Although I first read about A Wong on the (sadly now defunct) Eat Love Noodles blog back in spring 2013, it wasn’t until this year that I finally visited, in the company of Mr Noodles himself, as well as fellow blogger, the Insatiable Eater and his partner. It was the innovative dim sum that I was so keen to try, as it’s rare to see the dim sum classics so cleverly modernised.
We met at the restaurant one sunny Saturday lunch time at the beginning of March, buoyed by the earliness of spring sunshine and with empty bellies at the ready.
One of the things I really appreciate about A Wong’s dim sum menu is that items are priced (and ordered) individually, making it easy to order the required number whether you’re dining alone or in a group. The usual multiples of three makes it difficult to order for parties of two or four, but here, we simply ordered 4 pieces of most of the dim sum on the menu. In addition, we ordered a couple of items from the snacks section and, later, some noodles and dessert.
On the table, chilli oils and goji berries (respectively, too fiery and too sharp for me) but I think my friends enjoyed the chilli.
First to arrive was the smoked duck and jellyfish and pork crackling salad (£4.95), a beautifully balanced blend of textures and tastes. This perfectly whetted our appetite for what was still to come, and didn’t last long at all!
Pickled cucumber (£2) was less immediately exciting but I loved the freshness of cooling crisp cucumber against the heat of the chilli and the sesame dressing.
I’ve never come across Shanxi province honeycomb noodles with coriander and chilli dip (£4.50) before; I was fascinated by the presentation, for which sheets of pasta had carefully been folded into tubes and arranged within the confines of a bamboo steamer. For me, the noodles themselves were a little dry and chewy, but the dipping sauce was a genuine highlight.
Quail egg croquette puffs (£1.75 each) feature the familiar delicate wrapping of a taro croquette (one of my default orders for any dim sum meal). Here, the lacy coat surrounded a perfectly soft-boiled quail egg, providing another superb taste and texture combination. The ginger and spring onion dipping sauce was a winner too.
Time for sui mai, another dim sum classic, this time updated with a crispy curl of crackling. The pork and prawn dumplings, pork crackling (£1.30 each) were pleasant enough, but for me, it was not feasible to eat the dumpling and crackling in a single mouthful. I’d prefer plain sui mai and a bowl of crackling as a side dish.
Baked roasted pork buns with a sugared coating (£1.50 each) were a riff on pork puff pastries and crunchy-topped bolo bao (pineapple buns). They were OK, but the pork inside lacked depth of flavour; I’d rather have the regular barbecue puff pastry version or a steamed char sui bao.
Crab, seafood and beancurd cannelloni, pickled cockles were £3.50 each but our waiter advised us to order two portions, as each one is served cut into two pieces. These looked pretty but I found them a little bland compared to many of the other dim sum.
Har gau (shrimp dumplings) are another regular dim sum order for me. These clear shrimp dumplings, sweet chilli sauce, citrus foam (£1.30) arrived wearing bubble bath robes – pretty as a picture but the foam didn’t add much to the eating experience. Still, the “oooh” moment when the bubbles caught the sunlight was fun!
Probably one of the most striking dishes, visually, was the scallop puff with XO sauce (£2). These vibrant orange blooms were super crunchy, and the XO sauce packed a punch, though I’m not sure I could detect much of the scallop flavour inside. Still, its silky texture was much in evidence. I enjoyed these!
I didn’t know what to expect of foie gras sticky sesame dumplings (£2 each) so I was very happy to discover they were essentially small jin doy, a sweet pastry treat that I often buy from Chinese bakeries. The spherical shell is a sticky, chewy delight and there’s usually a pellet of sweet red bean paste inside; in this case, the red bean paste was replaced by a (sadly very tiny) piece of foie gras. I liked the aesthetic impact of using both black and white sesame seeds but the foie gras was too small to give much flavour against the glutinous rice wrapper.
There were two variations of sui long bao on the menu – Shanghai steamed dumplings, ginger infused vinegar (£1.50 each) and Yunnan mushroom, pork and truffle dumplings (£1.75 each). All of us audibly sighed in appreciation at the heady aromas of truffle that wafted across the table as soon as the latter were delivered. With very careful lifting, I managed to retain the broth inside mine, though the wonderfully thin wrappers meant this was a challenge not all of us passed. The dumplings were utterly delicious, one of the best of the meal. The ginger vinegar dumplings were pleasant but I’m a overly sensitive to sharper flavours, so personally, I’d have preferred the vinegar relegated to a dipping sauce.
This rather alienesque little number is the deep fried prawn ball with abalone and chilli vinaigrette (£1.75 each). These are deeply savoury, bouncy balls of protein that, once again, contrast nicely with the texture of the crunchy threads around them.
By this stage, I was thoroughly stuffed, and had I been sensible, I would have stopped there. But I was far too easily persuaded by my eager companions, that we should continue on to some noodles and dessert. Well.. they didn’t have to twist my arm too hard!
Mr. Mak’s tossed noodles with oyster sauce and shrimp roe (£8) came with a pipette of sauce and a side dish of broth. While I enjoyed the shrimp roe flavours, I found the noodles a bit dry and the accompanying broth quite bland.
The noodles in the won ton noodle soup (£8) were better, but again, I found the dish a little lacking in depth of flavour. I would have liked more greens and wontons, both.
Beijing yoghurt with chilli barbecued pineapple and sichuan pepper ice cream (£6.50) came with a certificate of authentication for the yoghurt, which is apparently a very highly respected brand in China. The yoghurt was OK, though I didn’t find it anything special to justify the hype (or import). But the barbecued pineapple was delicious; it paired superbly with the sichuan pepper ice cream, but what a shame the portion of ice cream was so tiny! Even if we hadn’t been sharing desserts, I’d have been disappointed in this tiny pellet.
(Incidentally, if you like the sound of sichuan pepper ice cream, here’s my own recipe for it, from last summer).
Our second dessert was tobacco smoked banana, nut crumble, chocolate, soy caramel (£6.50). This was presented with pomp, the hot caramel sauce poured onto a chocolate sphere from great height, until its warmth melted through the chocolate shell to reveal the ice cream within, Bob Bob Ricard style. For me, the overall taste was far too sweet; cloyingly, tooth-achingly so. Having enjoyed tobacco chocolates from Artisan du Chocolat, I was also disappointed that the flavour and kick of tobacco didn’t come through more clearly. Still, it was eagerly eaten by my friends, so it’s a matter of personal taste.
Stuffed to bursting, we finally requested the bill, noticing that the previously packed-to-the-rafters dining room was virtually empty by the time we finished our long and leisurely lunch. With service, the bill came to just under £32 per person. Dropping noodles and desserts from our order (which would still have left me comfortable satiated) would bring that down to £23.50 per person.
Finally, a great and reasonably-priced dining choice in the vicinity of Victoria station!
Although I’ve expressed minor reservations about some aspects of a few of the items we ordered, in the main part, I found the meal very enjoyable indeed. The dim sum was as innovative, exciting and delicious as I’d been promised and I’m keen to visit for more soon. Based on the two noodle dishes, I’m curious about how well the rest of the menu performs; if you’ve been for dinner, I’d love to hear your thoughts.