I got a guitar. Granted, it’s a rubbish excuse for this blog disappearing to shit, but it’s the truth. My last guitar was in my teens, during that awful period when I thought I could front a trio of talented musicians by being their lead man, until Mr Livingstone put a knife through that idea by walking unannounced into the music practice room and bellowing “Carlo! If you’re going to sing in the band at least do it in fucking tune!”. Back then my repertoire consisted exclusively of True Love Waits by Radiohead, Karma Police by Radiohead, No Surprises by Radiohead, and Fake Plastic Trees by a little known band called Radiohead. I really liked Radiohead. Still do, only now I can fail to impress you with some Courteneers, Oasis, two tracks by The National, How Much Is That Doggy In The Window, and a smidge of Damian Rice. I’m far from talented; I still look at most chord tabs and think fuck that, ain’t no way I’m getting involved, much in the same way that I do with all things Bundobust.
And that lazy, convoluted intro is about revisiting things, like I did with Henry Wongs in Harborne. I went last December, turning out the review quickly and efficiently because I had no fucking guitar. I didn’t like it much; too sterile, outdated, and way too expensive. If memory serves me correct – because there is no way I can be arsed to check given I’m writing this on a beach – it was circa seventy quid for a starter, two mains and a solitary glass of wine. The spicy stuff wasn’t spicy and it was all a bit depressing.
Fast forward to Autumn of the following year and they have new owners, all fresh faced and with positive outlooks. The pricing is still keen and much of the menu hasn’t changed all that much but the cooking is more concise and delivers on the flavours. We start with duck; roasted in house to their recipe, as good as any aromatic duck in the city. Loads of five spice, plenty of ginger, with wafer thin shards of caramelised skin added to the mix. It’s a clichéd way to start, but blimey these make excellent pancakes. There’s also a naked baby crab – soft shell to you – deep fried in one those slightly sweet batters that hints at chilli heat. I don’t get a look-in; it’s finished in seconds.
And then mains arrive; three between two because I’m incapable of choosing. Sophie loves her honey pepper chicken which has crunch and texture and balance, and I really like the sizzling chicken with ginger and spring onion almost as much as I enjoy chiselling the sticky caramelised sauce off the base of the plate. The char sui pork is hampered by a geological issue; they use loin here over belly because my well-heeled neighbours don’t like fat. It’s their loss and the dish suffers from it a little. It’s the only thing we don’t finish though it makes for excellent sandwiches the following day. We have two types of rice so that I’m not subjected to mushrooms that evening. Both are stellar.
We get fritters for dessert and share a bottle of Chinese white wine that’s easily the best bottle of Chinese wine I’ve drank. I think it’s exclusive to them in Brum. Now for a disclaimer; I know the new owners. Well, kind of. I met them briefly when my friend Soo Fon introduced me to them at Malaysian Delight, and then again when I visited Thai Classic. That familiarity is the only thing stopping me from giving them a nine. The reality is they are excellent operators who understand the local market and have hospitality at their core. It’s a marked improvement on the last visit, and as subsequent dinners have confirmed, Henry Wong is once again a Cantonese at the top of their game.
Season two of the podcast is coming soon. Listen to season one here.