Eating at the “rudest” restaurant in London
by rick olivares
After celebrating the Feast of the Sto. Niño at St. George’s Cathedral in Southwark, London, I repaired to Chinatown in Soho with a long-time resident of the capital of England, Roselle Cabañero, who currently is a consultant for a top company in Britain.
We were going to eat at Wong Kei in Chinatown (41-43 Wardour Street in Soho in the building that previously housed that financial company, Clarkson’s) that for seemingly the longest time, had this unsavory reputation for being the “rudest” restaurant in Great Britain. The Chinese restaurant offered cheaply priced food in an otherwise expensive city yet one had to endure insults from the wait staff.
From what we have read from disgruntled patrons on the web, they are either told to go to another restaurant if they complain about the lack of cleanliness, waiters storm off if a patron takes too long to order, they literally drop plates on the table, and chase you if you leave a small tip. There too was the occasional use of the f-word that angered many a customer. And that’s just some. Really!
Supposedly, when ownership changed hands in 2014 and its subsequent refurbishing, the attitude was greatly toned down. However, a glance at some comments as recently as January 1, 2016 indicate that whatever changes are merely cosmetic.
So we two brave souls entered. Tita Roselle and I were quite lucky to get a table for two considering that Soho from Trafalgar Square all the way down to the commercial end of Oxford, Regent, and Picadilly Streets among others were packed with people waiting for the Lumiere light show, a four-night event where London’s iconic architectures were lit up with 3D projections and light works.
First off, when we entered and asked for a table for two we were told there was a place for us in the back. All right, not rude.
Second, the Cantonese menu was 10-pages long! Since Tita Roselle had been here before, I simply asked her to order what she thought was good while reminding her of my allergies to shrimps and other crustaceans. We ordered roast duck, gai lan (Chinese broccoli), choi sum in oyster sauce, and tofu. And a cup of egg rice.
The bespectacled waiter hied off to the kitchen to give our orders then returned and literally dumped the plates and chopsticks on our table. Tita Roselle and I looked at each other. “See,” she pointed out. “Strike one.”
The waiter returned to place a kettle of tea. A few minutes later, he came back with all our food. Apparently, this is the equivalent of Chinese fastfood.
I’ve never really fallen for chop sticks and prefer the use of a spoon and fork to for more generous mouthfuls. When I asked for the utensils, mindful of the wait staff’s insults to those who ask for them, they readily brought them. I thanked them for the speedy service and got a — surprise — “you’re welcome” in return. Tita Roselle, who has eaten here before was surprised. “My, oh my,” she exclaimed. “That’s a first.”
A later request for soda to wash away the taste of monosodium glutamate (MSG) also elicited another acknowlegement further adding to the gleam in Tita Roselle’s eye. “Maybe it has changed,” she quipped.
The food is fine. It’s isn’t by any chance a culinary changing experience. It’s fine. We didn’t get any overcooked food or sloppily presented viands. The duck was roasted to perfection. Not too burnt leaving enough of the juiciness in the chicken meat to savor. The vegetables had a certain sweetness to them that somewhat competed with the taste of MSG. The trick about cooking gai lan is not to overcook them so the leaves and stems turn limp where they easily crumble. I like that certain crunchiness to go with it and for the leafy greens to not melt away.
It was just right. And the plates aside, it wasn’t an unpleasant experience. Maybe it was our lucky night.
Nevertheless, the entire bill amounted up L27 pounds sterling (about PhP 1,800). It could have been less but we ordered two vegetable viands by mistake.
An hour after we walked in, we were done. Wong Kei’s, that seats supposedly up to 500 people, had a long queue of people outside.
As we left the restaurant (no we didn’t expect any “see you again” wishes), a party of five tourists asked, “table for five?”
“Downstairs,” curtly replied one waiter who seemed more interested in the quick turnover of customers rather than providing great service. “Aw right, who is next?”
Somethings never change but we had the luck of the draw.