Ho Wong82 York Street,
0141 221 3550
£ – inexpensive
££ – mid-price
£££ – expensive
££££ – very expensive
Review published on 10/09/2012 © Sunday Herald
Reassuringly expensive: that's one take on the Ho Wong's prices. Our first reaction, though, is that it's jaw-droppingly expensive, for a Chinese restaurant anyway. Or, to be more precise, for a Chinese restaurant in the current climate of discount vouchers and internet deals. There's no sign of vouchers in here, it's midweek, the tables are full and the chatter of conversation is incredibly loud. Outside they're filming The Fast And The Furious 6 and York Street in Glasgow is rumbling with fake fire engines and Hollywood glamour. Inside there's maybe still a hint of the footballer bling the Ho Wong was once known for, but it seems more sophisticated these days; it's certainly more low lit and atmospheric. And isn't that Professor Tom Devine, the leading historian, I can see sitting over there?
Funnily enough, at the risk of continuing my name-dropping ways, it was one of the country's most prominent QCs who leaned over as I was stuffing my fat face with canteen fish 'n' chips and said to me the other day, "The Ho Wong's really good again." The Ho Wong? I haven't been here for a decade at least. Not since newspapers were booming and everybody had expenses.
Anyway, here comes the food. Super-slender Chinese waitresses swarm our table, all smiles and bows, depositing candle-powered heaters, steaming dishes, drinks and, for chopstick learner Luca, cutlery. Ah, the shame, we tease him.
The starters are fanned out across a large dish. Two whole soft-shell crabs, crisp, golden, tossed in garlic and chilli, little breadcrumby nuggets binding the flavours of the dressing. Fresh, clean white meat underneath. Good. Almost, but on account of a slight wetness, not quite as good as the soft-shell crab geniuses turn out at Asia Style a mile or two away. Spring rolls come in threes - long, slim and crisp tubes packed with the usual suspects but enlivened by chunks of duck and pork. But uh-oh, Cal ordered chilli and salt king prawns and when they arrive they're not the jaggy-shelled Scots versions I was expecting at the price. They have the tight, curled from-frozen look that is deeply alarming in an £8.50 starter. It's a "Hmm ..." moment. Do you know what, though? They're excellent - sweet and thick with a lovely fine and well-seasoned tempura-like batter. They're so good, in fact, that when the waitress mistakenly brings a main-course portion to the table instead of the scallops we ordered we take them - at £17.30 before adding the cost of the £2.80 rice. Fast forwarding to bill time I can tell you we will draw the line at paying the £3 extra for the scallops that never came.
More food, anyone? Bai hai crispy duck is a mash-up of prawn served on thick slices of duck breast and draped in seafood sauce. I used to order this every time I went to the Loon Fung on Sauchiehall Street back in the day. I think this is a better version.
That Szechuan crispy beef? The slivers of meat in a crisp, translucent batter that are too often a gooey, chewy, tasteless mess are somehow, in here, a complete triumph. Crisp and crunchy, strong flavours of beef inside and cut with a sharp and sweet sauce. Excellent. The Singapore-style noodles? A let down. Far too smoky from the wok and, at £6.50 for a side dish, I'd have expected the curry powder to taste significantly less harsh.
Overall, though, this has been a pricey but excellent meal. Maybe sometimes restaurants are greater than the sum of their parts. There are plenty of places in Glasgow serving more authentic Chinese dishes and still more serving cheaper Chinese dishes. But because of the quality of the cooking, the confident, upmarket buzz and the crisp, clean flavours, it's hard to deny that the Ho Wong is indeed good again. Very good.