Dim sum can become a fetish. I reel off my favourites in a hypnotic mantra: Min Jiang, Pearl Liang, Yauatcha, Hakkasan, Princess Garden of Mayfair, Royal China Club, Royal China Queensway, Dragon Castle…
Andrew Wong has re-furbished and re-styled the family restaurant, formerly known as Kym’s, emerging with an open kitchen, a bright and airy dining environment, and bar seating perfect for strategic dim sum raids — impulse dim sum, quick hit, job done. It becomes even more of a possibility when the menu states that you can order each one by single piece, something I’ve not encountered in London before. It must be an annoying faff for the kitchen if you’re piddling about with single piece orders, but this freedom shows a real love for the dumpling from the chef. Having travelled across China for ideas and inspiration, his menu starts with Chinese street snacks, through dim sum, touching a few classics along the way. He’s also in the kitchen every damn service I turn up for, clearly working every shift the rota sends; as is Natalie, his ebullient restaurant manager.
A mention on Andy Hayler’s restaurant guide is still one of the few online mentions.
In the current fervid London restaurant landscape where every new opening has a shouty vanguard of breathless anticipation and chatter for weeks before opening, A. Wong slipped under the radar of almost everyone: aside from Fay Maschler. She had caught wind of the revamp, visited several times in the New Year, and the review was in the Evening Standard in January while most new opening fetishists were looking the other way: Maschler 1-0 Restaurant Chasers FC.
There’s something about the attitude of the place, the freewheeling loosely structured menu, the taut menu descriptions, that reminds me of New York; the kind of place that on returning from NYC would leave me flailing a fist and cursing, “Why don’t we have anything like this in London?”
Wines are all from a long standing relationship with merchant Hallgarten Druitt, but don’t make the heart flutter. I stick to Kirin Ichiban beer each time.
A few visits later, the dim sum have hooked me in, slapped me about, before flinging me into the rest of the larger dishes on the menu, available only in the evenings. I begin to like this place very much.
CLEAR SHRIMP DIM SUM (£1.30) - Like the best Har Gau, with a slick of sweet chilli sauce infused with shellfish. Mouthful of juicy sweet prawn, large plump sods like they’ve been pumping iron. A froth of citrus foam looks worryingly cheffy, but somehow it works. A skill in dim sum is pushing and prodding so they don’t stick to the paper, then swooping when they’re still warm so you can taste everything within without excoriating the roof of your mouth with molten hot filling; these Excocet Har Gau need a good six minutes to cool. Brilliant prawn dumplings.
QUAIL EGG CROQUETTE (£3) - Pretty. Feather light batter that comes fashioned around the egg looking like Tintin’s quiff. Golden soft yolk within, a perky sauce for dipping of ginger and garlic.
PORK AND PRAWN DUMPLING (£1.30) - An excellent Shui Mai with the added flourish of a piece of pork crackling.
SHANGHAI STEAMED DUMPLING (£1.30) – A classic Xiao Long Bao, dough casing a little thicker than many in town, but still releasing the essential satisfying porky broth.
WONTON (£1.30) - Another sweet and juicy bite, a fried pork dumpling, a great starting morsel.
PRAWN CRACKER (£1.50) - The size of a planet, coming as a single slab with a couple of dabs of chilli and satay sauces. Large format cracker.
COD CHEEKS (£7) - Five spiced cod cheeks with a surprisingly strong menthol thwack of tingling Szechuan peppercorn. Fantastic. Luxuriant dark sauce haunted by a subtle star anise backnote. Elastic bands twanging against the tongue from numbing peppercorn is a thrill.
GONG BAO CHICKEN (£6) - Subtle sweetness from a winey sauce, caramelised onions and peanuts, balanced by that kick of Szechuan again. Fantastic presentation, some more cheffy “froth”.
SINGAPORE NOODLES (£7) - Generous nuggets of very decent prawn, whoosh of turmeric, but the day we try this it’s just too salty. On another occasion egg fried rice is also over enthusiastically salted.
YUNANESE CHEESE, SZECHUAN SALT (£2) - Chinese cheese doing a fine impression of halloumi, the squeaky Cypriot number. Apparently the Chinese version can honk like a donkey in the wrong hands. No donkey here, just a halloumi wannabe.
100 YEAR OLD EGG, SWEET CHILLI, MARINATED TOFU (£3.95) – A soothing dish, silken pearly white squares of tofu in a soy/chilli broth, nestled amongst brooding dark chunks of egg. A palate cleanser.
RAZOR CLAM – Served in its shell with braised and pickled sea cucumber, wind dried sausage, and the gentle pop of tapioca balls marinaded in Chinese black and sweet vinegars and infused with a kick of ginger.
CRISPY CHILLI BEEF IN SWEET AND SOUR (£8) - Ballerina of a crispy beef dish, flavours not shrieking with illuminous orange gloop while welding your teeth together. Judicious use of sweet and sour without bashing the meat into submission; crispy beef that’s had an education.
PEKING DUCK INFUSED WHISKY – Duck fat and whisky. Woah. Not a dish, but a sample passed to me from the kitchen for feedback. Like the bastard son of a pickle back shot, fat stepping in for vinegar and being shaken around. First aired here during a tasting menu for an alternative Burns night; it sums up the playful nature of Wong’s cooking.
Andrew delivers a menu that checks in with enough familiar classics to woo the conservative, then cartwheels into other areas with a playfulness rarely seen in most London Chinese restaurants; the creativity seen at Yauatcha comes to mind. The strings are being pulled by the team with apparent ease (never the case, of course), and the endlessly charming and tireless Natalie buzzes round the room with glee. We find out that she’s worked for the family for fifteen years — that kind of constant just can’t be bought, and it shows.
There’s something exciting going on in Andrew Wong’s kitchen, making me return again and again — it has become a regular fixture.
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