A Wong promises to bring a real taste of China to London. If you think of Chinese food as little more than a greasy takeaway bag with a few free prawn crackers then you're in for a treat. Expect short menus and fresh ingredients – two things that are a rarity in British-Chinese restaurants.
A Wong is a pleasingly presented restaurant that steers clear of clichés and thematic displays, and instead offers a borderline-romantic spot for a Chinese meal. The exterior is dark and sleek with a few plants and tables sat just outside a large glass frontage, whilst inside is divided across two floors and is modern without venturing into the realms of contemporary blandness. Seating is made up of a mix of wooden tables and chairs, and high stools sat around the large open kitchen. If you consider yourself to be something of a foodie connoisseur then this is the place to sit. Watch in awe as the chefs work impossibly fast to cater to the 80 or so covers they have to deal with at any one time.
With A Wong located by Victoria, between the lofty offices and the theatres, you can expect to see plenty of tourists and office workers rubbing shoulders here, seemingly oblivious of each other. Service is a little hit and miss - you are greeted warmly but the staff seem under pressure, particularly at peak times when the restaurant is actually pretty hectic. Perhaps it’s because this is still a new restaurant, but it hasn’t yet found that cohesive level of service that allows waiting staff to do their job with what looks like effortless ease.
Anyone used to MSG-laden, gloopy Chinese dishes are in for a pleasant surprise. This is a restaurant that does Chinese food as it should be done – utilising fresh ingredients and serving up bold flavours. The menu is surprisingly small but incredibly priced, with no dish costing more than £8 and an eight course tasting menu coming in at just under £40 a head. It is worth bearing in mind, though, that dim sum is only available at lunch.
To start, the mushroom, bamboo and vermicelli spring rolls (£1.50 each) are a must; they're how spring rolls should taste. The crisp exterior cracks as you bite into it with a delicately seasoned, light batter that allows the filling to shine. The vermicelli brings a pleasant texture to the dish and the noodles are wonderfully light, mixing with the earthy flavour of the mushroom. The bamboo shoots are the likes of which you only usually see in the Far East – no limp, lank shoots here.
There are only a handful of main courses from which to choose, with a focus on traditional Chinese favourites. The real highlight of the mains has to be the gong bao chicken (£6) – a Sichuan dish of chicken served with peanuts. As you might expect, it's hot enough to sear the mouth with liberal amounts of Sichuan pepper, but it's this use of spice that shows the expertise in the kitchen – it adds heat without detracting from the flavour of the moist, perfectly-cooked chicken. Enjoy with a side of filling egg fried rice (£3) for a complete, delicious meal.
Alternatively, you can try the steamed scallop with ginger and spring onion (£4). This is a decidedly tiny portion but is nonetheless delicious and at that price you can afford to get two. The scallop is perfectly cooked with a pleasant consistency that is neither too rubbery nor too jellified (a difficult line to walk), and the ginger and spring onion is well pitched so the delicate flavour of the scallop isn't overpowered. Yet again, the kitchen showcases their obvious command of flavour.
There’s a rather impressive wine list available at A Wong, something that further builds on the impression that this is more than your average Chinese restaurant. The selection of bottles includes champagne at well over £100 a pop (for those business lunches where a bit of showing off is vital), but otherwise the wine list mixes well-priced bottles (starting at just over £20) with a fair few finer selections. The menu also features good descriptions of what you can expect from each bottle so if you’re struggling to make a choice you needn’t look like you haven’t got a clue – especially pertinent if you’re out to impress a date.
The Last Word
Chinese food is unfairly associated with MSG, grease and post-drink binges, but the reality of this cuisine is far from what we interpret it to be. Thank heavens, then, for the likes of A Wong, which brings real Chinese gastronomy to the capital.