Nowadays, it’s fairly common knowledge that the food we’re served in an average Chinese restaurant is pretty far removed from what’s eaten in China. While many of us (myself included) are partial to some sweet and sour chicken balls or a bowl of luminous-red crispy chilli beef, it’s clear that they’re a very Anglicised interpretation of the real thing. However, there’s one chef in Pimlico, London that’s offering a taste of the real China, drawing inspiration from parts of the country rarely even heard of in Britain.
His name is Andrew Wong, and his restaurant – A Wong – has been visited and praised by chefs such as Pierre Koffmann and Albert Adrià. It’s one of the few places in the country that takes dishes from all over China and serves them in a refined, authentic way in a bid to show diners that there’s so much more to the cuisine than the greasy, MSG-infused dishes of the average takeaway. His tasting menu takes people on a journey all over China, and his front of house team are just as important as the chefs. ‘If our guests leave with a new understanding of a particular region of China, then we’ve done our job,’ says Andrew. ‘We want to create as much interest as possible around regional Chinese cuisine. It’s so important to the whole experience that diners get where we’re coming from.’
Andrew spent six years working on the concept for A Wong – which was originally a typical Cantonese restaurant owned by his parents – and embarked on a six-month journey across China to discover the unknown dishes of the country. China is bigger than the whole of Europe, so it’s hardly fair to assume people eat the same things in the north, south, east and west. ‘I wasn’t able to experience all the different cuisines while I was there, but the ones I did encounter were noticeably unique,’ explains Andrew. ‘It’s like asking someone who works in a French kitchen whether they can tell French and Italian food apart – the ingredients and techniques might be similar, but there’s a very obvious difference between the two.’