Saturday 23 August 2008

Hunan - A Heaven For Gluttons... Like Me

Let it be known that I am a glutton.

People often marvel at how much I eat, especially given my size (which isn't very big). People at work are convinced that as soon as I hit 30, or even worse, 25 my metabolism is going to slow right down and I'll balloon. So I'm making the most of it.

It was much talked about when I was younger. I once ate so much pie I was sick in my sleep - not recommended - and my mum still laments the holiday in Brittany where my dad and I literally ate our way through the week. It culminated in me not being able to decide between two main courses in a restaurant... so I got both, to run concurrently. I just didn't want to miss out, you see.

When I heard about Hunan, about 6 months ago, I had to go. A Chinese restaurant, named after the region in China known for it's liberal use of chillis. Perfect! Although they do claim that their food isn't strictly Hunanese on their website, what sealed the deal for me is that they don't offer menus. Instead, they bring you out food of the choice of the kitchen and don't stop until they tell you to.

So, tonight was the night. We arrived in Sloane Square, feeling a touch out of place, being the scruff bags that we are. The restaurant is not your typical Chinatown caff, but rather a sleeker affair. Extremely courteous staff sat us down, and away we went, furnished with a bottle of Chilean Sauvingnon Blanc. As we were sat by the window, the pictures start off pretty bright but progressively get darker.

To start, we also had marinated cucumber and some peanuts. A soup came out, steamed in a bamboo cup. A deeply savoury broth with ginger, shiitake mushrooms and pork mince came out accompanied by chicken mince in a lettuce leaf with a sauce to drizzle over it. We didn't know where to start really. The soup was gorgeous and the lettuce wrap a really pleasing texture contrast.

Next came some spicy green beans, in a light tempura-like batter. I must attempt to make these at home; not a hint of grease, but a pleasing amount of crunch, garnished with spring onion and mild(ish) chillis.

The salmon and snapper roll was interesting, but flavour-wise it was somewhat bland. I think it was meant to be, as it was quite refreshing on the palate.

In quick succession came one of my favourites of the meal - pork belly braised with star anise and ginger. The pork belly fell apart with a prod of the chopsticks - it was unctuous and melted in the mouth. I wanted more.

Various dumplings followed, some memorable, others not so. In particular a king prawn dumpling stuffed with a fish mousse and water chestnuts was particularly clever, and tasty. A prawn-topped bitter melon didn't reveal any hint of bitterness, but was well executed and beautifully presented. Tofu parcels came out, confusingly called "turkey wrapped ham" by the server. Debate between us quickly ensued - the boyfriend berudgingly admitted it was tofu, and deliciously so. Lamb parcels then came out, which reminded us of a gourmet version of sesame prawn toast; covered in sesame seeds, the lamb was barely there but enough to make it's mark. A spicy beef dish was amazingly tender, and perfumed with the smoky dried chillies nicely.

Finally, the big dishes came out. "Are you too full?" enquired the waiter. "Keep it coming!" Steamed sea bass in ginger and spring onion was perfectly cooked, and served from the beast table side. It proved to me that the restaurant didn't need to make any fancy dumplings or rolls for it to show that they can cook well.

Bewilderingly so, we were then given crispy duck and pancakes. Perfectly nice, but we did wonder if it was a mere filler.

Next, came Twice Cooked Pork in Lotus Leaves with egg fried rice and stir-fried veg. This really did top us off. The pork was a little dry, but the sauce was dark, rich and fruity.

We finally ducked out when the boyfriend gasped: "Enough! I'm done". I scoffed at him, even sulked a bit but clearly he knew better; after a small dessert of home made red bean balls, stuffed pancake and coconut jelly, I was fit to burst. We waddled off into the night, after having been eating for almost 3 hours. I'm still full now; I'm not sure sleeping is a good idea at the moment.

There is an element of trust when it comes to the bill as it was indecipherable, but it was very reasonable indeed. If you're not a fusspot, I suggest you go.

Hunan on Urbanspoon


Jules said...

I love the sound of this restaurant and it would be a great place to try things I haven't tried before.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lizzie,

I'm so glad you enjoyed them too. We had a great time in January when we went there à trois, though the dish that finished US off was a whole braised pork shoulder hock.
Actually we shouldn't talk too much about them as they may begin to get too booed up, and then where would we be?

Anonymous said...

I love this concept, will definitely add it to the list.

Unknown said...

Ian, I suppose that if they DO get booed up there won't be too much of a queue to go there.....

Anonymous said...

What an interesting idea for a restaurant. I bet Goon would absolutely love it.

Speaking of China Town eateries, I'd love to hear any recommendations. Goon lodges in Covent Garden now and its near impossible to cook there. I think China Town is our best bet for good food, particularly if I go there on a Sunday.

I'll be at the market on Friday too to see Fergus Henderson at least. I have limited internet access now but I'll send my mobile number to you in case we're both there at the same time.

Hollow Legs said...

Ian - I did wonder if it was worth going as a bigger group; I saw some people being served a big dish of noodles. I was envious.

Ros - Baozi Inn is my new favourite place. Jen Cafe is also good for dumplings, and I go to Crispy Duck on Wardour Street, now renamed Hung's. Try their braised beef brisket noodle soup (ngau lam ho fun), it's delicious.

Anonymous said...

Although it does look and sound good, there isn't anything remotely Hunanese about it... Hunan is famous for using large sweet chillies in abundance, with lots of garlic and corriander. Everything is always chopped very finely compared to other chinese cuisines. The meat is very often either offal or a mix of offal and served with very fresh, almost uncooked vegetables. You won't find pork in lettuce or coconut jelly in China I'm afraid...

Gastro1 said...

One of my favourite restaurants in the World and the Pengs are Food Heroes of the first Order.

Mr Noodles said...

I liked Hunan but I can't help but feel it isn't going to be that unique if you go back repeatedly.

Comparing your photos to my review, there are 8 dishes in common. There were also 6 dishes in common between my meal and World Foodie Guide's review.