Tried & Tested

Restaurant review: Hutong, Hong Kong

6 Mar 2018 by Tamsin Cocks
Hutong_ICC side

Background

A regular on the world’s best restaurant lists; Hutong is famed for its Northern Chinese cuisine, atmospheric décor and sensational harbour view. Opened in 2003, it was one of the first ventures for the aqua group, which now boasts 25 restaurants and bars in Hong Kong, Beijing and London (including Armani Prive and Dim Sum Library) as well as the aqua luna old-fashioned junk harbour cruises in Hong Kong.

Until the end of April, the restaurant is offering a special “7 Chillies” menu, created by master chef Saito Chau to celebrate the diversity of heat and flavour from seven chilli varieties sourced from around China.

We arrived at peak time – 7.30pm on a Friday night, so the restaurant was bustling with a predominantly international crowd.

Where is it?

Perched on the 28th floor of One Peking, located at 1 Peking Road in Tsim Tsa Tsui. Take Exit L5 from East Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station and cross under the subway to enter the building lobby.

Hutong_Interior

The Venue

Dark, dramatic and captivating. The venue takes inspiration from the ancient Chinese alleyways (hutongs) after which it was named with wonderful results. From the stunning entrance adorned with red paper lanterns and lycee packets to antique metal-studded wooden doors, Chinese furniture, delicate birdcages and rickshaws, it feels like you’ve stepped into an old kung fu film set.

Hutong_VIP section

The theme continues to private dining areas (cordoned off into their own “courtyards”) and right through to the bathrooms, where an old-fashioned water pump guides water into basins.

Hutong bathroom

Before you can fully appreciate the extent of design details, your attention will be grabbed by the absolutely stunning skyline view that dominates the far side of the restaurant through angled floor-to-ceiling windows. Even the drizzly weather during our visit did little to dampen the view – arguably one of the best in Hong Kong.

Hutong Foie gras and squid

The Food

We began with a selection of appetisers, sampling from both the regular and special 7 Chillies menu. It was a decadent start of seared foie gras and Shanghainese coddled egg, topped with caviar and flakes of gold leaf (HK$178). The flavours were strong and the dish was elegantly served in a ceramic canoe on a bed of roasted garlic chips.

Hutong sliced squid with Sichuan green peppercorn and soy sauce

Our first dabble with the special chilli menu came in the form of sliced squid with Sichuan green peppercorn and soy sauce (HK$198) – and what a dish this was. Served on a bed of dry ice, the dish was dramatically swathed in an ethereal blanket of smoke. When the mist cleared the elegant presentation came into view, with the sliced squid delicately wrapped to resemble a rose bud.

After much admiring, we unfurled the bud of squid to devour it. A fragrant and powerful “ma la” numbing sensation spread throughout the mouth, courtesy of the green hua jiao pepper, leaving a citrussy aftertaste in its wake – but with none of the typical fiery heat that you might expect. A definite highlight.

Hutong aubergine

Moving on, we tried a signature dish from the vegetarian section of the menu: crispy eggplant tossed with fermented bean (HK$218). This Jenga-stack of vegetable goodness had a beautifully light, crispy texture on the outside, with a soft, flavoursome inside. The spring onion and garlic garnish helped to enhance the dish, which was more neutral in taste than the other dishes.

Hutong scallop

For the mains, we hopped back to the 7 Chillies menu for the steamed Hokkaido scallops with pickled Hainan yellow chilli (HK$438 for four), served on a shell and a bed of glass noodles and red chillies. Unlike its predecessor, this dish packed a powerful punch – the yellow lantern chilli is the hottest chilli in China, after all. The juicy scallops were perfectly cooked and their subtle flavour tingled with the fiery chilli salsa on top, while the rice noodles absorbed even more of the eye-watering heat. If you’re a spice lover, this is for you. If not – perhaps avoid!

Hutong prawns

The next dish, also from the 7 Chillies menu, was possibly our favourite of the evening: Yu-Shiang tiger prawns (HK$348). Two enormous, succulent shelled tiger prawns were attractively presented on a warm, black dish, served with colorful bell peppers and chillies and drizzled in a salty fish and garlic chilli dressing. Less heat in this dish, but a delicate and aromatic flavour that was a pure delight. We considered asking the chef if we could re-sample this particular menu item…

At 8pm, the music was suddenly cranked up to announce the start of the Symphony of Lights – the light and laser show that plays out on the Hong Kong skyline. I admit I’ve never recommended this to tourists, but from this particular vantage point, I suddenly gained a new appreciation for the spectacle.

Hutong crispy chicken

A succession of signature dishes came next. First up, the crispy de-boned lamb ribs with Chinese pancakes (HK$468). The dish is a twist on the traditional Peking duck pancakes classic, but sadly the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” sprang to mind. The lamb was marinated for 24 hours, braised and deep-fried, but ended up with a rather dry consistency. Meanwhile, the pancakes were quite glutinous and heavy, and even the dipping sauce (and optional raw garlic) didn’t seem to add much to the flavour at all.

The next dish however, crispy-skin chicken with ginger (HK$388), was sinfully flavoursome. The hint of juicy, fatty meat with the wonderfully crispy skin and ginger infusion was a total guilty pleasure.

The following black garlic and chilli steamed Chinese cabbage wrapped in lotus leaf (HK$188) provided a welcome break from the heavier meat dishes, and the flavours were delicious.

Hutong Dan Dan Mien

The final dish of Hutong’s dan dan noodles (HK$118) was served in individual pots. The pork, peanut and chilli soup looked great, with a nice thick consistency and sprinkling of sesame seeds, but I was slightly underwhelmed by the taste – expecting a little bit more heat and flavour, particularly compared to what had come before.

Hutong dessert

The trio of desserts included crispy dumpling filled with chocolate; stodgy green tea and purple sweet potato rice balls; and red date ice cream. I preferred the muted flavour of the red date ice cream over the sweetness of the other two.

The drinks

Hutong boasts an extensive list of Old and New World wines – unless you’re a budding sommelier, you may want to avail of the wait staff’s knowledge.

We were recommended to try a Chateau St. Michelle Chardonnay from the US Columbia Valley (HK$138 by the glass), which paired beautifully with the spice menu items and the seafood in particular.

The service

Barring a slightly haughty disposition from one member of staff, the team were friendly, knowledgeable and professional. Dishes were explained as they were set down and promptly cleared in between courses.

Verdict

This is a show-stopping restaurant with an incredible view: a definite crowd-pleaser for client dinners or friends visiting from out of town.

The food is very good, though some dishes were more successful than others, and overall the price tag is justified more by the setting. The full “7 Chillies” tasting menu (HK$928 per person) would definitely be a reason to return.

Opening hours
Lunch: Monday to Saturday; 12pm – 2.30pm; Dinner: Monday to Sunday: 6pm – 11pm;
Feng Wei Brunch: Sunday 12pm – 3.30pm

Contact
28/F, 1 Peking Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui; +852 3428 8342; hutong.com.hk

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