Hunan

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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

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17 comments

  1. It all looks delicious but do you mind my asking how much it cost? I’ve heard varying numbers and some have put me off from visiting…

  2. What a find! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Su-Lin it cost NOTHING! My friend Ben was reviewing it for a magazine and he invited me to accompany him – I’m planning to go back for Chinese NY and pay through the nostrils if necessary – seriously worth it!

    Grafoo – cheers! Can’t wait to go back

  4. Hi Rej,

    I am glad you went to Hunan, Dr G and I went a few times and we also loved it every time. Was Michael aware that you were both reviewing his place? I guess he would as you seemed to have been able to get some very accurate descriptions of some of your dishes. I always found a little difficult to know what I was eating as dishes were served thick and fast one after the other, but the food tasted so delicious I did not care to ask! Loved the pics too, and completely agree to your review.

    Su-lin – last time I went, Dr G and I paid in the region of £120 (for both of us) including a bottle of wine priced at about £25. It may sound a lot but the food is fantastic.

  5. What a find – and only a hop and skip over Battersea Bridge too.

    Loving your use of Hijab as a verb!

  6. Right, that’s going on my to-do list :)

  7. Smokeynlentils

    Looks and sounds great Rej- will go soon for lunch

  8. Wonderful review Reji you really captured the essence of the place

    Whenever I see Michael Peng in the front of house it brings a tear to my eye when I first went there he was in short trousers and now he is married and soon to be a daddy too !

    BTW did you check out the wine list – it is amazing and down to Michael who is a real wine buff !

  9. I really loved Hunan when I went a couple of years ago. Time to arrange a return trip, I think!

  10. Enjoyed your review :)I completely agree that this is the outstanding chinese restaurant in London. Four Seasons and Mandarin Kitchen in Queensway would be on my list but I’ve never been anywhere in Chinatown that come close to any of these (though I quite like Yming in Greek street)…

  11. i love this place, i go with my cousin who know the people there, he does all the ordering. it’s a bit tricky bec we tell them we dont want anything w pork in it, so the choices are limited since a lot of their best dishes are pork-based. but still, it is a gorgeous experience. Rej, really excellent write-up, you are very right, he does mix up the textures, temperatures and spices really well. it’s just a great pleasure to eat there. x shayma

  12. gastrogeek

    Luiz – thanks,am pleased that you and Dr G had a great time there too
    Katy – cheers, and another reason for me to relocate down sarf!
    mimi- thanks :)
    Smokeynlentils – ta, it’s seriously good
    Dino – Ah that’s so sweet! Michael said you were an old family friend and spent some time talking about your formidable food knowledge. I was on the fruit juice, but Ben tells me the wine was quite wonderful!
    Lizzie – I wish I’d heard about it before, let me know if you go back – I’ll be there with bells on.
    Foodraker – glad you liked it :) I’d have added the Golden Palace in Harrow on the Hill to that list, but it’s gone a bit downhill in recent years.
    Shayma – thank you! Yeah, I used to have to do that in Chinese restaurants, but now I’ve just accepted that I’m a VERY BAD Muslim and adore a bacon butty just as much as I do a pint of Guiness (as long as they were happy pigs). I’m sorry to confirm, that the best dishes were indeed those of a porcine nature…

  13. Ben

    …and you know what happens to very bad Muslims…

  14. We have a table booked next Saturday night in honour of Chinese New Year and I am now positively salivating at the prospect, as I am sure I will be throughout the feast. What a great post, you’ve really got me counting down the days now!
    Speaking of top Chinese restos – am off again to Silk Road in Camberwell tomorrow, if you haven’t already been, you must!

  15. Bloody hell, this place sounds lovely.

  16. gastrogeek

    Ben – ha! Yes, I think I might have paid the price for it at “The Kapok Tree”…

    BSG- hello there. How was it? Wish I could have joined you!

    Danny – yes, it seriously was!

  17. I love the sound of how things are done at Hunan but, with such a pathetic aversion to chilli heat I worry that I would not be able to fully enjoy it. Or that, in asking for dishes without the heat, an assumption would be made that I would not want any of the more exciting ingredients and dishes and I’d end up with a blander range of dishes…

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