Wudon, Glasgow - Restaurants in Glasgow | s1play.com

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535 Great Western Road,

0141 357 3033

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Fusion Confusion

Review published on 18/01/2011 © Sunday Herald

On a bleak January day, there's a lot to be said for getting stuck into a steaming bowl of noodles, chin over the bowl, slurping up aromatic broth, chopsticks working overtime, and Glasgow's Wudon looks just the sort of place to do that. I must stress the word "looks". As you'll know if you have ever eaten at any kerbside food stall from Saigon to Sichuan, or even sampled the more authentic offerings to be had in some of Scotland's more pukka Asian establishments - such as Rumours and Asia Style in Glasgow, or Hongfu Noodle Bar in Edinburgh - Asian cooks can make those steaming noodle soups and stir-fries look fall-off-a-wall simple, but there's an art to getting them right and an awful lot to go wrong.

Wudon promises "more than noodles". Having eaten there, I now see that as a tacit warning. It may be old-fashioned and pedantic to lament the fact that Wudon blurs the boundaries between distinct Asian cuisines. That horse has bolted. The pan-Asian "fusion" virus is highly infectious and Wudon is just another place that attempts to unite Japanese, Thai and Chinese dishes on one menu. But here, the culinary hotchpotch project is taken to extremes. At Wudon, "anything goes" fusion is to the fore. It's as if an enthusiastic adolescent without any training, experience, feeling for the properties of ingredients or even diligent reference to a serious cookbook has been let loose in the kitchen with all the oriental ingredients to be found in a Chinese supermarket. The chefs appear to be Chinese, but they must be disoriented by the non-traditional, dissonant combinations they are asked to concoct. Arguably, inspired Asian fusion of the type you'll find in Sydney or San Francisco is lively and exciting. Open-mindedness has its strengths. But before you junk the integrity of the traditional approach, you'd be well advised to understand its basic principles. One bedrock principle of Asian cooking, surely, is that noodles are not overcooked? The appeal of noodles is their athletic bounce and spring. Here, the noodles in both a soup and stir-fry had been cooked beyond the glutinous point of no return. Our Thai red curry ho fun was marginally the worst, an unfortunate synthesis of a stir-fry and a curry. The noodles had collapsed on the plate and clumped together in a gluey mush. Once you had eaten a few squares of thinly-beaten beef sirloin, and picked out the odd beans1sprout, sliver of bendy green bean and baby corn, slippery mushroom, or speck of nori seaweed, any will to persevere further with the mat of noodles dulled. The curry sauce, described as spicy, was as mute and dumbed-down as a jar of supermarket value range cook-in sauce. The whole dish was so ill thought-out, the appetite stalled.

Fishing around in the depths of a prawn katsu soup was equally unrewarding. More mushy noodles, random beans and beansprouts, this time with half a boiled egg with an oddly blueish yolk and "Japanese fishcake" - that's the rubbery, reconstituted, processed, red and white-striped fish product that looks like sliced jam roll and tastes of almost nothing. This came in a "spicy peanut satay broth" which was puny, mild and underpowered on every front. The breaded katsu prawns, perilously balanced on top of the noodles, inevitably fell into the soup and became soggy - another misconceived dish.

The batter on our vegetable tempura was also soggy, although not because it had been inundated, and greasy to boot. The mushroom and aubergine ones disgorged oil in the mouth, while the sweet potato tempura was still hard. Some leaden dumplings had a larger-than-life porkiness about them that obscured any prawns present. The shredded duck with fried vermicelli noodles, eaten in rolled up iceberg lettuce, tasted past its best and turbo-charged with bully-boy five spice powder. The only remotely likeable dish we ate consisted of scallops steamed on the shell with ginger, soy and garlic. Mind you, providing the shellfish are OK, it's hard to mess that up.

Wudon reinforces all my worst suspicions about Asian fusion and the final bill, while not a killer, struck me as particularly bad value for money.

Certainly ‘not just noodles’

Review published on 21/09/2009 © Sunday Herald

Why aren't more folks jumping on the Wagamama bandwagon? Judging by its Glasgow city centre outpost, the noodle bar superchain routinely commands oodles of diners cheerfully wedged cheek-by-jowl on uncomfortably Spartan benches… and there's usually a bloomin' queue out the door too.

So for would-be restaurateurs who can't quite bring themselves to open another oriental-themed all-you-can-eat buffet outlet - although Scotland can apparently never have too many of those - a nominally upmarket noodle bar seems like an obvious avenue to pursue.

Newsflash: everybody likes food that's fast, filling and tasty, and to eat it in Terence Conran-derived surroundings gives it the respectable patina of a proper meal out, just with less hassle and hanging around.

If only one didn't have to navigate the tiresome city centre to experience it... As if in answer to such prayers, the appealing Wudon recently materialised on Great Western Road, coltishly stumbling from a cocoon of shopfront scaffolding that for months seemed to portend little more than yet another betting shop on Glasgow's longest boulevard.

That Wudon is newly hatched is obvious from the moment you walk in the door - the predominantly white interior is still gloriously pristine, the service is winningly attentive and the booze licence is slowly working its way through the council's large intestine of bureaucracy (which, for now at least, means an egalitarian BYOB policy with no corkage charge).

Wudon comes pitched as "not just noodles" and certainly the menu can be parsed in various ways; the selection of "wee plates" is extensive enough to construct a decent pic'n'mix feast in the currently unavoidable tapas style, with some prawn crackers, fried noodles and what-not on the side.

During our visit, clanging in with some of those tiny cans of Heineken, we opted to treat these "wee plates" as starters, ordering up some ming har kwok (prawn dumplings) gai yik (honey-coated, char-grilled chicken wings on skewers) and ap spoong (a bowl of finely chopped duck with crispy vermicelli noodles, to be rolled up and crunched in leaves of iceberg lettuce).

We must have looked hungry too, as four dumplings arrived rather than the advertised three. These starters were better than average, but all benefited from the addition of some powerful chilli-laced tabletop sauce.

The mains arrived soon after. My companion's bento box certainly looked the part, an elegant, lacquered chest fit for an emperor and loaded with miso soup, choi sum in oyster sauce, teriyaki beef and boiled rice, which he proceeded to inelegantly devour with an unnatural combination of chopsticks and heavy cutlery.

My ho fan wok-fried noodles with crunchy vegetables and strips of beef was also pretty zingy, helped by generous amounts of fresh chillies and a garnish of seaweed and sesame seeds. The bowl it came in had aspirations of becoming a vase someday, though, its lop-sided rim easy on the eye but slightly irritating to negotiate.

The service was smooth and fast but - in these early days, at least - there was no sense of being hurried out the door to make room for new patrons. Wudon is comfortable enough that you may well be tempted to stay for some ice-cream, a banana fritter or a cup of green tea; west enders do like to linger. But can it carve out its own niche on a section of Great Western Road superserved by Italian restaurants? Confucius he say: "Mibbe."

It’s a case for the taste police

Review published on 05/10/2009 © Sunday Herald

You can’t go far wrong with a restaurant run exclusively by women, can you? Take the young Wu sisters in here, whose name is on the back of the menu, no less. They’re flitting enthusiastically about the place, and there’s a bevy of fresh-faced and smiley female student types serving the tables. The place is bright, white and minimalist with dangling lamps and a crisp, clean feel. Even the menu has a sensible, woman’s touch, being all pared down, a sort of boutique version of noodles, dim sum, soups and rices de-slopped and scrubbed up for the cool west end of Glasgow.

Joe and I like the atmosphere as we sit here at the big picture window, my head slowly and gently being cooked by the heat of the spotlight right above it. We’re talking about the great black hole of life that is the jury trial. Black hole? Well, if, like me, you have a day job as a defence lawyer, juries involve days and days of wasted, unpaid time and never, ever seem to start. If, like Joe, you’re a fiscal, they involve the complete opposite – a huge list of trials, a vast juggling act and a limited amount of time, and they never, ever seem to stop.

Anyway, that’s our riveting chat as the food starts to come. There are some eel slices with greens – well, no greens whatsoever, something we don’t notice until we’ve cleared the plate of the rich and slightly fishy flavours; pork dumplings that are a bit like dim sum, browned on one side and slippery; and bok choi greens tossed in garlic and oil. Are the starters good? They’re certainly not bad, though a slight problem is slowly becoming apparent.

I’ll come back to it after we’ve sorted out the other slight problem: the main course. The problem is that we didn’t actually order it, a detail we fail to notice until we’re a quarter of the way through what seems to be an upmarket chicken fried rice. I find it mind-numbingly bland, but Joe pronounces it “gid”, which I can tell you is an Ayrshire term of approval. Then again, I found the dumplings good, while Joe found them “not gid”, and I thought the eel was interesting while Joe found it “disgusting, but whit do I know?”.

The rice we keep anyway, even though the waitress, with a slightly horrified look, has it halfway off the table when she realises the mistake. The expression on her face becomes one of even greater alarm when she asks me what I think of the tom yam soup that eventually arrives. “Different,” I say, trying to be polite. Cue pregnant pause. “Different,” she repeats, looking worried. “Is it okay? We need feedback.” I’ve got to be honest and admit I completely bottle out of this exchange by replying, “Different as in I haven’t had it before.” That seems to calm her but it isn’t strictly true. I have had tom yam many times, but I’ve never had one as bad as this. It’s hopeless rather than offensive, as though someone has instructed the kitchen to assemble a classic Thai dish from those supermarket bags of carrot and turnip batons with a tin of sweetcorn thrown in for good measure. There’s no sweet-and-sour punch, no flavour at all apart from some heat from the chilli. It’s bland and a million miles away from the spirited, fragrant and invigorating dish it should be.

Dare I say it kind of sums the place up? Why come here and have three or four baby bok choi in a wishy-washy garlic sauce for four quid when you can walk down the road to Asia Style or the Asian Gourmet and have a mountain of them exploding with flavour for less. Wudon is a triumph of style over substance – fashionable, but lacking any depth when it comes to the kitchen. It’s a pastiche, serving up dull and empty copies of classic dishes in a hip ’n’ happening way and hoping everybody is distracted by the setting. A metaphor for modern life, anyone? I couldn’t possibly say.