Growing up in a market town in the West Midlands meant that East Asian food was often compromised of fried things covered in a pink sugary sauce. Whilst my parents dined on what felt like exotic Singapore noodles, chicken with cashews and spicy squid, us kids would be eating glorified chicken nuggets, fried rice and spring rolls with plenty of prawn crackers. I think we can all agree that whilst delicious, these menu choices are not a true reflection of the incredible food offered in China and beyond and it took far too long for me to realise.
With moving to a large, multicultural city came the chance to try more cuisines from farther-flung places. At my disposal, I had Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese and everything in between either a short walk or phone call away. As my options grew, so did my palette.
Now in 2019, Bristol is spoiled for choice and with Woky Koopening the newest incarnation of their restaurant Jing Xu, I was invited along by the Golden Chopstick Awards to try some of their new dishes.
Owned by Masterchef contestant Larkin Cen, he has been quietly making his mark on Bristol, opening three sit down restaurants and one market stall in the infamous St Nicks over a period of three years.
A small group of us gathered upstairs on a chilly November evening gratefully shaking off heavy coats and in return being handed the Woky exclusive nashi pear gin and tonic, made for them by Bristol distiller Psychopomp. This almost sweet and beautifully balance G&T certainly got us in the mood for a feast and that famous Woky hospitality didn’t let us down.
We were presented with small bowls of vegan turnip dashi, showing an incredible feat of cooking to pack as much flavour as they did into such a light broth without the help of meat and bone stock. Sharing plates of Korean fried cauliflower, crisp with batter and generously coated in a punchy lemon and sriracha mayo, crispy squid with a tangy yet warming lemon and togarashi dip and steamed tenderstem broccoli with a thick, sweet preserved furu dressing had chopsticks clashing in mid-air for every scrap. The cauliflower was the absolute star of the show with an admittedly bland vegetable lending itself wonderfully to batter and mayo, if I had known vegetables could taste this good I wouldn’t have been wasting my time with chicken balls in my youth.
We finished with Woky Ko Jing Xu’s crowning glory, their three roasties. These rotisserie meats have been lovingly roasted in the Chinese style over open flames and are paired with dipping sauces that cut through the unctuous fattiness of each dish. The duck is served on the bone, retaining its moisture as well as improving the taste and is cooked in the Peking style. Pork belly is blanched and cooked quickly over a flame to render the fat but allows the pork to keep a satisfying resistance, texturally much nice that the slow-cooked pulled style pork I’ve grown accustomed to. The Char Sui pork was another winner, soft, sweet and incredibly moreish there was a lot of polite “oh please, you have it” before I lost patience and scoffed what was left with plenty of finger-licking accompanying my smug face. I am all for being polite but the dish was getting cold.
I loved my meal at Woky Ko Jing Xu and despite my default being not very good at sharing food, we had plenty to go around and not a single dish was left with anything in it. Woky has converted me to not only cauliflower but maybe has me coming around to small plates too. It was wonderful having an opportunity to eat my way across some of East Asia and if my ten-year-old self could see me now, she would be flabbergasted that I didn’t once ask for a jug of sugary pink sauce to drown my food in.
This meal was provided by Woky Ko in conjunction with The Golden Chopstick Awards.