A little corner of SW1 is a very smart little square that in recent years have transformed into a bit of a gourmet’s dream. Pimlico square on Saturdays turns into a swanky farmers’ market, with a really good butcher, some speciality sausage makers, among artisan bakers and vegetables stalls. Daylesford Organic set up their cafe deli shop in this square, it’s a favourite spot for brunch (though quite expensive).
Along Pimlico Road, you will find Hunan, a Chinese restaurant that is unlike any other in London. (Although I heard that some relative of theirs have opened a competing place in West Kensington but doesn’t have the same cache.) It may be called Hunan but the cuisine is a Chinese fusion with influences from a lot of different regions. The owner Mr Peng is from Taiwan of Hakka origin and he is the one who created a lot of the dishes that they serve here. When he is not around, the food is pretty pedestrian. When he is around, you will be astounded. Recently, his son Michael has taken over running the place but the night we were there, Mr Peng was around showing off his lovely granddaughter.
We went with a Taiwanese friend who know the family well and we managed to get ourselves a table for the 1st seating at short notice. They have 2 seatings, 6.30 and 8.30, so book the later one if you want the full works.
Hunan reminds me of a Shanghainese Restaurant I went to in San Francisco called JaiYun where you just name a price and just wait to see what gets served. We had about 20 courses there and a friend with us that night almost had a seizure after the 10th course. Chef Nei’s place is where the off duty chefs in San Francisco go on their nights off.
This restaurant doesn’t have a menu and you have to let them know of any allergies or dislikes and they will just bring the food until you tell them to stop. Some of the dishes can be quite spicy so do let them know if you don’t like it too hot, but only one of the dishes was hot with the added bird’s eye chilli. I quite like the idea of not knowing what we were going to eat but if you are squeamish about offal and other bits you might not like the surprise element too much.
If you are used to the regular Cantonese fair in Chinatown or around London, this will be a nice change. The style is similar to a banquet style menu where you are served multiple bite size course and finish off with the soup at the end and a filler or either a rice dish or noodle. It is not exactly like Chinese banquet meals that I have had before in both presentations and types of dishes served but is as close as you will get in London. (Unless you have experienced a Chinese wedding in London). (Tim Hayward, you might want to try this.)
Within minutes our starter arrived, the famous chicken and minced pork soup served in a bamboo like receptacle, topped with a little egg blanket and served alongside a nice little dumpling
The dishes flowed swiftly after this. Quite a few of the earlier dishes were just small portions.
This was so good, we had 2 plates and the 4 year old on our table managed to finish one all by herself.
This dish is done in the style of Peking duck, the version where you eat the skin only.
The crab is lightly battered and fried before being added to the soup base.
Meltingly soft belly pork in a sweet sticky sauce wrapped up in the steamed man tou, delicious.
This might sound similar to the other braised pork dish above but is actually quite different. It could be quite frustrating to not being able to get better descriptions of the dishes but we had our own guide on the table who did a great job of both describing each dish.
Lotus fried rice
This fried rice was spectacular. It uses a combination of short and long grain rices, steamed in chicken stock. The rice is then fried with a bit of garlic and chopped lotus seeds with some spring onions thrown in to finish.
The red bean pancake is one of the common desserts served at Chinese banquets but this was different. The pancake was not made of the usual flour based batter but had a glutinous consistency which was then pan fried. It is served with the almond jelly which is to be eaten together to give a contrast of hot and cold and chewy and soft. I don’t like almond jelly but in this dish it works really well.
We were almost defeated by the belly pork dish but eventually surrendered after the fried rice. There were a few more dishes but I didn’t manage to get all the pics for them, including a steamed sea bass and some other dumplings. Some of the dishes went down better than the others and I am going back soon for more of that spectacular Lotus fried rice.
We noticed that the other tables had different dishes than us like a lettuce wrap something or other which we assumed were for the non Chinese clientele. Dio ask if you want the authentic experience.
Hunan does some other Taiwanese specialities on special order and we shall be back when they next call us to let us know. While we were there, a table of Taiwanese businessmen were tucking into some special soups and dishes. Michael said to call before the next visit to make sure that we get a completely different menu. We’ll be back.
The nitty gritty: It cost £50 per head and they didn’t charge us for drinks.
51 Pimlico Road London
020 7730 5712
Open Mon-Sat 12:30pm-2pm, 6:30pm-11pm