What I’ve noticed about Cantonese food in London is a transcending trajectory away from the Essex fake-tan shade gone wrong representation of what it used to be. (In some places it still is). If you’re looking for prawn toast look away – the same goes for sweet & sour chicken balls and sweetcorn soup, now there’s nothing wrong with that if it’s your jam. But A.Wong is both a refreshing and educational change in a different direction. Chef Andrew Wong in my opinion successfully blazes a territory for Cantonese cuisine that gets greedy folk like me noticing the noise – even Michelin heard and awarded the restaurant a star in 2017 which he’s been a part of since 1985. In case you’re curious, Andrew isn’t the A in A.Wong. It’s commemorative to his folks Albert and Annie who founded the restaurant. Andrew took it over in 2013 and reimagined the menu to produce some of the most evocative dim sum and a 10-course Taste of China menu, inspired by his travels through the culinary underbelly of the Motherland. We reap the benefits of that when he gets to work.
We arrived early before our table was set, so we were ushered through some heavy draped curtains into their “Forbidden City Bar” which has an unmistakable Cantonese accent. Lychee martini’s were ordered which contained a nasal twitching amount of vodka.
Our view from where the four of us sat – the devil is in the detail as they say.
On the topic of detail, the chilli oil, one made from tofu and the other from shellfish had stellar amounts of umami. It’s made for dredging your dumplings and everything else in.
Zhou Dynasty scallop salad was a hot oil slickened tartare with deftly cut cucumber flesh, spring onions and sesame seeds. The egg waffles, a popular street food of Hong Kong with it’s machined spheres, were by design meant to be filled and enjoyed. (Euphemisms are always welcome). Nasal trembling wasabi was added for good measure.
I read somewhere that Andrew felt that the classic har-gau was quite “one dimensional” especially if more than three were eaten. I can’t agree as I can eat them by the dozen and not get bored. However, I trusted in the Chef’s vision as he totally amps this version by using vinegar foam and chilli jam, making the humble dumpling more thrilling.
Shanghai xiao long bao with it’s silken skin is filled with luscious soup and decent minced pork. They top it with marinated fish roe too for the added luxury.
Siu-mai is another classic and forms the last piece of the trio of dim sum from the “Taste of China menu”. They crest it with a piece of crackling that comes with a shattering crunch contrasting nicely with the soft dumpling.
The “gold fish” dumpling is another fine example. Its a celebration of slinky pieces of pork jerky, seared foie and sweet prawns dressed as a gold fish.
Shaanxi pulled lamb burger with xianjiang pomegranate salad was a case of the kitchen getting the diners involved in the labour of building their own bao tacos. I say “diners”, but I mean me. The bao with its crochet edges had nice crunchy caramelisation on either side. Just fill and inhale.
Better still was the Dong Po slow braised Blyth burgh pork belly. I first had a version of this dish at the now not so good Mayflower – it became part of my five a day. This one is more refined, slices of pork with the right amount of fat against protein interplayed against each other, neatly stacked and crested with discs crispy lotus root in a ripe reduction of spice infused soy.
Kai-lan is cooked with respect and are topped with deeply umami dried fish and roasted pine nuts.
Gong Bao chicken with peanuts has a mouth-pucker of black vinegar, a whack of intensified dried chilli flavour, its dark-sweet flavours are so approachable.
‘Dai’ seared beef was the kind treated to a high heat so the edges take on the maillard reaction, yet the centre is still a ruby red. It had the bark of mint, fresh and fried. The were notes of glossy chilli oil and lemongrass to bring things together.
Dover sole was grilled whole with a beurre noisette imbued with five spice. Its then brought to the table, expertly dismantled for our theatrical pleasure. It was genuinely a brilliant way to end the main courses. It doesn’t stop there though as the bones are deep fried until they become crispy and completely edible. Then they’re tossed in a searing wok with garlic, salt, pepper and are joined by more discs of crunchy lotus root.
Remember the scene from “Harry Met Sally” in Katz Deli? Jeff is having a similar moment, totally spellbound with the coconut husk.
We complete the meal with a petit four that aims to be pretty but not at the expense of taste, it’s seriously good. It’s actually a white chocolate mahjong brick, filled with the crumbliest ginger biscuit and strawberry ice cream that grabs the attention of my tongue. I could have eaten a whole set of them!
For visit number two, I came during lunch specifically for the dim sum.
First up was Sichuan chicken and peanut bon bon £2 which is a crisped sphere of shelled semolina filled with chicken, peanuts and numbing Sichuan pepper, nestled on a bed of seaweed (cough fried cabbage). For good measure it gets an afro of vinaigrette foam. It’s a case in point for inventiveness at A.Wong as you can’t get this anywhere else and it’s lovely.
Shanghai xiao long bao £2 per a dumpling are also available for dim sum time, so they should as they’re exemplary.
Of course we had to have their siu-mai and har-gau. Not having these defeats the object of dim sum, like why would you order pork belly without fat or a burger without a bun? They need to be ordered or you’ll go into deep FOMO.
Gai-lan and poached yolk steamed rice roll £3.50 is their take on cheung-fun which is another quintessential dim sum item. It’s nice in a delicate way but it misses the satisfaction you get with the more ubiquitous variants with char-siu pork, beef, dough sticks or indeed prawns found in more traditional dim-sum houses.
Rabbit and carrot glutinous puff £2 is an entertaining take on a classic. It’s fried, yet greaseless and has a satisfying chew and sweetness that compliments the deep savouriness of the minced rabbit within.
Quail egg and croquette puff £2 is another reimagined classic. Crisp lacy batter cradles a molten egg – there’s more of that crispy seaweed and fragrant ginger-stroke-spring-onion oil for dredging.
Honey baked pork pasty £2.50 is thick, crumbly, savoury and sweet all at the same time, but it’s all the better for it. It’s possibly one of the most gratifying dim sums here.
Scallop puff is a skilfully carved piece of pastry that holds a sweet little nugget of the shellfish. When it hits the hot oil, it blossoms like a flower. An extra flourish of scallop tartare is added to resemble the pollen of a flower. These are all good things I see in my head. If you like eating this type of dim sum then we’re friends already.
Sichuanese chicken and peanut bon bon £2 was another original creation. In essence it’s minced chicken coated in rice noodles which are fried so they tangle into each other, forming a crispy exterior. They were pleasant enough, but not as impactful as the others.
Chinese chive pot sticker dumplings £1.50 were dextrously done to showcase how the liquid of the dumpling can ooze out and create and lovely crust. Another case in point where looks can be had with no expense to taste.
Salt and pepper French bean fritters £6.50 are a spot on definition of how tempura should be with its delicate batter. It’s the sort of snack I’d happily eat until the cows come home and not get palate fatigue.
Steamed duck yolk custard bun £3 can be had during or after the meal. I’m still deciding if it resembles a clementine or white peach, but I don’t care, neither should you. What you should know is that it holds a viscous centre filled with oozing rich duck-egg custard; a custard that you’ll never forget, a custard that you want to tell your friends about, a custard so luscious that you want it on all of your deserts and possibly intravenously. The bun has a crisped bottom that is a delectable offset to the liquid custard. I think delectable is an insufficient word, that’s all you need to know so just go and order it. It’s a show stopper.
Visit number three was my birthday as it’s great outing to celebrate an occasion – it has that magic. Of course we warmed up with a lychee martini.
Those who were driving had a pot of tea with goji berries £6.50.
Crispy wonton’s with sweet chilli jam £2 each for were those who didn’t get the point of the trip and wanted to stick to the familiar.
When the mouth numbing beef offal and pear £8 arrived, things started to get interesting. Tripe is sliced into noodles and along with slivery pieces of tofu sheets, they’re coated in luscious hot oil and balance comes in the form of a ripe kick of vinegar.
Yunan pork and truffle dumplings (£3.50 each) were broth filled silken parcels with perfect pleats. They were gone in seconds.
Shanghai xiao long bao £2 are a repeat offender.
Rabbit and carrot glutinous puff £2 has become a fundamental part of the dim sum assemblage every time I come here – they should be for you too.
Sichuan chicken and peanut bon bon (£2 each) went down a treat too.
Har-gau £2 with its vinegar foam afro.
Siu-mai £2 with its crispy swine hat.
We went off-piste and ordered to knife shaved noodles £8 from the “share” section of the menu. What we got were noodles glazed in a sauce of soy garlic, chilli and vinegar. I could have gorged on a mountain of the stuff.
An aerated glutinous sesame puff £2 was a hollow shelled textural bit of fun that was great to eat and quite interactive for the table. That’s if you like painting your food with plum sauce.
Quail egg croquette puff £2 has become a regular feature too.
Salt and pepper French bean fritters £6.50 seemed to be inhaled by my siblings without reservation.
Wild mushroom and truffle steamed bun £3, is a aromatic stew meaty shrooms, its sweet and sticky on the inside and resembles woodsy foraged goods on the outside. Optically it looks like a shroom on a bit of astro turf.
The stalwart scallop puff.
Chinese chive pot sticker dumplings £1.50 have remained consistently good with its sweet-pungent chive flavour which bestows into the chicken.
The steamed duck yolk custard bun to A.Wong is like the baked BBQ pork bun to Tim Ho Wan – it’s crucial to the meal and an obligatory thing to eat. You may as well turn around and walk away if you don’t order it. Unless you’re allergic to eggs which my unfortunate sister is. More for us I guess!
Visit number four was another celebration of being born – this time with an old school mate who has a penchant for all things dim sum.
Quail egg puff went down a treat.
They cannot be missed.
Neither can these.
Or these for that matter..
Shaanxi pulled lamb burger with xianjiang pomegranate salad £12 provided amusement too.
What’s new, well new to me anyway was the Isle of Mull seared scallop cheung fun £9 which was nothing short of magnificent. The scallop’s sugars catch from the searing, bringing out the inherent sweetness that it had a profound amount of. It’s then wrapped in a cheung fun parcel, get’s a good glazing of chilli oil and a crest of scales made from sliced asparagus. It’s the sort of wow factor that has become the restaurant’s mantra.
Wontons with garlic, chilli oil and a sheet of crispy beancurd (£2 each) was another welcome addition. It’s testament to the restaurant getting the palate salivating with the right balance of savouriness, heat, acidity and umami.
I can’t stop ordering or rhapsodising about how good the duck yolk custard buns are. I’ve run out of superlatives.
When did I go? Mar 2017, Jun 2017, Nov 2017 and Aug 2018
The damage: Expect to pay £50/60 per head with drinks
The good: What A.Wong does relentlessly well is how they reinvent and like a mentioned before, blaze new territories for Cantonese food – in particular dim sum. It changed my palate for the good – I hope it does for you too. It’s rare that you get so many wow-moments in a meal and the fawning seems to linger until you go again and then fawning grows more. Some really stand-out dishes include the scallop puff, scallop cheung fun, rabbit puff and their buns, especially the staggeringly good duck-yolk custard one that I keep telling my friends about.
The bad: Not a lot!
Would I go again? What do you think?!
Address: 70 Wilton Rd, Pimlico, London SW1V 1DE