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Wong_Kei

Wong Kei

Wong Kei is a famous restaurant in London's Chinatown. No exact figures are known but it is estimated to be one of the largest Chinese restaurants in the UK with seating for around 500 diners, second only to Mr Chu's China Palace in Kingston upon Hull.

The Building

Wong Kei is situated at 41-43 Wardour Street, which used to belong to Willy Clarkson (1861-1934), a famous theatrical wig maker and costumier, as attested by the 1966 blue plaque on the facade. It was designed by the architect H. M. Wakley. Inscriptions record that the wig-making business was established in 1833, that Sarah Bernhardt laid the foundation stone of the present building in 1904 and Sir Henry Irving the coping stone in 1905. Street directories show that Clarkson's occupied the premises from 1905 until 1940.

The building contains four storeys and a garret. The front, with a width of three broad windows, is designed in a style combining Baroque and art nouveau forms, realised in brick and green stone with buff stone dressings. The doorway is centred between display windows, and at either end of the ground floor an Ionic pilaster with garlanded capital supports a great bracket-stop upon which stands a large urn with a tall conical top.

The outer windows of the three floors above are in canted bays faced with green stone and contained in tall recesses, three storeys high, with stone surrounds finished with segmental pediments broken to receive small iron-railed balconies serving a pedimented dormer behind, and beneath each balcony is a large foliated cartouche.

On either side of the flat-headed central first-floor window is a cartouche, one inscribed 'Estb. 1833', the other 'Rebt. 1904'. From the centre of the second floor is suspended on wrought-iron brackets a double faced clock inscribed 'Costumier Perruquier' on both sides. On either side of the door metal plaques record the visits of Bernhardt and Irving mentioned above.

In 1972, another Chinese restaurant, called Lee Ho Fook occupied the ground floor of the building.

The address is also used by a distributor/wholesaler established in 2000 called Aarton.

Current Establishment

In 2004, the restaurant was refurbished and the staff lost their usual white shirts for red or black branded t-shirt sporting the slogan "upstairs downstairs" in reference to how customers are allocated seating positions. These T-Shirts are also available for sale. The waiters tend to sit parties upon their group size e.g. single diners are seated in the ground floor front dining area (overflowing to the downstairs area), parties with children are seated in the ground floor back area (overflowing to the first floor) and business party groups are almost always seated in the smarter first floor area. Most of the seating is shared and requests for non-shared seating are often ignored.

Diners are provided with chopsticks, a napkin and a Chinese soup spoon; if a knife and fork is needed it has to be requested. On every table there is plastic plate with a small bottle of soy sauce, and a glass of a chili condiment with a small steel spoon. Every customer gets a free pot of Chinese tea with unlimited refills. To request a refill, one leaves the teapot lid open.

The current restaurant is spread over five floors, from the basement up to the third floor. The kitchens are on the top floor with food being transferred using small food elevators. Sections of the building, the rear of the first floor and the top floor are only opened at the busiest times.

Restaurant security is also very well coordinated through an internal telephone system. In case of an incident, large numbers of waiters will appear in the area of the incident within seconds.

Reputation

Wong Kei is popular with locals and tourists, serving Chinese food at low prices. Its reputation has been built despite the rudeness and bad behaviour of its waiters and sharpness of the service - in fact, these are considered by most regulars to be part of the experience but the general opinion is that this service has mellowed in recent years.

Customer opinions of this restaurant are very varied. Online feedback made about Wong Kei illustrates this. Most online negative feedback appears to be come from one-off customers whereas positive feedback appears to be coming from more regular customers. Wong Kei is not your average restaurant by any means and has an almost cult following.

Customers may be disappointed to hear that as at October 2008, their policy has indeed changed. On asking a waiter for a discount because he was 'not rude enough' he laughingly confirmed that they had changed their policy but added the rider '... except when the grumpy Director is in.' So customers may be lucky, depending on the day of the week that they attend.

Menu

Most regular diners would agree that this restaurant has very authentic Hong Kong/Chinese cuisine from a variety of regions. There are always numerous Chinese/Hong Kong origin customers here. The menu is extensive and expanded by the fact that ordering off the menu is allowed. The amount of choices must run into the thousands.

The usuals are all there: Duck with Pancakes, Prawn Crackers, Spring Rolls, Sesame Seed Prawn toast, Chicken and Sweetcorn soup, Singapore Fried Noodles etc.

The most popular and better Menu choices at Wong Keis however are just one plate meals based around rice and noodle dishes with meat or vegetables. Noodles come in the plain, fried, Ho fun or Udon types. The most popular (which are also usually chosen in combination) include Monks Vegetables, Barbecue Pork , Crispy Pork, Roast Chicken , Roasted Duck, Shredded Duck, Stewed Pork and Beansprout, Beef and Tomato, Beef with Vegetables, Pork Chop, etc.

The fact that some of the sole meats i.e. Crispy Pork are served cold may surprise new customers. As do the egg-based dishes, which although popular with the Oriental customers, may not be as well-cooked as Western tastes are used to.

Other options include the Congee (porridge-based) meals. The Deep Fried Chilli Salt Squid is also a very popular choice as are the many tofu-based menu items.

The noodle-based soups (e.g. Wonton/ Yau Nam Soups with Ho fun) are also widely eaten. They are often so large that many diners just go for a soup alone as a meal.

External links

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