On a drizzly Tuesday night, it is easy to see why Henry Wongs has kept such a strong reputation for twenty years. The dining room is doing a steady trade with those who fit a certain cliental. Well-heeled Harborne types, mostly in the later years of their life. You know the type; got the kids off to uni, still send them a bob or two to help with the beer funds, but it’s time for them to enjoy life now. Booked a lovely cruise on a massive ship and going to see the Caribbean with Janice and Martin from the over the road. Do you know the ship has more swimming pools than they have bedrooms at home, and let me tell you, life is all right so absolutely no worries there regarding the size of their house. They’re knocking through the back of the house and putting the solar panels on; just doing the bit to help the planet and offset the eight flights they are taking next year. They’ve been going Henry Wongs for years, well at least since they moved from the Jewellery Quarter to the top of the high street. Sure, the interior hasn’t changed, but it’s comfortable and the owners know them personally and always fit them in. They know the menu almost as well as the neighbours’ secrets.
I wish I knew that menu inside out. It’s massive. Page after page of mostly Cantonese food cut with bits of the rest of China thrown in for good measure. Weirdly – and I am aware that I am in a minority for checking this – many of the chef’s specials come from Sichuan and not the Cantonese they proclaim themselves to be. There are prawn crackers and a very expensive glass of wine for something that hasn’t been kept in the best of condition.
The food is decent , if lacking in any excitement whatsoever. We get potsticker dumplings filled with minced chicken and chive with decent flavour and great texture, which, at £8 are the cheapest of the starters outside of the soups. They are okay, but you feel a little tough on price, which is a consistent throughout the meal. Beef in black bean suffers from oddly textured, pulpy, beef though the sauce is umami packed from the fermented soy beans. And then there is the Sichuan spicy pepper chicken that tastes like every decent wok-cooked chicken dish I have ever tried with a few ceremonial dried chillies thrown in for good measure. It lacks any integration of heat whatsoever, a spicy dish for those who really can’t stand spicy at all. Though I guess that’s what happens when your market is predominantly middle-class and middle-aged white people. Maybe it isn’t their fault.
All this comes at a price. The above two mains and a starter, with a soft drink, the glass of slightly-off wine, and a bowl of rice comes in at £67. Put simply, Henry Wongs isn’t cheap. But then I suppose it isn’t supposed to be. It is a world away from the bustle of China Town, more a place to drink Dom Perignon with friends and not question why the beef in teriyaki sauce is the same price as a main at some Michelin starred restaurants. My neighbours love it – and why wouldn’t they when they can afford it – but I’m not sure it is somewhere that I’ll be rushing back to anytime soon, however pleasant it is.