We had heard good things about Michelin-starred A. Wong for years, but somehow never managed to visit, even though it’s just half an hour’s walk from where we live. Earlier this month, we finally made it, and what a feast it was!
The restaurant was founded in 2013 by Andrew Wong, then a young graduate with an anthropology degree from LSE, when he took over a non-descript Chinese local next to Victoria station from his father. For several months before that point in time, he had travelled mainland China and explored the many different cuisines and cooking styles.
In late 2018 he’ll open another, much bigger and more casual restaurant at the Bloomberg Arcade in the City. It will not be serving dim sum, because Wong feels, as he said in an interview earlier this year, that serving three dumplings for £2.80 would devalue the art of the dumpling (each one of them goes through a one-and-a-half-day process and involves elaborate cooking techniques).
In the same interview Wong explains how he could fill his seats with 90% regulars if he wanted, but how he caps reservations at 40% for lunch and 70% for dinner, in order to remain accessible. We booked the first available Saturday lunch-time spot some eight weeks ago.
The first impression is very underwhelming. Both from outside and from inside, the premises look decidedly cheap and hard on the eye (and that’s talking AFTER an expensive recent refurbishment, oh dear!). There is nothing to absorb the sound, everything feels a bit crammed. Well, Ms B and I were never ones for décor over substance, and we were here for the much-praised little masterpieces of East Asian pasty art.
What strung the right chord with us, is the open kitchen, where we could see the master himself do his magic. Everyone in the kitchen seemed cheerful and having a great time, despite the stress that surely must come with running a Michelin-starred fabulous food factory.
The waitress was quick and helpful in recommending how to choose our dishes. A downside with dim sum is that instead of having to serve three or five courses, the staff have to constantly rush back and forth between the kitchen and the tables, delivering the goodies, filling up tea cups, leaving not much time for pleasantries.
However, all this was forgotten as soon as we set our teeth into the first set of dumplings. We’re not even fans of dim sum, but it is impossible not to be blown away by these little fellers. The ones we had ranged in price from £2 to £3, with two outliers: the custard bun at a very reasonable £4 and the scallop at an equally decent £9.
The first set of dumplings to arrive were the Shanghai steamed dumplings with ginger infused vinegar, filled with soup and to be eaten in whole with a spoon (don’t bite bits off!). They were served at the same time as two other sets of dumplings: siu mais, which are similarly shaped to a sushi roll, and clear shrimp dumplings with lovely rice vinegar clouds. I love my seafood, but I can honestly say that I do not think I have ever had a more perfect prawn: crisp, crunchy, firm texture, bit like grapefruit, the taste subtle but strong, combined with the fresh scent of the ocean… is this what it’s like when a god-fearing, hard-working, good Catholic dies and goes straight to heaven!? It must be.
It was at around this stage, that we decided to share an ice-cold Hainan cocktail (£12; Malibu, mango, coconut, chili barbecued pineapple), which was outrageously good.
Next came the wild mushroom and truffle steamed buns which, you guessed it, looked precisely like mushrooms, sat on a patch of grass on a tray. Perhaps they were a bit tight on the truffle, but for this price you really can’t complain. The pork and prawn wontons with garlic, soaking in a bed of thick spicy soup and covered with rice crisps, were equally wonderful and wondrous.
Another highlight were the giant Isle of Mull seared scallop cheung funs. Again, Wong got the texture and taste just right.
The rabbit and carrot glutinous puffs were cute to look at (looking like carrots and all; I started to feel a bit jealous at how Ms B was looking at them, clearly love at first sight), but disappointing in both taste and texture.
On the plus side, this made the final dish, the chef’s world famous duck yolk custard buns, even seem more perfecter than they already were. Jay Rayner called them the world’s best dessert, “pale as a Jane Austen heroine, with a slight baby’s-bum cleft and a hint of rosiness so they resemble a white peach – a notion emphasised by a leafed twig. They contain a liquid centre of aromatic duck-egg custard: the silkiest custard, the most aromatic custard, simply the best sweet custard it will ever be your luck to try.” Well said, old curmudgeon.
We will most definitely be back very soon and for many more times to come. 5 out of 5 in our book.
Looking for more Michelin-starred restaurant reviews? Try The Ninth, London, Benoit, Paris, or Lafleur, Frankfurt. Other fine dining includes our culinary experience at the North Pole, dinner at the Fig, Chipping Campden, and our visit to Ekeberg Restaurant in Oslo.
For art and culture, perhaps the following posts might be for you: Haydn’s imaginary journey with Rattle and the LSO, MoMA in Paris, and Wish List, the zero-hour contract play. Thank you for having stopped by on our blog page.