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Hunan

51 Pimlico Road, London, England, SW1W 8NE, United Kingdom

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The dining room is a slightly cramped rectangular affair in Pimlico, with wooden floor and cream walls decorated with Chinese prints. When we arrived we were presented with the wine list, which was excellent in more ways than one. Growers were well chosen e.g. Ridge, Trimbach and Etienne Sauzet, and the mark-ups were very fair indeed. Some wines seemed only a little more than retail, others perhaps twice retail. We waited a while and no menu appeared, and when we were asked were told “we do not have a menu; we just bring you things”. This seemed a pretty odd thing not to mention when taking the booking, and it seems to contradict some other reviews I have read, but although I asked again the staff were insistent that no menu exists. Well, it is good enough for Astrance in Paris so I suppose that is OK, but right until the end of the meal we had no idea what the bill might be (the dinner part appears to have been £38.80 per person, with drinks etc extra.   

Unfortunately that is where the similarity with Astrance ends. A dish of minced chicken wrapped in a lettuce leaf was seriously over salted (and to my taste that takes some doing), while a cup of meat soup with it was quite fragrant from the herbs in it but contained more minced meat (duck and guinea fowl) which had little taste (10/20). Spicy beef slices were both chewy and oily, and I would have welcomed some actual spice to distract from the texture of the cheap meat (10/20). Some battered green beans were again absurdly over-salted (10/20) though a pair of prawns were at least cooked OK (11/20). A dish of tuna and aubergine was simply slimy and tasteless while salmon with sesame sauce was horribly dried out through overcooking (10/20). “Spicy squid” continued the overcooked, chewy theme and lacked spice, while a tofu dish with black bean sauce was at least edible (11/20). A pair of scallops were cooked reasonably correctly (12/20) which is more than can be said for chewy “spicy lamb”. 

Noodles were served in a hideously over-vinegary sauce, so it was strange to find a competent cooked piece of sea bass with ginger (12/20) amongst the culinary carnage. A braised beef dish had cheap, chewy meat that was cooked tolerably but was just nasty; I had trouble cutting it with my teeth, never mind the knife provided. This meal ended with slices of pork belly with ginger that were horribly overcooked, essentially charred, and putting a few shreds of ginger on top does not disguise a blackened piece of meat. Only on one occasion did anyone inquire as to why we were leaving most of the food, which surely should have been a clue that things were not going well?

Service was dismal. Our wine was whisked away yet the staff seemed utterly incapable of topping the glasses up, even with multiple reminders; surely just leave the wine on the table if you have not got properly trained staff.  Other than the wine list, the experience we had this evening had almost no redeeming features, and although a lot of small dishes were presented, it is not a bargain if most of them are inedible. The most basic errors in cooking and seasoning are hard to understand. Some might find the service eccentric in some sort of charming way but I just found it pushy. I recall having a dismal service experience here ten years ago but at least I recall the food was edible. I’ll give it another ten years before trying this again.

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  • Yibo Bao

    Andy, whilst I find most of your other reviews to be reasonable I cannot disagree with you more regarding Hunan. It is simply one of the finest Chinese restaurants in London. I have never experienced any issues with seasoning there and have always found the service to be attentive and charming.

  • Name unavailable

    I cannot disagree any more strongly with your review and concur with those that have also left feedback of your review. This is a top class Chinese and offers far better value than any of its rivals: those being purveyors of high end Chinese. The wine list is spectacular and I always feel welcome. Try again buddy, maybe you went to the wrong place.

  • Name unavailable

    I have been eating at this r'st for 25 yrs and have introduced it to family, friends and business associates alike, none have been disappointed and most go back whenever the opportunity arises. It has never once failed on the food front whether Mr Peng or his son, Michael, have been in charge. Hot, spicy food from the Hunan Region of China is, in my opinion, a real treat and full of surprises. The small floorspace of the r'st and kitchen dictates this is a bustling, sometimes vibrant experience but that adds to the joy of discovering somewhere genuinely unique. I am an ex CEO from the Hospitality industry and would refute pretty much every word of the Review and suggest you try it for yourself. It is in my top 3 r'sts in the Uk and probably my favourite 'chinese' from anywhere in the world outside of China itself, and I've eaten in a lot!

  • Name unavailable

    A somewhat harsh review. I do agree with the part that they are ambitious beyond their capabilities but the food is nice enough with a few dishes showing some skill as well. Chinese restaurants are not known for their desserts though. Andy - I think you had a bad experience and need to give it another try. It's around a 2/10 (and AT LEAST a 1/10)

  • Ian Hoare

    This is all most odd. As you will remember, I mentioned the Hunan to you before and wondered why you didn't like it. Well four of us went there today at lunch. Our meal started with steamed bamboo shoot and minced chicken in pork broth. Similar enough to yours for me to comment. The broth was a delight, full of flavour as was the chicken. Again Like yours our meal continued with minced chicken served on a webbs lettuce leaf. The spicy chicken was less spicy than I hoped it might be, moderately salty and quite delicious, served with a simple soy dipping sauce. And so on. The spicy beef, which was similar in concept to General Tso's Chicken, was wonderful, with the beef being tender and quite gorgeous, and the sauce tasty and fairly well chillied. I'd have liked more but I can see why they limited the level. I won't continue except to say that the sole disappointment was the final dish, which was a Pekin style (ish) crispy duck. This was a leg of duck, and was honestly a bit tired. The plum sauce was as usual (from a jar) and we were a pancake short. The service was good, and we ended up being offered the rest of their top tea, enough for about 6 tea pots full, and were given a post prandial lychee cordial on the house "for christmas". Mr Peng senior has handed over to his son, who explained that he did sometimes keep a watching brief on the place, but that essentially he had retired. Anyway he popped in towards the end of the meal and we chatted amiably. I can confirm there is no menu, and that dishes will continue coming until you cry "enough" or until they've run out of things to suggest and finish with toffee apples of singular goodness. it's quite true that the waitress speaks little english, and that the service is geared more to the rhythm of the kitchen than to that of the guests, so you might well get a rush of two or three dishes, which you can eat in the order you feel like, and then you might wait a while till the next "flight". I can see that for people used to and expecting the polished service of a place like Michel Bras in Laguiole, this will feel a bit Heath Robinsonian, I loved it for its excentricity. I'm really sorry that you didn't like it. All I can say is that the four of us are fairly well travelled, we've all eaten in number of Chinese restaurants inclusing some in China, (One Harbour Road, HK for example) and yet we all rated this one of the very best chinese meals we've eaten.

  • Dino Joannides

    I can only think you have followed Giles Coren and given Hunan a negative review to prevent people discovering the restaurant. For me this restaurant provides some of the best Chinese food I have had outside China/Hong Kong - a real gem in a City dominated by MSG infused Cantonese medicracy across the price range. Might be worth another visit and chat with the Mr Peng the Chef Patron. I would also argue that your analysis may need to be in context of the cuisine.