Hutong in the Shard

Hutong in the Shard: chopsticks & champagne

I like to choose a new destination and then to dream before I go. This April I’m going to China, and my dreaming started with a visit to Hutong in the Shard.

A hutong is a narrow type of alley found in Beijing’s back streets as early as the Yuan dynasty (1206-1341). Hutong in the Shard, at 33 floors up in the sky, is far from any kind of alley, but it does specialise in northern Chinese food. It takes in the classic dishes of Beijing, the seafood and vinegars of Shandong and the fiery spices of Sichuan, the home of Hutong’s head chef, Sifu (Master) Fei Wang.

The best way to shed light on anything in life, including a new culture, is through the lens of duality. We need duality to make sense of the world, whether the sun and the moon, happiness and sadness or, in this case, northern China and Shanghai, which is where I am heading in two weeks’ time – in central, coastal China, and with a very different cuisine.

Year of the pig

As of 5 February, we are in the Chinese Year of the Pig, said to be an auspicious year. The ‘wishing tree‘ at Hutong was full of wishes. I never made a wish as I was conscious that I had to scurry away that afternoon for my appointment at the China visa centre.

It turned out that, in any case, luck and abundance were on my side. I now have a 90-day visa for a two-year period, when all I wanted was a week.

The year of the pig, Hutong

Family connections with Shanghai

My godfather had been a feather broker in 1930s’ Shanghai. After feathers went out of fashion in the 1950s, he ended up penniless in London in a bedsit in Chelsea. I was too young to have asked him many questions before he returned to stardust… or whatever happens to us when we stop breathing.

The Shanghai that he knew will not be the one that I will discover, but my link with him was behind my decision to visit China, one of the world’s oldest cultures, where food and art, and conscious living has thousands of years of tradition.

The tea wall, Hutong
Tea is synonymous with China: at Hutong, vintage tea caddies line the wall next to the ‘tea wall’, traditionally made with bricks of compressed tea. Tea is considered one of the seven necessities in China, together with salt, vinegar, soy sauce, rice, oil and firewood – I presume a few other things join the list, such as water, shelter and compassion.

The best view of London

At Hutong, make sure to book a table, if you can, with a view. My table looked out towards St Paul’s Cathedral. I could just make out Primrose Hill in the distance.

The day when I was there, the clouds were thick and motionless – no magnificent sunsets for later on that day. Even if the light were like one big beauty dish, the way that it caught the details of the decor in the restaurant, and spread throughout the space made me feel that the ‘feng shui was good‘, as my Chinese friends often tell me about spaces that feel ‘right’.

View from Hutong
From my table I looked north-westwards across the Thames to St Paul’s Cathedral – the only building with a dome.

The Signature Menu + a glass of champagne

I went for the five-course Signature Lunch Menu and a glass of Veuve Clicquot. The champagne went perfectly with every course. Champagne and chopsticks win, even though I had arrived thinking I would have a glass of Pinot Gris from Alsace – the wine that traditionally goes best with Chinese food, say my friends at Clos Driver Wine Tours, who feature many a time in my wine blogs.

Signature Lunch Menu, Hutong

Art & food – GODDESS STYLE

As I sipped my champagne and started to tuck into my food, the Iron Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin, looked over proceedings in the Hutong bar. I felt in good hands. Love, compassion and kindness are the 3 things that make the world go round – together with the 7 necessities, according to Chinese legend, of tea, salt, vinegar, soy sauce, rice, oil and firewood.

The Iron Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin, Hutong
Guaynyiin, the Iron Goddess of Mercy, overlooking Hutong.

Starting with dumplings

Dumplings at Huton in the Shard
First up were 3 dumplings: Black Truffle & Endamame, Yam of Pork Belly Crispy, Lobster with Sichuan Chilli Sauce. Each one revealed its own surprise.

Pièce de Resistance – Roasted Peking duck

Sliced roasted Peking duck, with pancakes, spring onions, cucumber & plum sauce, Hutong
Roasted Peking Duck served with Pancakes, Spring Onions, Cucumber & Plum Sauce, carved at the table by one of the chefs. Thank goodness I had my back to the room, as I fumbled around with my chopsticks trying to make my little packages. I refuse to succumb to using a knife and fork when eating Asian food, as the food tastes so much better with chopsticks

The main course – 3 in 1

Crispy Basa Fillet with Peanut, Sesame & Chilli, Hutong
Crispy Basa Fillet with Peanut, Sesame & Chilli
Spicy Aromatic Aubergine Tempura, Hutong
Spicy Aromatic Aubergine Tempura
Duck Noodle Soup, Hutong
Duck Noodle Soup with Seasonal Vegetables. The soup was a balancing way to wind up the meal before dessert. The noodles reminded me that pasta was brought to Italy from China by Marco Polo in the 13th century, or so the legend goes.

Chocolate & Mandarin – Hot & Cold

Chocolate tart with mandarin sorbet, Hutong
Chocolate Tart with Mandarin Sorbet. The warmth of the tart, which contrasted with the coldness of the sorbet, came as such a lovely surprise. One of the best chocolate tarts I’ve ever eaten.

A few more pictures

Lantern corridor, Hutong
The red lantern corridor.
Hutong logo in Chinese
Now if those Chinese characters say ‘Hutong’, how on earth am I going to find my way round Shanghai!
Private dining area, Hutong
Private or semi-private dining ‘corners’ abound. Traditional scarecrows on the wall.

I left Hutong relaxed, replenished and ready, with two weeks to go before my departure to Shanghai. The next day I booked my next great culinary experience of China – lunch at Fu He Hui in Shanghai, one of the world’s most renowned vegetarian restaurants.

I have a dictum when I travel: I never accept an offer or a gift if anyone approaches me; only if I approach them. That day I was the guest of Hutong in the Shard, when I realised a long-held dream of eating there.

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