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Jul 3, 2011 05:22 AM

In Search of »Wok-Hay« in London

Since I've read about this very special taste of great stir-fry's in Grace Young's book »The Breath of a Wok« I'm in search of it. But really not sure if I ever had the pleasure of experiencing it. In Hamburg, where I'm from, you can get good tasting stir-fry's - but I'm afraid lacking this highly prized flavor. So, because I'm staying a few days in London next week I wonder if someone can recommend a place where the (cantonese?) chefs fire up their woks properly and where there dishes are famous for haveing plenty of »wok-hay« - what ever that might be. Thanks in advance!


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  1. I'm sorry that no one here seems to be very knowledgeable about wok hay, including me. I do know what is meant by the term. I'm not sure which restaurants in London are famed or good at wok hay but you could read through some of the threads about which places people have enjoyed - there's a good one mentioned above in South Kensington. Perhaps they have the technique mastered. I like Haozhan in Chinatown - their food is pretty good.

    1. What is "Wok Hay" - it is simple but ephemeral. It is the result produced by a chef who has mastered wok technique to bring all the ingredients together perfectly so they are all perfectly cooked at the same time and the whole dish has a vibrancy and life. It is ephemeral because the food must be delivered to the table quickly or else the Wok Hay is lost.

      How do you know when you have found it? Not so simple because you tend to only know it once you have tried it, and then notice it when it is missing. Look for a busy place, look for a kitchen with lots of flames, look for speedy service and you may be lucky (or you may find the chefs in Hamburg are just as good).

      5 Replies
      1. re: PhilD

        I think I may have had it once in Tucson of all places. There was a great Mongolian wok place that we loved, and the food was always spot on. I think it's been missing from my taste buds ever since.

        1. re: PhilD

          PhilD, just curious - why did you mention Hamburg in particular? :-)

          1. re: klyeoh

            Chiliflake, the OP, says he's not sure he's experienced it in Hamburg.

            1. re: limster

              Limster is correct: I have no secret inside knowledge of woking good action in Hamburg

              1. re: limster

                Oops sorry, I missed that in Chilliflakes' original post. I was just a bit curious because I just spent 3 weeks in Hamburg. No stir-fries there which caught my attention - in fact, hardly any Chinese.

          2. Neither are Cantonese but:

            Penang style char kuay teow at Sedap (Old Street); the texture of the prawns put the langostines at The Square to shame.

            Vegetable stir fry at No. 10 (Earl's Court) - caveat: had it under the their good chef (they have 2 chefs, one better than the other), and it's been >1 year since I've been back.

            102 Old St, Islington, Greater London EC1V 9, GB

            1. Thank's a lot for your replies!!
              @zuriga1: I've read through some threads already and found a lot of promising recommendations (e.g. top ten in chinatown) Together with New Aroma & Golden Day, Haozhan is on my list.
              @PhilD: hopefully my luck is not as elusive as the mysterious Wok-Hay. BTW, because I don't want to bank on plain old dumb luck I've just ordered a decent gas-burner. Maybe I'm able to infuse my dishes with the »breath of my wok« sometimes.
              char kuay teow sound promising. Together with beef chow fun this dish is mostly mentioned as an example for the dry stir-fry technique. Maybe flat rice noodles are particularly dedicated to adopt the wok qi. So I definitely will give the Sedan a try.

              1. Agree with limster that sedap's char kuay teow is as close to a dish with wok hei as it comes in london. Have not come across any restaurant that delivers KL/Penang street hawker quality wok hei in their dishes

                Walter - when you've tasted a truly authentic char kuay teow, plated hot from the wok, stir-fried masterfully in a seasoned wok on top of a roaring charcoal fire, with little charred bits to give it that slightly smoky aroma, you'll know instantly what the concept of wok hei means! hope you get to taste it one day!