I’ve wanted to visit Hunan ever since @Gastro1 first told me about it last summer. His description of the little menu-less family run place on Pimlico Road sounded intriguing. I love the idea of not having to worry about perusing endless choices on a menu and just plonking yourself in the hands of the chef. So when my friend Ben asked me to accompany him for a review meal, I was more than up for it.
Tucked around the corner from Sloane Square Station, this modest looking restaurant gives little hint at the delights on offer within – it has “find” calligraphied all over it. After a chat with the charming Michael Peng and a quick check that we were ok to eat everything (emphatic affirmation from Ben) we were fed an onslaught of increasingly glorious dishes. Michael’s father Mr Peng has been cooking here for over 20 years and his confidence and flair shines through in these almost ethereally tasty little platefuls. Despite the name of the restaurant, the cuisine is heavily influenced by Taiwanese food, and he’s added his own inventive twists and touches. These were present in everything from our initial nibbles of spicy peanuts and pickles to the vinegar dips and sauces accompanying each dish. The interlacing of contrasting textures, temperatures and intelligent spicing was simply astonishing. A dish of salt and pepper green beans came hijabed in chilli-salted tempura, and a single chicken pot sticker dumpling encased in silky soft pastry had an almost charred base, adding unexpected crunch. The meaty juices teamed perfectly with a tangy vinegar dip, the very memory of which fills the mouth with lust. Slices of roast duck came next, the lacquered leaves glistening like the paint job on a new Ferrari, the meat sweet and fresh. The dishes flowed thick and fast and we were afraid of filling up because everything tasted so good. A spinach roll was surprisingly hot and crispy followed by pig’s ear and tongue, every cool mouthful an exercise in savoury gelatinous crunch. The feeling of being in a pair of genuinely confident hands was thrilling – Mr Peng is the sort of person who has the guts to serve up crispy intestines or frogs’ legs served with fermented bamboo shoots and chilli –both of which were sublime.
Pork belly and dumpling came in a treacly sauce whistling with chilli and vinegar – Ben declared it to be the finest he’d ever tasted (and he’s eaten a lot). Other triumphs included chicken with sticky rice, chilli squid, jellyfish and stir fried lamb smothered in a smoky chilli sauce and amplified with the tang of rice wine.
The result was an experience that left us giddy and elated with sensory overload. Mr Peng’s magic wove through every dish, pulling together a synergetic spread of flavour layers that ran the gamut from hot and garlicky to cool and crisp –all exquisitely moreish, leaving us grinning at each other like a proper pair of flavour junkies. Toffee bananas were the perfect sugar high to end on- making us forget the chilly Sloaney gloam awaiting us outdoors. I’ve lived in London for most of my life and have eaten a fair amount of Chinese food– Hunan is easily and above the best I’ve ever had.
51 Pimlico Road, London SW1W 8NE
12.30-2pm, 6.30-11pm Mon-Sat
020 7730 5712