I moved back to Harborne in November 2019. In March 2020 something bad happened to the UK. I can’t remember what exactly, but it did mean that I couldn’t go out for dinner, or sit in The Plough, or see the one half of my parents that is still breathing. I ate a lot of takeaways, or, more specifically, I ate a lot of takeaways from WokChi. It was the easy thing to do. Too busy watching Tiger King to cook? Get a WokChi. Too busy Googling Joe Exotic to cook? Get a WokChi. Too hungover to think about food? WokChi, because eating is fundamentally to living, you idiot. As a result, I could write this piece from memory without ever eating inside. Except I have to, because pictures of takeaways in their packaging look dreadful, and also because I have the plating presentation skills of your average six-year-old.
After a staggered relaunch lasting roughly a year, you can now sit in WokChi again, though the place is small to the point that you’ll need likely need to book to get one of the twenty covers, and absolutely need to turn-up unlike the bell-ends who were supposed to be on the table next to us. It’s a basic set-up; the dining room is a little narrow and cramped, whilst dinner is served on rudimentary wooden tables. Should you find your back onto to the narrow alley between door and counter, it’s likely you’ll be grazed by a carrier bag full of collected takeaway food. The menu is an anglicised broad swipe across the orient (and I know it’s a lazy for a white middle-aged straight bloke like me to use an outdated term like ‘orient’, but they describe themselves as an oriental kitchen, so please don’t cancel me for the third time), that takes in Cantonese, Szechuan, Fujian, Thai, Vietnam and Japanese, all in an anglicised Western manor that makes for easy eating. We start with chicken and veg gyoza, buxom and crisp. Great with the soy and coriander dip, but arguably better with the perky fish sauce and chilli dip that shows up with other starters and wings. Five gyoza for just over six quid. I should probably mention here that WokChi is very affordable.
For mains it’s the basics tonight. I could go for the beautiful Shao Shing and chilli oil beef again, or the XO drenched scallops and king prawns, but it’s cold outside and I want comfort. We get chicken curry and egg fried rice, as textbook as the works of Shakespeare, loaded with meat and peppers and water mushrooms, all bobbing in a thick sauce that echoes Golden Curry mix in the right way. There is a satay sauce in notion for the other dish. Direct and brooding, the nuttiness is paired back to let the garlic play equal to it. I take the leftovers home and eat the following day. There is a lot of leftovers. I haven’t mentioned (or ordered) the chicken wings that have achieved cult status, the prawn wontons in a beautiful clear broth. Nor have I haven’t mentioned the kind of pho they do that isn’t really a pho but is still an absolute must order. The reality is its difficult to order badly here.
Alfie and Linda own WokChi. I’m on first name terms with them in the same way I am with the majority of The Plough, my postman, and the lovely lady who works mornings at Sainsbury’s Local. And I’m not alone; everyone knows Alfie and Linda because they know them all personally. They have hospitality in their blood, remembering nigh on every name of every person who walks through their door whilst I’m there. They care about the business they own and fought to keep alive over lockdown, maintaining the same consistently high standard throughout. I’ll phone about 7.15pm on a Sunday night to order a collection of chips and curry sauce in a tray to be asked “Mr Carlo, are you hungover again?”. Sure, there may be a trace of favouritism in this particular piece, but I’m willing to argue that choice of mine. WokChi are the perfect blend of approachable, reliable, and tasty cooking, delivered by two people who love to feed others. Harborne is incredibly lucky to have them grace their high street.