It was dark. It was cold. And it was very, very wet. A sensible couple would have stayed home and got a Deliveroo instead of driving into the city. But that’s not us. We’d said we were going to the Hunan, so we were going to the Hunan. It’s years since we were last here – five since I went for lunch, ten since we came for dinner.
Little has changed. It was quite busy with only one other table occupied by Anglos. Now, I’m not one to assume that the ethnic make-up of a restaurant’s customers is a confirmation of quality. If it was, then Harvesters would have Michelin stars. But it can be an indication, if folk of Chinese heritage eat here, rather than one of the other nearby places. The menu is shorter than many in Chinatown and, unsurprisingly, leans towards Hunan dishes, with the significant use of the bits of animals that most Anglos (us included) would find challenging. The starter list seems particularly short and is mainly the Cantonese dishes you can find anywhere. And the Hunanese starter I’d fancied on the online menu wasn’t on the real menu, so we decided to just have main courses.
“Chairman Mao’s Red Braised Pork” is a dish specific to the region and one I’ve eaten before, here and at a now closed place in London. Unlike most belly pork dishes where the texture is quite firm, the long braising in soy and spices, makes the meat soft and, in particular, the fat unctuous and gelatinous, which may not be to everyone’s taste but is to mine. There’s a late addition of chunks of red pepper and spring onion for a bit of texture. And there’s copious use of big chunks of garlic and a hit from chilli which lets you know it’s there but doesn’t dominate.
Across the table, there was a “sizzling” beef stirfry which, with the inclusion also of red peppers and spring onion, you might have thought was one of the Cantonese dishes but there’s lots of garlic in here and an assertive use of chilli, including slices of pickled green chilli, which made you think this had been tweaked for Hunanese tastes. It was delicious. We ate both dishes with nice fluffy rice.
Service had been efficient and friendly (not always a given in Chinatown), Interesting to note that, along with chopsticks, we were given a fork and spoon. I know the latter are the usual utensils in Thailand but I understand the practice is now more widely adopted in East Asia. This is the first time I’ve seen it in a Chinese restaurant. We stuck to chopsticks.