Comedian and food fiend Jessica Fostekew puts her mouth where others fear to tread. A celebration of eating: from posh nosh to kebab shops to stuff that’s been on the floor. This week, Jess gifts herself a birthday visit – her partner’s birthday, that is – to A Wong, a goldmine of fiery Chinese food.
I’d never once been to a restaurant because of a review. But then Jay Rayner wrote critically and beautifully in The Guardian about how great this place is and I thought, if I’m writing about places to eat, I should at least try it.
Not that I am a critic. I come in reverence. I arrive at places to eat like a toddler does to a cat: with an almost aggressive level of love; blissfully ignorant and keen. Painfully keen.
Mikey, my colleague-in-love, particularly loves Chinese food and had a birthday looming. It was kind-fated timing. We got a corner table which meant me facing the wall. Only because Mikey’s ‘secret service training’ (strangeness) means he can’t sit with his back to a room. I liked it. I feel like a dog announcing that I’m no threat. I still got great views of both him and the food, which were, of course, the main events.
We hoofed the furiously decadent ‘10 Course Taste of China Menu’. It’s £55, which by Kings Road standards is small change. Our beaming waiter gave us the history of the restaurant (Mr A Wong travelled all of China for his inspiration).
First up, there were dim sum. Juicy parcels of steamed, seasoned shellfish. If I had to do an eating competition where I ate so much I hurt myself, if I had to, I’d win with dim sum.
The 63-degree tea egg with shredded filo and satay powder which was Rayner’s star course was sold out. I was sad. But we didn’t miss it and now I need (not want, need) to go another time, just to try that. Instead we had ‘street snacks.’
This terrifies me. In Xian, China, years ago, my friend and I had only eaten rice as carbs for months and we saw what we thought was fried potato in a vendor’s sizzling pot. It was already inside our faces before we realised it was small hot cubes of sheep’s brain. I’m over it now, since the therapy.
These cubes, praise be, were nothing of the sort. Crispy tofu and pickled veggies with a really intense chilli oil. Then came steamed Shanghai dumplings. Hot pouches, with the dip already inside. Pork mince with a liquid reduction of vinegar and ginger.
“Jesus wept. I wept. Everybody wept, from the eyes AND the skin. They’d thrown us around at the beginning, lulled us into a hazy mellow stupor then given us the opposite of a cold ice bath.”
Our waiter warned us. This was my highlight of the meal. I’ve tasted these flavours before but never like this. First my tongue tingled but then, honestly, my whole mouth started buzzing. My cheeks felt like they were vibrating. It was so fucking exciting. It was slightly frightening. Like all the good drugs, the first time.
Dear Mikey isn’t as into this sort of extreme-sport dining as I am and as the night went on it became increasingly ‘self-gifty.’ We ate fermented fish belly, the smell of which picked my head up by the nose and made my eyes shine. Beautifully tangy and hot.
We’d gone for an Argentinian Malbec with all this and any worries that it wouldn’t stand up were out the window by now. These were huge baptisms of heat we were being flung, giggling, in and out of. Poor Mikey, he sweats when you say ‘spice’. But for me, this was one of the best nights out of my life.
Next, we built our own lamb burgers. The inclusion of pomegranate in them was the masterstroke. Clean and lively after all the fiery first courses.
We were shown a video of how the noodles we ate next were pulled by hand. They came with rare beef, truffles and tons of fresh and also, gloriously, fried mint. The noodles were the crunchiest, lightest carbs I’ve ever eaten. Like savoury candyfloss. They vanished as soon as licked.
It’s like the chefs purposely burned a spice-hole in our tummies at the start and then filled and filled it with these beautiful, soothing foods. Then WHAM. In comes Sichuanese aubergine and Gong Bao chicken. Jesus wept. I wept. Everybody wept, from the eyes AND the skin. They’d thrown us around at the beginning, lulled us into a hazy mellow stupor then given us the opposite of a cold ice bath. It was like, in a good way, snogging the sun.
The puddings went by like glimpses of a dream, I was so euphoric from the main lambasting. There was curd with grilled pineapple and, laughing at us now, a sprinkle of chilli. Crispy lotus root and theatrical ‘snow’ followed by a random, solid, white chocolate.
This Thai massage for the tastebuds was more stressful than fun for my poor English love. But I had, without question, the most exciting meal of my life so far.
A Wong, 70 Wilton Road, London, SW1V 1DE
Tel: 020 7828 8931
Email: [email protected].uk
Accessible: Yes. There is step-free access throughout but there’s no adapted or large toilet and it’s a little bit cramped inside, but manageable.
Catch up with Jess’s previous Hooverings here.
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Jessica Fostekew is a writer, comedian, actor, law degree-waster, sister, daughter and beard-fan with an unabashed food infatuation.