Contemporary northern Chinese restaurant Hutong has an impressive view, and in my opinion food that is at times as good, both in terms of taste and presentation. The restaurant was recently given one star by Michelin and it is easy to understand what would have appealed to the reviewers.
To celebrate this recognition the restaurant has introduced a Best of the Best menu, a tasting menu that incorporates many of the restaurant's signature dishes or those that it felt would have captured the attention of Michelin reviewers. At a recent dinner I tried most of the dishes from the tasting menu as well as a couple of others, and some captured my attention too as you will read.
We began with a prettily-presented platter of three signature starters, Marinated Scallops topped with Fresh Pomelo, Green Asparagus with White Sesame, and Baby Geoduck Marinated in Chinese Rose Wine and Chilli Sauce. We were told to eat them in the order written here as the flavours intensified in that order.
I found the scallop to be enjoyable on its own and the texture was good, but for me it was a little lost when paired with the pomelo, and the marinade reminded me of the taste of vegetarian chicken meat. My dining partner found it interesting and enjoyed the unusual flavour.
The asparagus elicited responses such as "clever", "unexpected" and "surprising". I don't want to spoil the enjoyment of the asparagus by explaining what I mean, other than to say it is a must-try.
I liked the geoduck because of the hints of rose on the tongue before the hit of chilli and garlic. If you like geoduck and spice you will love Hutong's version.
The star of the show for us was the bold signature dish, Crispy Deboned Lamb Ribs in Hutong's Style. I loved the presentation with the crispy lamb, bowl of sliced scallions, light soy sauce, and minced garlic on a stone served on a long, chunky piece of wood. Creative presentation is certainly a feature of the restaurant. The lamb looked like crispy-skin pork, but there was no mistaking it when eating, it was most definitely lamb. It was rich, unctuous, tender and very lamby. A lamb lover's dream. This was a WOW dish, the flavour, the texture, the uber crispy skin...all superb. Another must-try.
Mandarin Fish with a Sea of Crispy Yellow Bean followed. It had a lovely flavour that comes from a recently caught fish. The crunchy yellow beans (soy beans) gave the dish wonderful textural contrast without interfering with the flavour of the fish. There was also hints of ginger, scallion and chilli. A light, well-executed dish.
It Looks Good
Impressively presented in a wooden basket the Crispy Soft Shell Crabs with Szechuan Red Pepper resembled a bowl of sparkling rubies interspersed with nuggets of gold. The combination of the fat soluble chilli heat with the deep fried crab enabled the crustacean to hold its own. For us this dish was visually impressive but the taste was a little disappointing, a little too oily.
Wok Fried "Jade" Green Bamboo Shoots was the last of the savoury courses. It had nice crunch, a balance of sweet and salty, with hints of sesame. I understand that it should have a delicate flavour, but I found it to me almost tasteless. It acted more as a palate cleanser after the crab.
Dim Sum Dessert
it was suggested that we try a platter of Northern Chinese Sweet Dim Sum for dessert. It consisted of two Chinese style pudding/cake, yellow bean cake, which we did not enjoy and found rather bland, and coconut and red bean, which was OK. There was also a taro pancake that tasted as if it had spent too much time in oil, while the deep fried taro root tasted as if it had been cooked in old oil. The apple finger roll, an apple spring roll, was very good. Overall I thought the platter consisted of too many fried foods.
Despite the disappointing end to the meal the rest was enjoyable, while some of it impressed, particularly the signature lamb dish. I liked the order in which the mains were presented -- heavy, light, heavy, light, it made eating this many dishes an enjoyable experience.
Does it deserve a Michelin rating? If I compare it to the other Chinese restaurants I have eaten at so far with stars, I would say yes, and would happily dine there again.
Ambiance, Service, Price
The decor is impressive, although for some perhaps a little twee. The space is filled with reproductions or original Chinese furnishings and antique accessories, hanging and standing bird cages, silks, wooden screens and "moon" gateways. Lots of dark timbers and red accents, such as lanterns. I particularly liked the Double Happiness matches cover for the wine list, very G.O.D. And, I was impressed that the decor had been extended to the bathroom, well at least the ladies' bathroom. Overall, there is a warm ambiance.
The service was fine, although at times it was a little difficult to get the staff's attention.
The Best of the Best menu is available until the end of March and consists of nine courses and is priced at $888 per person, or $1,300 with wine pairings. A la carte prices for starters range from $108 to $228, and $148 to $398 for mains, except for some dishes that have luxury ingredients such as shark's fin. The signature lamb is $248. There is a minimum spend of $300 per person at dinner. In addition, to many dishes that are sure to appeal the menu boasts quite a few offerings for those that enjoy all parts of the animal - pig's throat, fish head, shark's lips, frog's legs, and the organs of chicken, lamb and fish.