In Short : Little Hutong is a gem of a restaurant located in Little Bay. With an intriguing south-east Asian menu, it is the perfect place to unwind, enjoy a drink with comforting food that not only looks refined, but tastes good as well.
Little Hutong is a modern south-east Asian restaurant located in Little Bay, Sydney featuring Singaporean, Malaysian, Nonya, Chinese, and Japanese influenced food. The name Hutong (胡同) means ‘small alley’ in Chinese and is generally used in reference to the narrow alleyways typically found in Beijing, China. It can also be used to describe a place or neighbourhood where people live and hangout, making it a very appropriate name for this restaurant which is housed in this re-developed suburb of Sydney’s eastern suburbs.
The first facet that stands out at Little Hutong, even from the outside, are the bright neon lights on the floor, spelling out the name of the restaurant in large font. Stepping into the restaurant, you immediately feel ready to wind down, with the warm lights, soothing jazz music, and light brown wood furniture.
Little Hutong is designed with casual, relaxed, yet classy, dining in mind. Another stand-out feature of the restaurant is the intriguing, minimalist, thin red steel latticed grid that stretches across one side of the interior walls and across the ceiling.
But, my favourite decor item is the dramatic dark grey wall at the back with an outstanding commissioned art piece of the owner’s little daughter enjoying her bowl of food.
Little Hutong is a fully licensed restaurant, and features an impressive cocktail and drinks menu. To start off our dinner, I enjoyed a Salted Caramel Espresso Martini from Little Hutong’s cocktail menu. This is something a little different, compared to your standard espresso martini, and definitely stood out, especially to someone like me who loves all things salted caramel! Made with caramel vodka, salted espresso, and chocolate milk, it had all the flavour profiles of the ingredients described in the menu yet when blended together, it just becomes one perfect cocktail drink that is smooth and creamy, sweet and savoury, chilled back, yet sophisticated. It was very delicious and an easy drink to enjoy. Definitely a great way to start your meal experience at Little Hutong.
Little Hutong’s dinner menu is divided into three sections. There is the ‘Small Hutong’ section, ‘Bigger Hutong’ section, and then the ‘All for Myself’ section.
The Small Hutong section is great if you are look for small, tapas-style finger food portions which are great as starters. Nonya Top Hats (Pai or Pie Tee) were too cute to eat, and were beautifully assembled and presented. I was super excited to see Pai Tee appear on the menu as I have not had one since I was last back home in Singapore two years ago. Pie Tees are a popular Peranakan Nonya delicacy that are like a dainty, elegant open-faced pies that you can pick up with your fingers. It has a thin golden brown crispy shell, stuffed with ingredients that are finely cut and expertly combined. Little Hutong’s version, has the perfect thin crispy shell that is filled with jicama, carrots, prawns, crab meat and egg omelette, and garnished with a slice of red chilli to add an extra oomph of colour and flavour. With one mouthful, you get a sense of how the ingredients work harmoniously together to produce an explosion of flavours, especially when eaten with the chilli dip. If you have never had a Pai Tee, I would recommend this would be the place to try it in Sydney.
Little Hutong’s Cheeseburger Spring Roll is a new item on their Small Bites menu. It is a creative twist on a classic cheeseburger. Each spring roll is filled with mince beef, melted cheese, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, relish, gherkins, and mustard then deep fried to golden brown. The tang from the tomato sauce with the acidity from the mustard sauce, blended with beef mince gives the spring roll a classic cheeseburger flavour. In fact if you closed your eyes and took a bite, you might even think that you are actually eating one but with a crunchy crispy skin instead of a bread bun. This is a very clever dish that showcases the creative flare of Little Hutong, and kudos to the chef on this successful new dish!
One of Little Hutong’s ever popular house speciality is their Crispy Pork Belly, which we are told is made daily and usually sells out by the end of the day. The salty, meaty flavours of the slow-roasted pork belly showcases the natural flavours of pork meat. It is a simple, delicious classic item done well. We all know that the most important part of a successful pork belly is the crispy crackling skin, and Little Hutong’s chef has nailed it. The crackling is super crispy and such an enjoyable treat. The pork belly comes with a chilli sauce and another special sauce that tastes like honey and wasabi mustard. It is the perfect accompaniment to the meat and definitely a must-try.
As you can see, it is very hard to choose a favourite from the Small Bites section, as they are all so good, from the new items to their popular best sellers. But, if I had to choose one, then my favourite would be the Crispy Soft Shell Crab, only because being Singaporean, I can never resist a good crab dish. There is something moorish about eating a soft shell crab dish, as you eat the crab as a whole, shell and all. Little Hutong’s chef has coated the soft shell crab in a crispy tempura batter that just lightly coats the crab and then deep fries it to a golden brown. Salted duck yolk is then added to the coating of the crab. The end result is a dish that is subtle, light as a feather, and not overly oily, that is crunchy on the outside but with soft and sweet crab flavours on the inside. The salted egg yolk complemented the crab flavours perfectly and helped to bring out its natural sea flavour. To say that this dish is finger-licking-good is an understatement, and I would highly recommend it!
On to the Bigger Hutong Bites section, which are main portions that you can have by yourself or order a couple to share as well. One speciality is their Malaysian Lamb Shank Curry. With the current winter weather in Sydney, nothing beats a good curry dish as a warm comforting food. The lamb shanks are fall-off-the-bone tender, an indication that it has been slow cooked for hours with coriander, cumin, fennel and turmeric spices for the depth of flavours to develop. It is served with roti canai, which is perfect for eating with the curry sauce. The deep, rich yellow colours from the use of turmeric and saffron makes this such a visually appealing dish. With my first mouthful, I was hit with the perfect balance of spices, then the chilli heat sets in, reminding you that this is a curry dish. The sweet creamy richness from the use of coconut milk helps to balance the chilli heat. It appealed to me because it had the notes and nuances of Malaysian and Singaporean food that I grew up with, and I appreciated the work that the chef had gone to creating it.
Finally, we move to the last section of the food menu, the All For Myself section which features food that is generally recommended for individual consumption, but in reality can be shared as well. In this section, the house specialty is the Scampi Cold Truffle Angel Hair Pasta. Fine, angel hair pasta is tossed in kombu dipping sauce and dashi stock, served with sweet scampi sashimi, shiso leaves, and tobikko. But the pièce de résistance in this dish are the truffles! With the heady flavours and aromas, it serves to elevates the clean flavours from the simple ingredients to the next level, transforming the dish to fine dining level.
Little Hutong’s menu has taken some Asian classics and given it their own modern twist. They have managed to keep the original flavours, and yet taken it up a couple of notches that take it out of the Hutong and onto high street.