Curiosity and a love of dim sum made me temporarily play down any past episodes of vertigo, for it’s hard to imagine a more awe-inspiring dining destination than one located in the (still-talked-about) Shard. Situated on the 33rd floor, Hutong is a member of the Hong Kong based Aqua Restaurant Group founded by David Yeo and specialises in Northern Chinese cuisine – but even the most lauded chefs have their work cut out if they want their food to be as memorable as the restaurant’s own backdrop, offering diners some of the most spectacular views of the capital in the capital. Window-seat requests are simply ludicrous here so no wonder the reservations team laughing decline them.
I recommend you arrive promptly, for after smugly brushing past a couple turned away at the door for wearing trainers, we were invited for a bag scan in order to confirm that our motivation in visiting was food rather than terrorism, a procedure which should reassure guests rather than annoy. It was all beginning to feel rather Gattaca-esque and I was only disappointed that they didn’t want a sample of my DNA.
Having passed the test we were directed to the express lift (thank God), where there is no need to press any button as it goes to the 32nd floor automatically, albeit with a rather annoying robotic announcement informing us of this. Welcome to the future. As the floor numbers scaled at a terrifying speed of 6 metres a second, I wished that it had been a glass elevator, but then perhaps it was just as well – sky-rocketing your way to lunch is fun but the old system takes a while to adjust.
Although my ears had stopped popping just as soon as the doors of the lift opened, I was in danger of needing my mouth shut for me as I took in the breathtaking panorama of the city whilst climbing the remaining flight of stairs leading to the restaurant; as slick and sophisticated as I was expecting, with the oriental black lacquer furniture remarkably at home against the sheet glass windows cocooning us, this 130 cover contemporary dining space is nothing if not a bold statement of interior design. Front of house were meanwhile charming, informed and attentive from the moment we were seated and really helped to elevate the overall experience to one of fine dining.
Besides the signature a la carte menu and extensive dim sum selection, featuring some of the world’s most highly-esteemed ingredients such as caviar and Wagyu beef, Hutong prides itself on being one of The Shard’s more affordable experiences (I only said more), having recently launched a new set lunch menu which, priced at £35, seeks to encourage a regular crowd alongside the steady stream of tourists looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience or professional types entertaining international clients. Whilst the wine list is generally pricey, there are good value options like the Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling (a fairly priced £48), which has all the qualities you look for when trying to compliment oriental cuisine.
The experience lunch menu, designed by Head Chef Bing Luo, commences with a dim sum selection of four pastel-coloured steamed dumplings; rosé champagne shrimp; cod and seaweed with tobiko XO; XO sauce and crystal prawn, and green vegetable and bamboo pith. Although I was disappointed at not being able to detect any flavour of champagne in the pink variant, the fillings of each were well balanced, generous and exquisitely prepared. I’m not sure if I find coloured dumplings any more appealing than their traditionally pale counterparts, but they are a novelty upholding the excitement of eating dim sum. It’s also worth ordering a couple of extra fried or baked examples from the full dim sum menu such as the melt-in-the-mouth Wagyu beef puffs, a house favourite for a reason.
Next we were presented with a warming monkfish and enoki mushroom soup which I found a little bland and in sharp contrast to the punchy main course dishes that followed; addictively good Guaiwei prawn and cuttlefish in a pickled sweet and spicy chilli sauce, and a hearty braised beef shank with ginger & onion sauce, accompanied with some of the best special fried rice you’ll taste in London and delicious wok-fried gai lan with garlic. The Chinese aren’t afraid to embrace the flavour of beef fat, and the meat itself, though cooked for several hours, still had plenty of texture, just as you would find in the most notable Hong Kong restaurants.
Desserts, though not included in the lunch menu, are worth lingering for (as are the cocktails inspired by Chinese medicine); the coconut sorbet accompanying the rich chocolate tart was an exotic and satisfying marriage as was the mousse-like mango pudding with fresh fruit salsa and a fragrant lychee sorbet which our waitress urged us to try. Enjoying lunch at 400 feet high isn’t something you do every day, but I was beginning to acclimatise. Hutong, with its diverse Sichuanese flavours, opens your horizons in more ways than one, so much so in fact, that by the end of the meal, you could almost forget which city you’re looking out at.
Hutong, Level 33, The Shard, 31 St Thomas Street, London SE1 9RY. The Experience Lunch Menu is available 7 days a week from 12 noon – 2.45pm. For more information and reservations visit the website.