Review of Hutong - Chinese fine dining at The Shard in London
Like most Londoners, I tend not to hangout at tourist spots. So despite the Shard having been open since 2013, I’ve never had any intentions of checking it out. I always pass by it of course, be it travelling past on the train or if I’m eating around the area. I think the hefty price tag of the rip-off ticket prices was the biggest put off for me.
Then one day I was surprised with a lunch date at Hu Tong – the Chinese restaurant on the Shard’s 33rd level. Finally I could say that I’d visited this iconic spot in London.
After going through security at ground level as if I was going to catch a flight at the airport, I stepped into the shiny lift to make my journey up. Sadly it wasn’t a pleasant journey, not only because I was squashed up against the other eager visitors as if we were on the Central Line during rush hour, but also because it was awkwardly quiet – I guess we were all trying to contain our excitement so as not to embarrass ourselves in front of strangers.
When we reached the 33rd floor, we all rushed out to find our respective dining spots. To find Hu Tong, I had to walk through the triple-storey atrium of Aqua Shard where families and couples were enjoying afternoon tea – I couldn’t help but gawp at their scones and finger sandwiches and made a mental note to come back and try that next time!
Once I found the stairs for Hu Tong and walked up to the friendly maître d, that’s when one of my favourite lunches officially started. As I had a reservation for food, I was shown to a window table. The views are impressive and reminded me why I love London so much. The décor within the restaurant is just as impressive and there are lots of spots for you to take Instagram worthy pictures, with all that natural lighting coming in from all angles. I also loved how the dark wooden furniture contrasted well with the wall of bright red lanterns.
Hu Tong’s menu was equally as interesting with some usual dishes you’d expect to see like spring rolls, dim sum, steamed fish and roasted Peking duck – albeit with more luxurious ingredients. For example the Iberico pork dumplings with Sichuan garlic sauce. Although, as nice as it was, it was a little style over substance for me. I didn’t think these dumplings tasted any better than using normal pork and I would’ve rather eaten a plate of Iberico ham at a tapas restaurant. The Shandong hand shredded chicken with homemade butterfly buns on the other hand was much better. The chicken was drenched in a sauce that packed a punch as it contained chilli, sesame oil, peanut paste and fresh coriander. I felt the butterfly buns were an attempt to be trendy though and I would’ve been happy to have the chicken on it’s own.
I then had the beef shank in a Sichuan chilli broth. Our waiter told us this was a new item and was eager to have our feedback on it. My pleasure I thought, and wondered whether my blogger identity had been exposed with all the photos I was taking of the food! Honestly this dish wasn’t bad at all, but it’s not for those who can’t handle their spice. The beef was sliced wafer thin so you could dunk it into the broth and soak up all those lovely flavours. I thought the presentation could’ve been done better though as the chef was too heavy handed on the sesame seeds so that you couldn’t see much of the dish and it didn’t add any flavour anyway. I have seen the presentation changes, so maybe the chef valued my opinion after all!
Then the main event came along – my yummy roast Peking duck served with pancakes, hoisin sauce, spring onions and cucumber. To be honest, I didn’t fancy paying £32.00 for half a duck. But I really wanted to be able to say I had Peking duck up on the 33rd level of the Shard (cue smug face), and boy was it worth it. Hu Tong really know how to put on a show and make the price worth it as the chef comes out to slice the duck at your tableside! His knife skills were incredible and he was able to get the perfect ratio of skin, fat and meat on every single slice. It was such a show that all eyes at the restaurant were on us! But then the excitement died down as soon as I finished rolling up my pancake and started eating it my Peking duck. Sadly the flavours didn’t wow me and I felt so deflated. I’d recommend the Peking duck for the experience and the opportunity to gloat, but not because it’s better than the cheaper options in Chinatown.
As there’s so much meat still left on the duck (as only the crispy skin is used to eat with the pancakes), you get a second dish out of it. I was served with a duck and green bean stir-fry, and fresh lettuce leaves to make my own wraps. So maybe getting two dishes out of one price was worth it in the end.
For dessert, I thought I’d go for something traditional, rather than one of the fusion dishes in case of disappointment. So I opted for the mini black sesame glutinous dumplings. Hu Tong wasn’t joking when they said mini, but I was expecting more than three dumplings for a price tag of £8.50. Then again, I am up on the Shard so maybe I shouldn’t have expected anything less. Anyway, the Chinese name for these little dumplings is “sugar that doesn’t fall off” as they are rolled in a sugary/nutty powder mix which sticks to the dumplings once they’re cooked. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to my meal, but then we were served with a mango pudding too as it was an anniversary lunch. There’s always space for dessert, so why not have two!
After my meal was over, I hung around the restaurant a bit to enjoy the view before heading back down to ground level. Whilst the food was a bit hit and miss, Hu Tong was still worth the visit. I’d compare it to Marks & Sparks, where you’d rather pay a little bit extra than your common supermarket, in order to get a little touch of luxury in the whole experience and enjoyment of your food. So the next time someone asks me if the Shard is worth visiting, I’d say yes, make sure you combine it with a meal at Hu Tong or a cocktail at the other bars.
Hutong - The Shard in London
Level 33 The Shard, 31 St. Thomas Street, London, SE1 9RY
Reservations : +44 020 3011 1257
Monday to Friday 12pm - 12am, Friday 12pm - 1am, Saturday 11am - 1am, Sunday 11am - 12pm