The noticeboard behind my desk at work is an increasingly congested collage of menus, souvenirs from a series of meals - mostly highly enjoyable - over the past six months or so. A glaring omission will be a menu from last night's feast because the restaurant in question doesn't go in for such fripperies, but fortunately an aide-memoire is surplus to requirements.
The restaurant in question in Hunan, a beguiling oriental establishment on Pimlico Road. On taking our seats in the plush cream dining room we were simply asked if we ate everything (we did) and if we were OK with spiciness (we were). Seasoned Hunan diners take this opportunities to add a few special requests and budget restrictions but as first-timers Jo and I thought we'd go with the flow and take whatever Mr Peng and his team had to offer us. (Mr Peng, the proprietor, has a somewhat scary reputation in the old school tradition of Chinese restauration, but, although we didn't meet the man himself, the timid have nothing to fear on the evidence of last night's courteous, if occasionally linguistically challenged, service.)
On the advice of Mr Peng Jnr, we treated ourselves to a bottle of high-end German Riesling (the effort of remembering all the food has made me forget the precise details) and nibbled expectantly at some tasty nuts and lightly pickled cucumber as, somewhere below us, the kitchen planned our feast.
We managed a cool 17 courses in all, which I think went more or less as follows:
Chicken lettuce wrap - a gentle enough (if slightly messy) start to proceedings
Bamboo tofu soup - exact ingredients shrouded in mystery, but excellent
Garlic chilli beans - very garlicky, and very more-ish
House spicy beef - good and spicy
Prawn stuffed with spinach - delicately done, although maybe a slightly odd combination
Steamed octopus on cucumber slices - also delicate with some intense fish paste spread on the cucumber
Seaweed and tofu - pillowy, but in a good way
Spinach rolls - crunchy and spicy
Spare ribs - tiny and fiddly
Rolled fish (sole?) fillets - lots of fish flavour for so tiny a portion, but didn't really work at that point in the meal
Aubergine - size was off-putting but flavours were not
Baby squid - may have been filled with plum sauce. Very pleasing.
Scallops - lightly battered and perfectly cooked
Pork belly - confusingly described as chicken (confusion was something of a recurring theme). Very good.
Smoked and fried chicken - unmemorable (although I swear it was there)
Sea bass - fantastic: the first of two big sharing plates, this was divvied up at the table. Perfectly cooked, firm flesh with a slick of ginger and spring onion sauce.
Pork shoulder - the "one more?" question came and we rather rashly said yes. Not a disappointment: slow cooked and collapsing into a rich dark sauce. We felt compelled to order some rice to go with it. Like almost everything else, this was just right, holding its texture without becoming an impenetrable claggy mess.
I should point out that most of the above (everything but courses 3, 4, 16 and 17 in fact) came as duos of individual dim-sum sized portions, so this isn't perhaps the gargantuan blow-out it seems. It was, though, a decent amount of grub, and by the end neither of us could face dessert.
The absence of a menu means a certain amount of trust when it comes to the bill, but it's hard to feel hard done by. The food came to about £38 each, which feels like decent value when our last two dishes were effectively main courses for two in themselves. I've certainly spent a lot more on a posh tasting menu and not enjoyed it half as much. An inevitable second bottle of the Riesling made it a bit of a spendy night, but it was worth every penny.
Hunan, 51 Pimlico Road SWIW 8NE. 020 7730 5712