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The Wok Inn, Brandon
A WELL-presented advertisement in this very publication convinced me the moment was right for the Durham Times to return to the Wok Inn after a three-year absence.
The power of the Press, eh?
The Brandon restaurant was delighted to welcome back Nick and Carry, the advert enthused.
‘‘We’ve been away too long and are happy to be back in Durham,’’ it said.
The venue, which describes itself as Fine Cantonese and Thai cuisine, had recently re-opened following a refurbishment; and my wife and I were chomping at the bit to take a peek – and a nibble.
I’m sorry to say, first impressions were not good. We arrived on a stormy, soaked-through Saturday evening to be greeted by two doors.
One, apparently, was for the takeaway part of the business, while the other was for sit-in diners. But this was not clear until one risked one entrance or the other.
Inside, things only got worse. A large wishing pool stood despairingly drained, revealing all the pennies and tuppences hopefully tossed away down the years.
The lights were dimmed, no diners could be seen. Oh dear, I thought.
Thankfully, my worries were misplaced. A small Asian lady greeted us from behind a large bar and guided us through a better presented interior dining area into a conservatory-style secondary room.
There, stylised images of the Far East lined the walls, most of the eight to ten tables were occupied with seemingly happy customers, petit Chinese waitresses scurried back and forth with wine and prawn crackers and large windows which fully lined one side of the room offered mountain-top-like views over the village below.
The menu was mostly Chinese, with just the odd page of Thai alternatives. But there were set menus ranging from £13.80 to £32, endless pages of delicious-sounding options and a strong wine list. I, perhaps somewhat snootily, scoffed at the description of one red wine as ‘gluggable’, but I knew we would not starve.
We were served by a terrified young Asian girl who, I can only assume, must have been on her first night.
The lady who had first greeted us followed her around correcting her at every opportunity like a stern schoolmistress. At times it was almost comedic, the girl was so scared. She did very well. She probably would have done even better if she’d been left to get on with it.
I began with duck rolls served with sweet and sour sauce. They were excellent: the duck thoroughly cooked, not still pink and quacking as some would serve it.
Sarah opted for chicken satay, which was also highly enjoyable.
I was particularly impressed with our host’s effort to keep our food warm: plates were delivered piping hot, dishes atop a metal tray heated by tealights.
For the main course, I chose a chicken Thai green curry with Chow Mein, while Sarah went for sticky chicken with lemongrass with rice.
The curry was enjoyable, although it stretched my spice tolerance to its limits at times. Quicker table service when I was gasping for a soothing glass of water would have been appreciated.
Sarah’s chicken was also very nice but a little on the spicy side.
The evening took an odd turn when, against my own advice, I accepted an invitation to view the dessert menu. I picked something out, only to be told it was unavailable. Our waitress then leaned over and began pointing out what else was unavailable: all but the caramel parfait, it turned out.
Well, it certainly made choosing easier! But one wonders whether there was really much need to bring out the list. Thankfully, I have a soft spot for caramel and this caramel choc ice – effectively what it was – finally extinguished the flames still burning in my throat from my earlier curry.
As gentle Asian love songs pined away in the background, we settled our debts and made for home.
With our bill at £41.90, the Wok Inn is not a cheap destination. But neither should it be.
Its wall hangings, statues and, of course, wonderful Oriental flavours, had transported Sarah and I to the Far East for a few hours and left us with a taste for more. Well, maybe one day.