dines twice at Hutong, at The Shard

Plumptious kung pao prawns
I love Northern Chinese cuisine, so have wanted to go to Hutong for some time now. Having finally managed to obtain a table last week, I've been twice in a week.  Why?  Well - on the first occasion we were so impressed by the plumptious kung pao prawns that I just had to have some more!

Last week we went with guests, and had the following excellent dishes (because we had guests, I didn't photograph them).  There was a whole duck, carved at the table, and forming two dishes.  The lacquered skin is sliced finely, and presented with pancakes, cucumber and spring onions, and plum sauce.  Later in the meal the second part of the duck is diced, and served with lettuce leaves.  Though I'm not supposed to eat meat, I did have one lacquered duck pancake - the skin was actually better than the equivalent served at Hakkasan Kitchen, which is a compliment indeed.  We also had kung pao prawns, the Red Lantern soft-shell crab, grouper with black bean sauce, and a dish of Sichuan style Iberico pork loin...

The prawns were so delicious, plump, spicy but not numbingly so.  I loved the soft-shelled crab, but I noted that the others didn't seem to be tucking into with the same gusto.  The grouper, which I'd never had before, was delicate, soft, the saltiness a good contrast to all the chilli in the other dishes.  Having eaten the duck, I didn't try the pork, though Hubby liked it.

This week we had the duck again, not quite so 'fragile' as the skin last week, I wonder if the better ducks are saved for those ordering a whole duck? Certainly not as good as the Hakkasan Kitchen equivalent on this occasion, being a little more greasy.

Crispy shredded beef and chilli
We had to have the kung pao prawns, and they were just as delicious.  We also ordered the grouper, just as good as last time, and Hubby wanted to try the shredded beef.  As others have noted, the beef is sliced just a little too finely to really make the flavour sing, though the sauce is good (I know, I ate most of the carrots :0).  I hadn't tried the second duck dish last time, and I did have a couple of lettuce wraps this time - don't treat the second dish as a compromise use of the duck, it's actually very flavourful.
Grouper with black bean sauce

So, the food is delicious.  But given that I haven't written a review of anything for a year, what compels me to set out my thoughts now? Let's begin with The Shard. Tallest building in Western Europe, The Shard is an 87 floor sky-scraper, built with Qatari money, and housing a number of Asian influenced restaurants and the Shangri-La Hotel.  It has a viewing gallery, on floors 68, 69 and 72, the price for entry to the viewing gallery is between £24 and £30 per person for a 30 minute time slot.  A number of my friends expressed horror at the cost, but actually the London Eye is comparable, and also has a 30 minute time slot.  The viewing gallery in The Shard is also much higher, so perhaps not such bad value after all.

Hutong is located on the 33rd floor, and has some of the most spectacular views in London - each table has a slightly different tranche of the view, and on the first occasion we overlooked the South Bank, on the second, St Paul's - both offering spectacular views of the sunset.  In terms of interiors, the furniture is heavy, dark and solid, but well spaced out.  I wouldn't normally pass comment on the clientele, but its an interesting mixture of hotel guests, including children early on, and more international as evening descends.  The atmosphere is quite calm, and relaxed.  This contrasts with the journey to the restaurant...

The views across London

To reach Hutong you enter The Shard at the Shangri-La side of the building.  Before you can go in, a doorman stops you, and asks if you have a reservation.  Yes. We do.  Going single file (!!) through the revolving door, a receptionist asks if you have a reservation.  Yes.  We do.  You enter a lift and reach the 33rd floor very speedily.  There another doorman asks if you have a reservation. Yes. We do.  The right-hand side of the building then divides into two halves.  To the right, the adjacent bar is very, very busy, I suspect, with people preferring to pay £30 for drinks with a view, rather than just the view... Up a staircase to the left, is Hutong.  There you will be greeted and shown to your table.

On the first visit I would have to describe the entry process as a bun fight - funnelling so many people through one door causes chaos as a diner.  The lift probably holds twenty people at a time, so it's easy to become separated from each other, and people jostle to stay together.

On the second occasion there were a couple of teenagers with their father, and one of the girls was wearing a pair of (clean) Dr Marten's with a dress - not a crime in my book - but she was barred entry. Naturally feeling embarrassed she became pretty vocal, though there was no bad language, just frustration.  The doormen could have opened the other two doors to allow other guests in, but instead we all stood around, feeling for the girl, her father and the poor doorman.

It's extraordinary, The Shard is such a popular destination that it's in danger of having a negative impact on the very people its trying to serve - the paying customer.  I entirely understood how teenager felt - the constant questioning made her feel inadequate, and in the lift she'd complained about feeling judged - no wonder she had an outburst when she was turned away.  For the sake of clarity, their web side does say:  "Our dress code is smart casual. We regret that entry will not be allowed if you are wearing shorts, sportswear, flip-flops or sports shoes."

I felt the same anxiety when I first went to Hutong, and said so on their Facebook page.  "Fantastic views, attentive service, my favourite wine in stock too. The only downsides are the price (though you can see where that money is being spent - the ingredients are excellent) and the endless levels of "greeters". It's clearly too popular for it's own good, as you must pass half a dozen people asking if you have a reservation - either sort this out at the first entrance, or surely just leave it until people arrive at the main entrance... That said, I'd eat those prawns for breakfast if I could...".

They responded to the comment very promptly saying "Thank you Jax - your very constructive comments will be noted!".

I really like Hutong, I think the food is fantastic, the staff are very courteous, and I was most impressed by the non-Chinese waiter having a very fluent Chinese conversation with diners. However I dislike the process of actually getting to my table.  On my second visit I was a little more prepared, so whilst I wouldn't normally document my dining experience to this extent, I think forewarned is forearmed.  Do go, make sure you have the prawns, and the grouper, but allow time for the 10 minute entry process, and wear the right shoes.

#mybridge #towerbridge I live down there somewhere :0)

The view over St Paul's Cathedral

Level 33, The Shard
31 St Thomas Street
London SE1 9RY

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