Wong Kei is a mad Chinese restaurant on Wardour Street, Chinatown. Until recently it was considered the rudest restaurant in London and, because human stupidity is without end, it became a tourist attraction in its own right, a destination for masochists too frightened to visit an actual dominatrix who would hit them with a stick.
The owner decided this notoriety upset him so he instructed the staff — no more deliberate or casual or accidental rudeness. This was considered so notable that it was reported in national newspapers.
I never thought Wong Kei was particularly rude, but then I am Jewish. I had an interesting reaction to a meal there once, and spent eleven hours carefully composing one fart — a fart by degrees, the world’s most timid fart, a maiden fart etcetera — but that had nothing to do with the service. China is a communist country which does not do passive–aggressive service, because everyone is theoretically equal in hell. I think the rude restaurants are the ones that try to prevent you eating the food; so the rudest restaurant in London is Trullo in Islington, where the waitress tried to withhold potatoes (anorexia), and also L’Escargot in Greek Street, where the waiter tried to withhold the bread (manorexia plus misogyny equals minus one bread rolls).
The exterior is lovely, but this is surely an accident. It is an Edwardian red-brick monster with strange and glorious ornamentation: latticed windows, green tiling, a sculpture of a man’s face, which I wish I could say looked hungry, or terribly rude, but is actually just numb. Too much Chinatown? Inevitably.
The facade is ruined by the international symbol of bad food, which is menus in the windows in sick, sad, brightly lit boxes. They promise horror. The signage is blood-coloured. I wonder if there is a fatberg somewhere near; this is fatberg land. What will be left?
Inside, a depressed cafeteria on two levels. It smells of pig fat and bleach; it is sub-Mr Wu, which is sub-KFC. (Mr Wu is the all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant popular with people so drunk they have lost their vision). It is anti-decor, which means I cannot recall the precise colouring of the interior, although I think it is a greying yellow, like a banana squashed underfoot. Wong Kei is the sort of place that cannot be cleaned, only burnt away until the world is pure again. It is a cursed restaurant — it is Chinatown, after all; next stop Gin Lane. The staff say: Go downstairs. Go downstairs, honey. Honey? I hoped for a punch in the face — so publishable. Or windows.
So, an airless room that smells of mysterious and eternal smells related to pig, filled with people too poor or insane to eat elsewhere. (The food is not as cheap as it was, but it is still cheap). Tea is brought in a silver coloured pot — and chopsticks. Rumours say that if you ask for a fork you will be sawn in half and then decapitated and overcharged, but not today; we wait a while for the plates to be cleared, but this is hardly drama. At Wong Kei the food is either edible or inedible with no notes in between; so we have inedible hot and sour soup, or gloop soup; inedible ribs with lumps of onions like your own undreamt tombstone in the cemetery of your own mouth; edible duck, prawns, chicken and beef; edible noodles; edible rice and a plate of baby corn and water chestnut so repulsive to look at, an homage to random CGI pixie body parts, yellowing and fetid, that we did not touch it. Nor, fearing the instant resumption of rudeness, did we send it back to the kitchen.
At the end, I tip. They look amazed; and this is gratifying.
Wong Kei, 41–43 Wardour Street, London W1D 6PY, tel: 020 7437 8408.