Every time I go out to eat lately, I seem to be running into places that are flashbacks to my [insert suitably derogative adjective here]youth. Not that I’m purposefully seeking them out; far from it, I like to think I lead a far more respectable life these days. And, indeed, they’re not necessarily the places in question, but often in the near neighbourhood.
Take my latest venture, Huo. It’s new on the scene, it’s come recommended, a cursory glance of the website and it’s right up my street. Indeed, as locations go, it’s more than appealing, just off the Fulham Road, down the suitably named Park Walk, a leafy residential street, amid a short row of eateries all spilling patrons out onto pavement dining, so very conducive to spending a pleasant summer evening.
So, to my point. As I approached, what should I find at the end of this row but The Goat. Can it be? The former Goat in Boots of many a Fulham Road fit-up of my twenties? Indeed it can, and it was. And, much like its new neighbour, it, too, has moved up in the world. I was early and it was too much not to pop in for a swift elbow-raiser. I enjoyed a small stem-glassed ale on a table with a white table cloth. No one was dancing on it, and no one tipped a pint over my head. Oh, how times change. And with it one’s memories of place. This, then, is my backdrop for HUŎ.
Outside, Park Walk seemed buzzing, conversation punctuated with bursts of laughter and a descant of gentle jazz. This, readers, could be the closest I’ve come to actually getting away this last 18 months. I mean away away. I felt positively continental, and as I wafted my way through these pavement tables to my destination, I felt all was suddenly right with the world.
Not for nothing is this corner of London known as ‘Chelsea Beach’. And, as with many street-side eateries cheek-by-jowl one feels rather like a holidaymaker on a seafront promenade. But there were no pushy waiting staff trying to lure us in. No grotty laminated menus or photos displaying wares. This is Fulham. Fitted out and fancy. And we know our destination.
HUŎ’s shopfront is open to the world, inside is out and outside in. Indeed, as we’re ushered to a table deep into the interior, we ask if we can sit outside, and it’s not a problem. Surprisingly so, on what looks like its busiest night since this wretched pandemic. That said, a glimpse inside shows a bright, airy interior; dominated by a striking, ribbed ceiling drawing the eye into bleached timber and slick, contemporary décor. The bar, too, prominently down one side suggests this is for comfortable, casual dining. Little wonder the inside was bustling and, particularly on such a balmy evening, this setting for Asian food seems to hit its mark.
If the cuisine wasn’t immediately apparent by the name, HUŎ (think Boris going phwoar, without the ‘ph’, for pronunciation) is Chinese for ‘fire’, though the range is a little broader, with various pan-Asian dishes on the menu; Vietnamese summer rolls, Tom Yum soup and Pho all making an appearance, giving plenty of choice. There’s plenty of familiarity, too, from crowd-pleasing Thai curries, shredded chili beef and Singapore noodles but, significantly, there are a number of dishes which weren’t instantly recognisable, and this is what drew our interest.
We dived into wok-fried daikon cakes (delicious), crispy lamb lettuce wraps with plum sauce (sadly underwhelming), kam heong prawns (another highlight), Fujian tofu noodles (fairly standard) and moo shu pork (lesser-known here but an American staple, so it was due the taste test). As plentiful as the feast was – and a veritable feast it was – the thing with Chinese food is that the staples everyone knows have become the benchmark to the quality of the restaurant. We all have our favourites. Here Huo hits the bullseye on some, but just misses the target on others; some dishes elicited raised eyebrows and murmurs of approval, others made us slightly rue the choice.
With the last sips of a pleasantly refreshing Italian Connubio, we considered our overall outcome. We had practically cleaned the plates, which is definitely a good sign, but felt the jury was still out. Judgment hung on desserts. The custard bao; a rarity in the UK, but done with aplomb in Hong Kong, just didn’t cut it. It felt like breaking open an overcooked poached egg. But then the banana fritters, ubiquitous on Chinese menus, were a treat. Crispy, feather-like batter, like the thinnest crust on a toffee apple, and surprisingly not too sweet when you consider these are 90% sugar, giving way to fresh banana. These, we concluded, were worth the meal alone.
With the sun setting over our new aspiring beachfront, and blankets beginning to be pulled from the backs of chairs, I soaked up the scene once more. The lights inside seemed brighter, the hubbub still resonated, diners came and went. We ordered a nightcap, eager to preserve the moment. Memories of a misspent youth long forgotten, we were in this moment. And this small, unassuming enclave of London, for the briefest flicker, seemed to represent that which we’ve been craving for so long – a chance for pure escapism, set against the backdrop of what feels like a very different time.
HUŎ, 9 Park Walk, Chelsea, London SW10 0AJ. For more information, including menus and bookings, please visit www.huo.london.
Photos by Charlie McKay