After trying (and failing) to secure bookings to Mr. Wong on several occasions, I decided to drag my family along to the city at 5.30pm when it opened, and hopefully sneak a seat before the dinner time rush started.
With the name of the restaurant stenciled onto the wall and pointing you in the direction of a side alley, my brother and I were immediately drawn to the warm glow from the kitchen- we could see the chefs chopping and dicing in a frenzy of activity through the large arched windows of what must have been a former warehouse.
"It's like Diagon Alley!" my brother said, though my mother, familiar with alleys of a different kind, had thought we'd dragged her into this back lane to die.
Upon entering Mr. Wong, though, the black tuxedoed waiters and smiling staff dispersed her fears. They had a table for us in a back corner, on woven cane chairs which were incredibly comfortable. My mother said they reminded her of the cane furniture her Grandpa had at his house in India. There was definitely a little colonial splendour mixed in with an edgy contemporariness, reflected in the menu. The wait staff, extremely attentive, immediately brought us a pot of Chinese jasmine tea which was just what we needed on a cold winter's night.
We began with mixed steamed dumplings- each parcel was jam packed with flavour and all we could do was look at each other with delight and make incoherent noises like "Hmm? Mmmm!" My personal favourite was the mushroom and spinach dumpling, though the ones with lobster and prawn were also incredibly fresh and tasty.
Next we ordered Kung-pao chicken (to satisfy my parents' craving for something spicy) and mapo tofu. My brother and I were especially excited about the mapo tofu- spicy minced pork and coriander served on a bed of 'soy milk custard'- we wondered how custard and meat would ever go together but texturally it was amazing and added a wonderful lightness to the dish.
We finally finished up with a raspberry, mint and lime juice with pearls and mandarin ice cream served with jasmine yoghurt, black sesame and peanut crunch. The drink was refreshing with the fresh mint, but the ice-cream was the real stand out. I don't think my poor parents got much of this dish because we devoured it (first with our eyes- it looked beautiful- then very quickly with our spoons). The flavour of the mandarin was sharp and strong, the jasmine in the yoghurt a little more subtle while the crunch of peanut and black sesame made it impossible to stop.
Incredibly full and with our tastebuds rejoicing, we sat back in the chairs and enjoyed the ambience of the restaurant. It was really starting to get crowded now, with people filling all the available seating around the bar and downstairs. A man was arguing congenially with a waiter about the quality of the wine. Families picked up crisped bits of crackling and roast duck with their fingers, couples on a first date sat nestled by the windows, awkward conversation made less necessary by how delicious the food was.