We see you have some new menus on offer
Yep we’ve mixed things up a bit. We still offer a la carte dim sum at lunchtimes but we’ve also launched a regularly changing set menu of dim sum called Touching the Heart (dim sum’s literal Cantonese translation). It features many of our classic dim sum, including the Shanghai steamed dumpling with ginger infused vinegar; and the pork and prawn dumpling with pork crackling. There are some more substantial things on there too including our Xian ‘lamb burger’, and we’re even doing a cheese course. We’ve found a cheese that closely matches the flavour profile of fermented bean curd.
Why go all out on such a labour intensive menu item?
We’re not making things easy on ourselves. Dim sum is incredibly intricate but we want to show people how sophisticated it is and also highlight the parallels between European pastry chefs and dim sum chefs. It annoys me to think that some people see dim sum as a mass produced, low-skilled thing that you just eat on a Sunday afternoon. We’ve always served our dim sum in individual pieces, partly to ensure people don’t put two different bits of dim sum in their mouth at once, which does happen on occasion. The Touching the Heart menu also includes four different wines. We want to show people that there are thing that go well with it other than Champagne.
What are the wines?
Our sommelier Danny (Murray) change the flights constantly. But at the moment we have Nyetimber’s demi sec, a sour beer, a southern Rhône white and a Riesling kabinett (a German wine made with fully ripened grapes that typically results in a lighter style). We serve the latter two together with a big selection of dim sum so people can compare and contrast. The cheese course is matched with a fig vinegar, which is a nod to the Chinese practice of drinking vinegar to aid digestion.
Did the second star make you rethink what you do at A Wong?
I like to think that I’m a pretty grounded person. I don’t agree with our best reviews and I don’t agree with our worst reviews. Two Michelin stars was amazing. But I’d already been thinking about where I wanted the restaurant to go. As I get older, it’s not about brand building or showing off different techniques. I just want to create an amazing dining experience that stays true to us as a team and also stays true to us being a Chinese restaurant in London.
Was there a temptation to drop the a la carte dim sum?
We’re committed to keeping the restaurant accessible. But it’s a funny one for sure, I doubt there’s a two-star restaurant anywhere in the world with a such a range of spends. If people come in and order two dumplings it plays havoc with our average spend calculations, especially as we now cap the numbers much lower than we did before (A Wong does a maximum of 40 covers at lunch and 50 at dinner). But the bigger concern for us is people not getting the right experience when they come - you can come here and eat for £30 but you won’t leave full. In reality we’re rarely much less than £100 a head. It’s tricky because we want to stay humble and accessible and stay true to our roots, but we employ 36 staff and that comes at a price, unfortunately.
The building that houses the restaurant is up for redevelopment. Is there an update on that?
The plans keep getting pushed back. There’s no date as yet, but equally we run this restaurant in a way that’s goal-orientated. We have to constantly improve and strive to be the best that we can be. My parents launched this restaurant in 1985, which is an incredibly long run. I don’t ever want this restaurant to become a relic. I don’t want it to be a dynasty that I hand over to my kids so they work here just for the sake of working here. The day that we stop moving forward is the day we call it a day.
The Chef of the Year award is sponsored by Ritter Courivaud.