unending wait for everything else. Strangely, as it filled up, dishes came out more quickly, but I did get the sense that on a full service the two waitresses would be stretched. We weren’t offered tap water, tables weren’t being turned pushily, and I wasn’t recognised*.
A.Wong is situated on a bustling street in London’sVictoria. When we arrived there was a small queue to get in and groups of people were being turned away – fortunately, we’d booked. The tables weren’t too close together and décor was modern with a hint of Chinese chintz. Menus were delivered straight away and our waiter was extremely helpful, talking us through our options and recommending how much to order, advising on portion size and the spiciness of each dish. They couldn’t have been more friendly.
There was a precision to the cooking here, and serious talent behind the stoves. Sweet and sour ribs managed to combine sticky, crisp crust with soft, yielding meat below. The 63 degrees tea egg was sublime, rich yolk spilling seductively all over crisp stews of deep-fried vermicelli. Although it came with a smoldering cinnamon stick, ‘to add flavour’, we were told. All it added was great wafts of annoyance. Dim sum was impressive, with the pastry properly thin and impeccable ingredients within – the Shanghai steamed dumplings were as good as you’ll find in London, the broth rich and silky. But instead of the usual ginger vinegar, there were tiny tapioca vinaigrette balls. Nice idea but they lacked the necessary acidic tang. An excellent pork and prawn dumpling was made better still by an elegant curl of pork crackling.The shrimp dumpling was equally well-made, fresh and beautifully cooked, yet it came with a splodge of insipid, and unnecessary, lemon foam. Peanuts in vinegar were sweetly sticky, but lacked acidic tang, but Singapore noodles with dried shrimp and squid, had the right blend of spice and char.Wind dried sausage and dried shrimp daikon cake was less successful – bland, and in need of more meat.Yunnan fried cheese was fine, but the dipping salt was ill-judged, turning the whole thing into a mouthful of lemon-scented washing-up liquid.Yuck. Just like the steamed bun with a cloying, oversweet black sesame dip.
The menu wasn’t extensive, but was varied and had a range of unusual dishes that we wanted to try. The waiter explained that the portions weren’t massive and suggested that we order 2-3 dishes per person, the concept, according to the waitress, is a kind of Asian tapas. We kicked off with the peanuts in vinegar – these were delicious and very sticky. My husband opted for the sweet and sour ribs which were tender with just the right amount of sauce. I chose the yunnan fried cheese and tea egg. The golden fried cheese was delicious and tasted a lot like halloumi. It came with a small dish of punchy seasoning in which to dip the cheese. The tea egg was cooked to perfection – the yolk still runny. A dish of five spice smoked cod cheeks didn’t live up to expectations. A small bowl with a burning cinnamon stick was brought to the table first – to enhance the experience. The cod was so over-seasoned it left my mouth numb. This was however the only negative point. Everything else was fantastic. The mushroom casserole a mixture of mushrooms cooked with dates was sublime, both sweet and earthy at the same time and the surprise hit of the evening. The crab and seafood dish and razor clam with braised sea cucumber were both subtly spiced. We finished with some imaginative puddings: the tobacco smoked banana and orange, nut crumble, chocolate and soy caramel a ball of chocolate that melts away as the caramel is poured over it, and the snowball meringue with lychee granita and lime sorbet.
the bottom line
A.Wong serves up some excellent regional Chinese food.The dim sum is among the best in London, and on the whole, this was assured, experienced cooking, and good value too. But I wouldn’t go back – it lacked something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It serves decent modern Chinese food, often excellent, but it wouldn’t drag me away from Phoenix Place, Royal China Club and Pearl Liang.
FOOD 7/10; ATMOSPHERE 6/10; SERVICE 6/10; TOM’S TOTAL: 19/30
Apart from the over-seasoned cod and the OTT dramatics of the burning cinnamon, it was a lovely experience. The staff were very friendly. Unfortunately, we were seated away from the open kitchen so weren’t able to watch the chefs at work, but that didn’t spoil our enjoyment of the evening.
FOOD 7/10; ATMOSPHERE 8/10; SERVICE 10/10; SAM’S TOTAL: 25/30
A. Wong Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) rating:
A.Wong has a largish menu, so it is pleasing to see that care and thought has gone into the sourcing. It uses a lot of British produce for fresh items like meat, fruit and veg, but some chicken is air-freighted from outside the UK. The restaurant has a good approach to sourcing sustainable seafood, including razor clams, and opting to purchase hand-dived scallops. The only concern is the King Prawns, which if wild, would be rated a 5 by the Marine Conservation Society. The eggs are all free range and from local farms.
Written July 2013