I am meeting some colleagues in London to discuss a visit to China last year so I suggest, naturally, that we convene at a Chinese restaurant.
I selflessly flag up A Wong, which I have wanted to visit since The Guardian’s Marina O’Loughlin gave it her seal of approval a couple of years ago. O’Loughlin has a reliable take on restaurants and if she says it’s worth a punt, I am prepared to give it a go.
One of the colleagues I am meeting is a bit of an expert on Chinese food (he is married to a Beijinger with a wicked taste for mouth-numbing spice) and thankfully he gives A Wong the nod. He is pleased I have picked a restaurant outside Chinatown, which he avoids.
A Wong is situated near Victoria station, which allows me to lay a ghost to rest en route to dim sum. I have a recurring dream, a borderline nightmare, in which I arrive at a nameless station but cannot find my train listed on the departure board. I scan the board frantically, knowing that the train is due to leave imminently. Typically, I spot the train listed on the board at the last minute and rush to the platform only to worry that it actually is the right train. And the train leaves, usually without me. I am unsure if I have missed the right train, or the wrong train.
Now, I used to live in Sittingbourne in Kent. You probably haven’t heard of it. The town is midway between London and Margate. That’s really its claim to fame. As a teenager, I used to don my tartan bondage trousers and travel to London on mad days out with my mates. Our gateway to the capital was Victoria station, where the Kent line terminated. I am now convinced my “departure board” dream is linked to those journeys.
So on my way to A Wong, I decide to confront my demons and get off the Tube at Victoria and head for the overground station. Here, I stare at the departure board for a good 10 minutes, inhaling the manufactured sugar scent from Millie’s Cookies. Back in the day, the best hungry commuters could hope for was a packet of Quavers and a Kit-Kat, so this is progress of a sort.
I decide to take a picture of the board, now digital but no less intimidating. It’s photographic confrontation, if you like. Since taking the snap, I haven’t had the “Which Platform Is The Bloody Train At?” dream. Am I on the road, or rail, to recovery? If anyone would like to make a documentary about this fascinating personal story, please get in touch.
A Wong is a short stroll from The Departure Board of Fretful Dreams, crammed in along Wilton Road. It’s a restaurant of two halves, which I like: lunch is a modern spin on Cantonese dim sum and sharing snacks while dinner is a more lavish, and regionally varied affair, touching on culinary inspiration from Shanghai, Sichuan, Beijing, Chengdu and Anhui province in east China.
There is a 10-course tasting menu for £55 (evenings only) and based on our lunch that has got to be worth returning for.
The last time I had dim sum with my two lunch guests was in Hong Kong and, if I’m honest, it was a bit of a disappointment. We dined at Luk Yu Tea House on Stanley Street, which is famous for its colonial grandeur, gargantuan menu and a Triad murder. Maybe it was the amazing food we had eaten previously on our tour of Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, but I found Luk Yu’s flavours cloying, although I did enjoy the chicken head.
Dim sum at A Wong comes in a range of prices so you can get a taste of things without breaking the bank. There is clear shrimp dumpling, sweet chilli sauce and citrus foam for £1.30 (per piece) through to big-hitters like sesame buttered smoked chicken (£4.95) and smoked Guangdong halibut, jelly fish and plum vinaigrette (£7.95).
There are plenty of mid-price options and it is these on which we feast.
There are some delicious one-bite mouthfuls including the wild mushroom and truffle steamed bun; Yunnan mushroom, pork and truffle dumpling; and the wonderfully named “Breakfast in Causeway bay’” sticky rice roll, crispy dough stick and lava floss.
There is restrained heat in the “Moo shu” pancake wraps with roll-your-own nibbles of pork, egg and wood ear fungus (£12).
The only dish that disappoints is Mrs Chow’s crispy pancakes, where the duck is surprisingly bland. I expect more crunch, meaty succulence and fatty slutheriness, which may or may not be a word. Because I am a hands on eater, I would prefer being left to hack at the portion rather than it being scrambled apart by the waitress.
Again, I put my mild indifference down to the China syndrome. We had amazing duck in Beijing at Jing Yaa Tang at the boutique Opposite House Hotel in Sanlitun Village. The duck is cooked in an oven of date wood and the meat is infused with a smoky, fruitiness. The whole bird is carved at the table with under-stated aplomb.
And then there was the duck at the amazing lunch buffet at The Market at Icon Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong. If you go here on your travels, don’t eat breakfast. In fact, don’t eat dinner the night before. The dining area’s open kitchens serve fabulous seafood, sashimi, laksas and duck. Oh, lovely duck. Everything is in tip-top condition.
A Wong does a pre-ordered Peking duck feast for about £40. Maybe I’ll be more lucky with that ducky. And, for me at least, it’s always worth checking out the departure board at Victoria station.
Summary: A Wong is good, not brilliant. Definitely recommended.