THEY’RE running out of chopsticks in China – they can’t get the wood, you know – and I’ve not helped by dropping mine on the floor of the Wok Express in Bradway.
That’s two fewer and I’ve not even started my spicy Szechuan char siu. Now I would have picked them up, taken a quick look around and if no one was looking, wiped them with my paper napkin and carried on.
But owner Anna Cheng spots me and brings another pair in their paper wrappings.
After reading that China, which makes 60 billion sets of chopsticks a year, is having to import them from the United States, of all places, I could have helped the world situation by bringing my trusty hinged plastic ones along. But I forgot.
Wooden chopsticks are used once and thrown away. The Chinese might have to take a tip from the Koreans and use metal ones. Or overthrow centuries of tradition and turn to cutlery – something I see Chinese students already doing in the Chinese restaurants on West Street.
We were in a café last year packed full of young Chinese and were the only ones using chopsticks.
Which brings me back to Wok Express. We’re the only ones using chopsticks because we are the only ones there.
It’s popular all right – there is a queue of people waiting for their food – but word has yet to get around in Bradway that you can eat in at this takeaway.
Almost every Chinese restaurant I know does takeaways but few do it in reverse. It would be a restaurant then, wouldn’t it? Actually the Wok Express calls itself a Chinese diner and I reckon that sums it up nicely.
If you’ve ever thought that the biggest snag in going out for a takeaway is getting it back home then this is the place for you because you can eat in at takeaway prices.
It looks very white, clean and smart, seating 20 with a long banquette seat and a shelf of waving lucky Chinese cats. Anna plans to put up pictures of Hong Kong, where she is from, and if she doesn’t mind a suggestion it would help to have a screen between the queue and diners. Then the latter wouldn’t feel under so much scrutiny.
You know how it is. It’s human nature. People are waiting patiently for their sweet and sour prawns and chicken in yellow bean sauce and can’t help but look across to the table to see what you are eating. Meanwhile, you look up and catch them staring and feel under observation. Mild embarrassment all round.
Anna took over an existing conventional Chinese takeaway late last year, stripped it all out and started again, opening just before Christmas.
A smart, friendly, stylish lady in tight jeans and leather boots. she will be well known to local diners; for ten years she was front of house at the Japanese WasabiSabi as well as having a stint at the Vietnamese Pho68, both on London Road.
“I like talking to people and serving them,” she says. At first she had planned a separate menu for the diner but now it’s the same, although when Wok Express really gets into its swing she’ll be doing dishes such as mussels and lobster.
The menu is a slimmed down version of what you might expect in a takeaway, plus a few Thai red curry dishes.
Now the last Chinese takeaway I had was awful – greasy, stodgy and heavy – but the food at the Wok Express is very superior stuff.
It helps to note that Anna’s partner is Mike Kilner, boss of the Coppice House Farm Shop at Rivelin Valley and the pork, beef and chicken on the menu comes from him.
We begin with crispy seaweed (£2.20), always a great favourite of mine and reasonably easy to do at home if you ensure your shredded greens are bone dry. When I did it once there was a small nuclear explosion in the wok. Hot oil and water don’t mix.
We also had a quarter portion of crispy duck (£6.50), with six pancakes, as good as any you’ll eat elsewhere. I don’t suppose it’s Mike’s duck, though. Sesame prawn toast (£2.80) was generously topped.
Almost all the mains are below a fiver. We had Phoenix Dragon (£4.50), a Cantonese dish, king prawns and chicken with vegetables in a garlic, chilli and oyster sauce. The chicken was good but the prawns were the usual takeaway bland variety. I don’t think we can blame Mike for the prawns.
I loved the Szechuan char siu (£4.20) in a gutsy, spicy black bean sauce, while the stir-fried mixed vegetables (£3.20) were a pleasing medley with lots of rehydrated, slithery Chinese mushrooms.
With egg fried rice (£1.80) it was a first class sit-in takeaway for a reasonable £25.20. Green tea was on the house.
Where possible, I try to indicate at the end of my reports whether gluten-free dishes are available. A customer who was obviously coeliac came in and painstakingly went through all the dishes which didn’t contain either wheat or soy sauce.
I hadn’t realised soy can also be a problem and was impressed how Anna checked with the kitchen whether each dish ordered was suitable. It’s lovely food and great value and I’m sure the atmosphere will earn higher marks when the décor and screening improves.
The Dawes Verdict
146 Bradway Road, Bradway, Sheffield S17 4QX.
Tel: 0114 236 7837.
Open all week 11am-2.30pm and 5-11pm.
Vegetarian meals. Ask for gluten-free.
Parking on forecourt. Credit cards. Takeaways.