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Just over a decade ago, in a city awash with Chinese eateries, there was a dearth of chic options where you could take a date, clients or out-of-towners. Somewhere that wasn’t lit brighter than the sun or dripping in gaudy chandeliers. Then Hutong opened in the style of a traditional Beijing courtyard house, with its terracotta tiles, red lanterns, carved wooden screens, “antique” furniture and dim lighting, all the better to enjoy the night time view. And what a view it is, the best in house to take in Hong Kong’s stunning skyline and harbour through double-height windows that run the length of the building. It drew crowds from the beginning, and still they come, many even venturing across from Hong Kong Island to Tsim Sha Tsui.
While the views star at Hutong, the food is no slouch either. The extensive menu showcases northern and central Chinese cuisine. Don’t be alarmed at the many spicy sounding items, or the angry looking piles of chilli covering the dishes at neighbouring tables, most of the heat has been tempered for foreign palates. A cold starter of bamboo clams spiced and steeped in Chinese rose wine is fresh, briny and buried under a mound of garlic, with only a hint of chilli. Garlic is more subtly present in the sauce to accompany the thinly-cut pork belly with sliced cucumber, and while we prefer a little more intensity in our condiments, the pork is moist and flavoursome. Ma la Sichuan pepper prawns fried with Chinese celery and dried chilli is not especially fiery, which perhaps is no bad thing, allowing us to savour the plump pieces of shrimp. One of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, crispy de-boned lamb ribs, is served luke warm, which only accentuates the oiliness of the dish and stringiness of the meat. It is the least likeable item of our meal. Spicy fried rice is lifted from the ordinary with the addition of prawn, some unspecified meat, chilli oil and fennel seed, though again, spice levels are mild. We finish with a tiered dessert basket, which contains some bland pumpkin and black glutinous rice jelly, palate-cleansing osmanthus flower jelly, and chewy rolls of mango mochi.
The short wine list consists of well-known labels and a smattering of boutique producers from France, Italy, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, America and South Africa. There are about eight whites and eight reds, plus a handful of champagne, sparkling, rose and dessert wines available by the glass. The more adventurous can splash out on a bottle of aged Chinese wine.
We were not told when booking that there are two sittings or that tables have to be vacated after two hours for earlier sittings, though this was eventually resolved and we were allowed to stay longer rather than rush through our meal. Service is otherwise efficient, if a little abrupt.
Plan on spending about $700 per person, which is at the higher end for rustic Chinese cooking, though the views justify the price (if you get a table with a view).