Test Driving Hutong at the Shard

Test Driving Aqua Hutong at the ShardWhat can you tell us about Hutong?

Hutong is the second restaurant to open at that rather large edifice towering over the London skyline, The Shard (we visited Oblix a few weeks back). It's the second site from the Aqua Group who already have Aqua Kyoto and Nueva over near Oxford Circus. This restaurant is modelled after the similarly named Hutong in Hong Kong and is the first time they've taken the brand outside of Hong Kong.

What kind of food can I expect?

Hutong offers, essentially, spicy Chinese food from northern China. So the food stays at the hot end of the spectrum, but you can always ask the chefs to tone it down a bit for you if you'd prefer.

Where is it?

It's situated on the 33rd floor of the Shard - sharing an entrance with the other Aqua restaurant in the building Aqua Shard (we'll have more details on that for you next week). Head along to London Bridge station and it's less than a minute from there, as long as you take the right exit (at time of writing this still wasn't obvious for such a major London landmark).

And what's the view like?

As with Oblix - the view is spectacular. It takes the space directly above Oblix, with the main restaurant above Oblix's and the bar above the Oblix bar, along with some more private booths. The view is, however, much more impressive from the Aqua Shard bar. This opens onto three storeys worth of glass windows and has - as you can imagine - a pretty fine view indeed.

Who's it recommended for?
Anyone who fancies slightly more exotic (and is happy with spicy) Chinese food and who wants to eat in one of London's best known landmarks. It will almost certainly be a big hit with tourists and it's also slightly less bustling than Oblix upstairs, while the booth tables would probably be more recommended for entertaining clients (or vice versa). It's also recommended for people with large bank balances, but more of that in a moment.

Where should I meet up with friends?

The easiest place by far is in either one of the bars at Aqua Shard or Hutong where you can settle in for a cocktail. If you'd prefer to meet up somewhere else before, then there are loads of places to choose from around Borough market, only a short walk away. You could always try to get into the Oblix bar too - but be aware that they have a hefty cover charge after 9pm.

Where should I sit?

Obviously, by the window if you can. However, we were sat away from it and still had a fine view over London. It's worth noting that the booths further back from the view are raised slightly - so there's ample chance to take in the view even if you're set back. There are quite a few booths here, so it's ideal for coming in groups of four and more.

What should I eat?

One things we should mention here - Hutong is not a cheap restaurant. Some of the prices are, shall we say, quite significant. However, this is backed up with some decent sized portions (with some exceptions) and, in our experience, some excellent cooking.

The menu is huge - several pages long with more dishes to be added as we were visiting during the soft launch period (the restaurant was opening to the public the next day). We started out with a dim sum platter with a selection of particularly slippery dumplings that will put your chopstick skills to the test (or make you request a fork).These were good - and will be available as a handy lunch dish - but it was the main course which delivered some particular crackers.

First up is the signature dish, The Red Lantern - crispy soft-shell crab with Sichuan dried chilli (£28). This was a huge dish of whole chillis that surrounded the crab - giving it a light spicy taste (unless you paired it with a chilli...). It's a spectacular looking dish that had us fishing out parts of crab all throughout the meal like the best kind of lucky dip and we expect it to be the must-order dish along with the whole Peking duck (£58). We didn't order the latter but had a quick taste (thanks to Gizzi Erskine on the next table) and we know of several others who have proclaimed it as being among the best in London.

However, it was the next dish that really surprised us. This was Wunan style cod fillet (£27) - easily one of the best dishes we've tried this year. Perfectly cooked cod matched with a (as requested) lightly spiced topping of fermented yellow bean, chilli, ginger and garlic - all crushed and all cooked in oil until they get crunchy. We'd happily go back multiple times to try out this dish again.

The spicy minced pork with string beans (fried with chilli and dried petite shrimp - £10) was also a surprisingly wonderful and spicy "vegetable" dish, proving once again that there's no vegetable that the addition of pork can't improve. While the aromatic beef rib braised in lotus leaf was a chunky piece of meat and an ideal choice if you fancy steering clear of the spicier items. The only unremarkable dish was the egg-white fried rice, topped with crushed conpoy and spring onion at a very punchy £12. But the quality of everything else easily outshone this and there are dozens of dishes on the menu that we'd be keen to try on a return visit.

What about drinks?

While the wine prices do escalate quickly, there is a bottle of red or white for £22 (£4.50 a glass) on the list if you're economising (the white is Pe Branco, Herdade do Esporao, Alentejo, Portugal). There's a large selection of whiskies, gins, tequilas and vodkas and a pleasingly short cocktail list.

We did start things off with two very fine cocktails. As with Hutong in Hong Kong, the cocktails are "cocktail cures" using ingredients that Chinese herbal medicine deems particularly good for you.

First up - the "Comfortably Numb" (Stolichnaya vanilla, fresh chilli, Szechuan pepper honey, lychee liquor, fresh lime juice - £12.50).The pepper apparently "Warms, disperses cold, alleviates abdominal pain and spleen or stomach cold from deficiency patterns." according to the menu. The other cocktail - Chinese Lantern (Fresh mandarin, Aperol, St. Germain, passion fruit syrup, plum bitters, Champagne - £14) and the Mandarin is - again according to the menu -  "used in the treatment of nausea, peptic ulcers and indigestion, allergies, digestive disorders, mastitis. In addition to its healing powers, possesses properties that can act as a contraceptive for women." They've apparently toned down these descriptions from the original Chinese menu.

While the cocktail menu is decidedly barmy - but in a highly entertaining way - the cocktails themselves were fine concoctions. Strong, unique and well priced, given the location. So it's well worth popping in for a medicinal cocktail - although after a few of them we think the medicinal qualities would be questionable...

With our meal we had a lovely floral wine, the aptly named Fleur de Lotus (a mixture of Auxerrois, Gewurztraminer, Riesling) from Alsace (£50).

Overall thoughts?

The Shard continues London's run of producing high rise restaurants that are very much worth heading along to. It's not cheap but we'd definitely recommend Hutong - particularly that cod - and think it offers something beyond even ground-level Chinese restaurants in London. Well worth seeking out (which won't be hard...).

And one last thing - be prepared for some of the most spectacular mens' loos in the city (check out the gallery below).

Hutong is at Level 33 The Shard, 31 St. Thomas Street, London SE1 9RY. Find out more about Hutong

Prices were correct at time of writing. Hot Dinners were invited to eat at Hutong.