Here’s a new word to learn today: “hutong”! In Mandarin, hutongs are narrow streets or alleyways typically found in Beijing, representing the heart and soul of old Peking. But here in Hong Kong, Hutong takes the form of something very different – Aqua Group’s gem of a Chinese restaurant!
The space is absolutely amazing – Aqua’s Hutong truly presents itself as a little hutong with wooden doorways, birdcages and red lanterns transporting you back in time! The gorgeous wishing tree that greets you right as you step out of the elevator and the spectacular view of Hong Kong’s skyline from its floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the harbour will also take your breath away.
After snapping plenty of pics of the décor and view, Rach and I finally sat down to begin our meal with a beautiful platter of three starters – crabmeat and turnip rolls, chili-spiced bamboo clams and fresh scallops. The paper-thin turnip slices rolled around fresh crabmeat were a crunchy surprise, a crisp and refreshing start to the meal. Next, I sampled the delicately sliced scallops with juicy pomelo shreds, which gave a seductively tangy-tart shock to my taste buds. The last little bite was left for the baby bamboo clams, served with a wonderful chilli-rice wine sauce. These appetisers are great for sharing and I’d definitely recommend them as a light bite before the entrées kick in.
Our first main was the crispy deboned lamb, served up on a wooden board with thinly sliced scallions, crushed garlic and spicy seasoning with a kick! On first glance, the glistening crispy skin of the lamb looked too good to pass up – and unfortunately, looks were deceiving. The lamb, although fatty and with just the right amount of pungent lamb flavour, was too chewy for both Rach and I. Probably not the best meal to eat if you want to appear civilized and lady-like in company!
Next came the braised beef wrapped in a lotus leaf. It reminded me of a giant rice dumpling, but once opened (with steam billowing majestically up to the ceiling!) and carved up tableside, it was clear that we were in for a whole lotta meat! The beef was dished up with two different sauces – a sweet chilli sauce and (my pick!), a beef reduction one. The meat was definitely tender and moist (thanks to the lotus leaf) but lacked flavour, so be generous with those sauces!
However, the star of the meal was the mighty Red Lantern. A masterpiece in itself, it comes served in a beautiful bamboo basket that’s a feast for the eyes – namely, a feast of soft shell crab in a sea of bright red deep-fried chilli peppers! I’ll send out a warning now: this is definitely not for the faint of heart! But once you cough, gasp for air and get over that sweat-inducing heat, all the chilli-goodness infused into the crispy-on-the-outside, succulent-on-the-inside crab is simply amazing. So be prepared, have a handy glass of ice-cold water by your side, and you’ll be able to enjoy these fiery delights safely!
Dessert was definitely a cooling reward for all our spicy exertions! The double decker dessert was adorable: on the bottom layer was some incredibly yummy mango mochi, with juicy fresh mango cocooned into that lovely sticky mochi texture. The top layer played home to two lighter jellies – pumpkin and black glutinous rice, and osmanthus flower. I’m not the biggest fan of pumpkin in jello form, but I will say the osmanthus jelly was just as my grandma used to make it – slightly sweet, but full on with its romantic aromatic smell.
As if our double decker desserts weren’t enough, we had one extra bit of dessert… Hutong’s very own ice cream. Our party of four shared a trio of hazelnut, oolong tea and Shaoxing wine, each presented with a flat sesame cracker, sesame seeds and raisins for some DIY fun! My two faves were the more innovative flavours; the oolong ice cream captured the delicate flowery taste of this prized tea whilst the shaoxing wine was deliciously alcoholic (had I greedily finished the entire scoop, this would have made me happily drunk for the rest of the afternoon)! Combined with the crunch of the sesame cracker and seeds, these were a delicious and unusual twist on your standard scoop of gelato.
There are definitely a few standout items on Hutong’s menu and the presentation throughout was top-notch, with a definite wow factor that is certain to impress. If you ever have friends in town for a visit, this Beijing-style hutong in the heart of the city is the perfect place to bring them, thanks to its stunning views of Hong Kong’s skyline, beautiful décor and traditional yet theatrical Chinese dishes. So with Chinese New Year coming up soon, be sure to make a reservation for any special occasions you have in the Year of the Snake!
Hutong, 28/F, 1 Peking Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, 3428 8342