Friday, 24 May 2013

Dim Sum, Noodles & Dinner @ A Wong

Quail egg croquette
Best new Chinese restaurant opening in recent memory or a case of the emperor's new clothes? While most reviews of A Wong have been praiseworthy, some have been a bit negative. I guess that's the risk one takes when diverging from more tried-and-trusted Chinese restaurant formulae. And it's the risk taking approach that appealed to me when I visited A Wong twice within the space of a few days. Twice? Give me a break, I had to check out both lunch AND dinner menus. For lunch I decided to go for a familiar combination of dim sum and noodles. As the dim sum is sold by piece (from £1.30 each) this enabled me, as a solo diner, to explore more of the menu than I might otherwise have done.

Xiao long bao
My favourite was a pair of soup-filled xiao long bao – one a Shanghai-style pork dumpling, the other a Yunnan mushroom, pork and truffle one. I liked both although I would've preferred the vinegar and ginger on the side rather than mixed in with the soup inside the former. It's not Din Tai Fung, but you're not going to find many better examples of XLB in London. Less enjoyable was the much written-about clear shrimp dumpling with citrus foam; it was a decent enough example of a har gau but the citrus foam didn't really do anything for me. And nor did the pork crackling atop a perfectly adequate open-topped pork and prawn dumpling aka siu mai.

Baked cha siu bao
The baked roasted pork bun with a sugared coating is a copy of Tim Ho Wan's famous baked cha siu bao. While it isn't as good as the original from Hong Kong, I enjoyed this crispy-topped bun although I would've favoured a sweeter filling. I also liked the quail egg croquette puff with its nicely runny yolk and crispy shell. However, I would've ditched one of the conflicting accompaniments of 'seaweed' and a ginger-dip. Sometimes less is more.

Crossing the bridge noodles
The only real disappointment of lunch was the Kunming 'crossing the bridge' noodles, a dish where ham, quail egg, preserved veg, fresh veg and rice noodles are served on a separate plate ready to be 'cooked' in the broth. Compared to traditional versions I've sampled in China, there were a few toppings missing, but I could forgive them that if the dish delivered. It didn't. The main problem was the temperature of the broth, which wasn't hot enough to cook the pak choi. And while I wasn't impressed by this dish, I was impressed by my server who listened to my comments and promised to pass on my feedback to the chef.

Dong Po pork
French beans with pork
Onto dinner, and I'm afraid to report that it was, on the whole, a tad disappointing, as most dishes were far too aggressively salty. So much so any citrus flavour in the beef with dried orange peel and chilli was drowned out. The Dong Po slow braised pork belly wasn't tender enough and it lacked the sweet and comforting aromatic notes that define this dish. It was just too salty. As were the twin offerings from Sichuan of dry fried French beans with pork and Sichuanese aubergine – the pork in the former was the saltiest thing we ate all night.

Steamed sea bass
The only respite from the salt assault was the two fish dishes: steamed wild sea bass with Jinhua ham and five-spice and chilli smoked cod cheeks. These were the undoubtedly highlights of dinner, in particular the perfectly steamed portion of sea bass, which was nicely complemented by the Jinhua ham. The cod cheeks were a joy, because it had been seasoned with a light hand.

The fact the mains were so disappointing was a shame, as before that, the pickles, peanuts in sweetened black vinegar and pickled cucumber kicked off the meal well. And the dim sum basket was none too shabby although a couple of our party (from Suzhou and Shanghai) who know a thing or two about xiao long bao were less than enamoured with these soup-filled dumplings. Yet again, the inclusion of the vinegar and ginger inside the dumpling proved controversial, as they felt that the sweetness of the meat was drowned out by the vinegar.

Tobacco smoked banana etc
Rather bizarrely it was the desserts that rescued the dinner from disappointment. We shared all four of the desserts on the menu: Beijing yoghurt with chilli barbecued pineapple; tobacco smoked banana, nut crumble, chocolate, soy caramel; snow ball merengue, lychee granite, mango puree and lime sorbet; and lastly, coconut ice cream with glutinous rice dumpling. The favourite was deemed to be the banana and chocolate dessert with its contrast in textures and flavour while I also found the refreshing lychee granita to be very good. If I could, I would just come here to eat dessert, which was amongst the best I've sampled in any restaurant, not just Chinese, in a long, long time.

When asked after dinner what we thought, we let our server know that we thought many of the dishes were just too salty. She said that she would let the chef know, and again it's good to see that this restaurant accepts feedback in a non-defensive manner. On the whole I thought A Wong was reasonable value with my solo lunch clocking in at £22 including tea and service whilst dinner cost £32/head including wine and service.

I'm not quite sure what to make of A Wong. Minor quibbles aside, I enjoyed the dim sum and would like to return to explore the rest of the relatively short selection over lunch. But then again, the noodles didn't quite cut it and dinner was somewhat spoiled, not by any degree of experimentation, but by over-aggressive saltiness. There was redemption in the desserts but that's not a good enough reason to return for dinner any time soon.

A. Wong on Urbanspoon

A Wong, 70 Wilton Road, London. SW1V 1DE (Tel: 020-7828-8931)
Nearest station: Victoria


  1. I went for dinner and although I was impressed by the sea bass dish, the gong bao chicken I had was downright wrong - so heavy with Sichuan peppercorns that it tasted metallic, like blood. Bleugh.

    1. Lizzie - your experience might indicate a heavy hand in seasoning some of the issues. Don't these guys taste dishes before sending them out?

  2. I admire your dedication in visiting twice but sounds (and looks) like the verdict is still out.

    1. Cara - not much dedication was needed! I had booked for dinner but couldn't resist popping in for dim sum when in the area a few days earlier. I think there is a consensus that dim sum is good, but a la carte needs honing.

  3. Really like this place... Lunch (ie dim sum) is great, dinner is good. Wouldn't disagree with too much in the review, though I had a more favourable impression of dinner. Yanghzou fried rice, crispy duck, cod cheeks, beef noodles, gong bao chicken were all spot on from my vantage point.