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A veteran of the 1980s, Hunan is one of the best-loved but least trumpeted Chinese restaurants in town – a quaint throwback comprising a lively (and awkwardly shaped) room with a few traditional paintings for decoration. There's no menu; diners are simply asked about their likes and dislikes and the kitchen does the rest. Meals here generally consist of a dozen or more little dishes from across China – and though you will find some from the province the restaurant is named after, we're told that chef Peng favours Taiwanese influences. Many items are mentioned in despatches, each one packed with strong, distinctive flavours: the signature steamed pork broth with ginger and mushrooms; pan-fried lamb with morning glory; crispy frog's legs wrapped in fermented bamboo shoots with chilli; minced fish wrapped in butterflied prawns; tempura-style green beans; balls of minced pork with bitter melon and braised ox tongue with mangetout. There's proper high-grade Chinese tea to drink of course, but don't ignore the fascinating wine list.
Founded in 1982, Hunan is approaching the status of an institution. It has its own cookbook, which, amazingly, I do not yet have. And given the name, you would be forgiven for thinking that the cuisine is Hunanese but you’d be wrong. Chef Peng, the proprietor, hails from Taiwan and whilst there are a few slightly unusual dishes, the food is not all that very different from what you might be served in any number of Cantonese and Szechuan restaurants, save that here it’s served tapas-style and at the menu is chosen by the chef.You may recall how much I love surprises from earlier experiments in relinquishing...
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