The older and wiser you get, the more you realise that choice is overrated. Some of the most satisfied-looking things in the world - children, dogs, people in Hunan - are all without personal autonomy. This friends, is not a coincidence.
Hunan is a no-menu Chinese restaurant in between Chelsea and Pimlico that takes choice away from you. It serves you 12 or 18 courses and asks only if you don’t like anything, and how spicy you can go. The menu says “trust us”. And you should. Because the man in the kitchen has been serving up crispy green beans, chilli ginger beef, and more, to punters for around 40 years.
Visually, nothing about this small and plain restaurant screams out to you. Everything here is left to food, that, like a big Tesco Black Friday rush, comes thick and fast once it gets going. Pretty much all of it comes in small sharing plate form. So you’ll wolf a spicy, spinach-stuffed prawn each, before trying to savour a sweet sesame roll. It makes for sometimes frustrating eating. But remember, trust them. Because this restaurant knows that you’ll want room for later courses. Or, rather, they know that your self-control can’t be trusted with this food. So thoroughly enjoy your one steamed scallop and be ready to thank them later.
By eliminating choice, Hunan also removes any capacity for food envy or jealousy. Look around the room and you’ll see a couple eating the sea bream in miso you had two courses ago. Or, spoiler alert, a table further ahead saucing and rolling their crispy duck. Everyone here is eating the same (allergies and taste buds permitting) and paying the same (around £50 for lunch and £70 for dinner). Also, dining alone here isn’t an option. Them’s the rules.
All of this makes abandoning your autonomy surprisingly easy. It’s like going home for Christmas. You’re relentlessly drip-fed food, and you get to open all sorts of treats. Like the lid to a pancake steamer. Or a bag of crispy pork that leaves you slurping the sauce like a dehydrated Bear Grylls. The only thing you really have to think about at Hunan is their wine list, which, of course, offers an excellent choice.
This iceberg lettuce or, as we like to call it, nature’s bowl, is filled with a spicy minced chicken mix. It’s a bit messy and a lot good.
These fried beans are as crispy and fresh as clothes you get back from the dry cleaners. And as delicious as the pack of Walkers you’d forgotten about in the pocket. They are excellent.
Very tender beef in a sauce with hefty chunks of ginger that feel like a good slap around the face.
The spinach filling to these prawns has a little kick which is welcome, but we wish they were bigger.
A scallop on a slice of cucumber sounds a bit 80s dinner party. But don’t let that fool you. This is melt-in-your-mouth good.
The sweet and sour sauce these rolls sit in is perhaps the most chuggable sauce ever created. Until the one with pork later that is.
This sea bream is perfectly tasty, but the miso isn’t as memorable as other sauces here.
Your favourite chippie now has a serious rival for the ‘Best Food In Paper Bag’ award. You’ll want more and more. And more.
It’s certainly crispy and it certainly tastes good, but it’s a bit of a meh compared with some of the other plates here.
Covered in a lip-smacking vinegar dressing, this is the perfect antidote to any lull in the marathon meal.
You probably have a special person in your life that you love to see walk in the room. We just have crispy duck. And this one is lovely.
If you’re not partial to hot deep fried fruit covered in caramel with vanilla ice cream it’s fine. Honestly. We’ll take it. Don’t worry about it.