London’s Foodie A-Z: C = China
For my third foray into London’s world of food, I decided to go back in time and revisit a Chinese restaurant that I last frequented over 20 years ago – Wong Kei’s on Wardour Street.
Wong Kei’s is a legend in Chinatown and many a Londoner will regale you with their tale of eating there. The food was always good and the prices cheap, but what Wong Kei’s was well-known for was its brusque service – actually scrub that, its rude service! The waiters would always bark at you and woe betide the lunchtime diner who couldn’t make up their mind what they wanted to eat.
As I headed towards it through Chinatown and the array of Chinese restaurants and supermarkets that pack the streets in this part of London, I remembered back to my days working in an office near Piccadilly Circus and my regular visits for a quick and cheap lunch. Would the food be as good as I remembered, and would the waiters still be as brusque? Or was it all just a fond memory and would I be disappointed??
It looked the same from the outside and I was quickly reassured as I walked through the door, was pounced on by a waiter and was told “You share tables. Sit there”. Doing exactly as I was told (you don’t argue with the waiters here) I took the end seat on a long table that already had six people seated at it.
Service is quick – I hadn’t even sat down before a pot of green tea was delivered to my place, and as I sat another waiter barked “you know what you want?” Nope, I didn’t, although many of the other diners were clearly regulars and ordered off the top of their heads as they took their seats. I perused the extensive menu and decided to have what I always used to have when I ate here 25 years ago; chicken and sweetcorn soup followed by sweet and sour prawns with egg fried rice.
As I ordered, the waiter reminded me “cash only yeah”. Yep, I remembered that about Wong Kei’s, so had ensured I had cash in my purse.
The place had changed a little from my memories. I remembered it being dark inside and a little run-down and shabby, whereas today it was bright and clean with large mirrors on all the walls to give the illusion of more space. The formica-topped tables were cleaned over between customers with a quick wipe of a damp cloth, and customers were in and out all the time – a mix of regulars, local office staff, and tourists.
My chicken and sweetcorn soup arrived, piping hot. So hot in fact that I burnt my tongue on the first spoonful, but it was delicious with a decent amount of shredded chicken meat in it. Before I’d even got half way through it, the main course arrived – they serve quick here and you certainly don’t wait. The man next to me got his main dish before his soup starter, at least mine came the right way round!
My main was a plate of juicy prawns in crispy batter with a tangy sweet and sour sauce full of chunks of onion, peppers and pineapple. The egg fried rice was light and not too sticky, complementing the sweet and sour perfectly. And, of course, all served on melamine plates with melamine chopsticks – no china and no knives and forks here. You use chopsticks, or you don’t eat!
You don’t come to Wong Kei’s for fining dining and silver service. Nor do you come here for a leisurely meal – I was in and out within 30 minutes!
It’s quick, it’s bustling, it’s reasonably priced, it’s delicious, and 25 years on, it hasn’t lost its touch. I loved it!
What more could you ask for from a Chinatown legend??
#lifeofaguide #LondonFoodieAZ #China #WongKei #chopsticks #Chinatown #sweetandsour #cashonly
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