Henry Wong, Harborne

It was a dining conundrum.

Joining us was our 18-year-old, Polly, who I hadn’t seen for two months since she  started at university. It was the longest we had ever been apart. That’s a big deal for a dad.

Clearly, Polly had been missing me tremendously. When I messaged her to ask what she was looking forward to about coming home, she said: “Food.”

“Anything else you’ve been missing?” I asked. LIKE YOUR DEAR OLD DAD WHO’S BEEN MISSING YOU MORE THAN YOU COULD EVER IMAGINE AND WON’T BE ABLE TO COPE WHEN YOUR SISTER LIVVY LEAVES HOME, TOO.

“No, not really.”

I admire that kind of honesty.

It’s an honesty shared by one of our fellow guests that night – my father. He and Mummy joined us, too, for a pre-Christmas get-together. Now, the old man enjoys telling it like it is, so diner often includes Hemingwayesque food descriptions, typically “Sensational!” and “Crap!”

We needed somewhere close to home, so we could bail if Dad went nuclear. We also needed somewhere that wouldn’t upset the family apple cart and where, to satisfy Polly, there would be: Food. Lots of food.

So we went to Henry Wong in Harborne. This Cantonese restaurant has been around for 30 years or so but it looks, and feels, far from tired. The ambitious owners, Parm Rai and Bal Badesha, who took over HW in 2008, have breathed new life into this stalwart of the Harborne/Edgbaston dining circuit. The fabric of the place, and the menu, has been improved through investment. There’s a novel concept. It is a lesson some of Henry Wong’s competitors in the city should heed.

There is a newish dining area for more casual eating in the bar – a testament to the popularity of the place – but the original dining room remains the preferred space. In here, couples and parties of friends were cracking open bottles of Laurent Perrier with casual abandon. The restaurant has a successful association with the Champagne house and the wine clearly suits the tastes of local diners.

There is good news for gluten-free Cantonese fans. The restaurant has introduced a G-Free menu to make it less stressful to order. Head chef Ricky Wu is happy to accommodate requests so don’t be shy to ask.

We split dim sum platters, which include wasabi prawns, crispy won tons and prawn dumplings. The chilli ribs and seaweed were the pick of the bunch.

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Lovely seared scallops came with a light garlic and vinegar sauce and balanced well with nibbles of sweet chilli tempura. We skipped the imperial spare ribs but it’s good to have an excuse to go back.

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Among the main courses, the chef’s take on Vietnamese-style garlic butter king prawns remains one of my favourite dishes – sticky, sweet and crunchy – and packing a tidal-wave of winter cold-vanquishing garlic.

At less than a tenner, the crispy fried chicken with garlic and pepper is a steal.

Restaurant manager Marianne Ho, one of the city’s great unsung front-of-house stars, said we had to try the green gai lan. I am very pleased we did.

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The slightly woody, crisp vegetable, is a bit like broccoli only ten times more interesting and far tastier. Wu serves it simply with a light drenching of ginger and shaoxing wine and it’s delightful, almost a meal in itself. But then you’d miss out on the prawns…

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A note on the wine list: there are some excellent prices on upscale bottles. London restaurants and hotels will clobber you with double mark-ups over what you can buy here. Among other wines, we had a lovely 2011 Chassagne-Montrachet for £44.50 – rich, light floral notes and, for once, a Burgundy in budget for a special occasion.

If you are looking for somewhere with good food to crack open a few celebratory bottles this Christmas, hail a taxi for Harborne. It’s always bubble o’clock at Henry Wong.

 

 

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