Carol Godsmark reviews Wok the Duck

Wok the Duck restaurant in Albert Road, Southsea. ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (131285-014)
Wok the Duck restaurant in Albert Road, Southsea. ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (131285-014)
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The one-year-old Wok the Duck, housed in what had been an Indian restaurant close to the Kings Theatre in Southsea, has based its food on that of Hong Kong.

Different to mainland China, its origins can be traced back to becoming a British colonial outpost in 1841.

Many British and other Western merchants, along with Chines from nearby Canton, flocked there for business.

The décor is typically Chinese, with no fewer than 14 pink and yellow tasselled lanterns hanging over white tables and chairs. There are a few brightly-painted canvases added for even more colour. There are chopsticks and flowers on each table.

If you think that the apprentices on Alan Sugar’s TV programme cornered the market in lucky cats on their first improbable task, one escapee is in Wok’s brightly-decorated, distinctive window.

The restaurant is run by a Hong Kong-born brother and sister who couldn’t be more friendly. You feel as if you’re in someone’s home thanks to their hospitality, stimulating conversation (how else did I find out why Spam was on the menu?) and appealing casual line. They’ll guide you through the menu found under each table’s glass tops in both English and Cantonese. There’s also a dual language printed one and a board to check.

Start with maybe one of three types of spring rolls – duck, pork, vegetable – from the specials board or some spicy chicken wings or ribs. Move onto char siu BBQ pork; roast duck; king prawns or squid in a black bean sauce or Tao Pan (spicy chilli bean) sauce; sweet and sour chicken or pork; crispy aromatic duck; Hong Kong-style braised beef brisket; stir fried beef with a satay sauce; fried spicy prawns; stir-fried pak choy and many more dishes.

Or go for one of the ‘create your own mix-n-match’ dishes by choosing either meat or prawns or squid, a sauce and rice or flat and hofun noodles. All prices range from around £5 to £8. The duck is more at £17 for a half-crispy aromatic one.

They make all their own sauces including a fiery chilli and a soya one. You can bring your own beer or wine.

I chose the dim sum spring rolls with fermented cabbage and crispy roast pork belly. My pork and crackling craving emerged when I spied it on the menu as pork is one of life’s food enhancers.

‘Ah, no, you can’t have this,’ said the brother. ‘It’s yesterday’s and the crackling’s now soft.’ Good reason. Who wants crunch disappointment? ‘You like pork?’ I nod vigorously. ‘Try the char siu pork. It’s been marinated for 48 hours and then roasted.’ It’s the pork you might have seen hanging in shop or restaurant windows, a distinctive pink tinge thanks to the marinade of honey, five spice powder, red fermented bean curd, dark soya and hoisin sauce.

It’s more than delicious, a sweetness marrying with a little of the pork fat, but mostly it’s lean meat cut thinly. Artfully spread over lettuce which fails to hide a mound of fried rice, enough for several people – portions are generous here.

The dish is thankfully Spam-free. It’s more Cantonese than Hong Kong Colonial. Chinese tea is served in a mug rather than the usual pot with tiny bowl.

My bill came to £11.40 for a delightful meal with delightful hosts who walk the wok in all aspects.

Wok The Duck, 61 Albert Road, Southsea, PO5 2SF. Open 12– 2pm and 5 – 10pm Monday to Saturday. Unlicensed.

Disabled access: Fine.

How to get there: Wok the Duck is diagonally opposite the Kings Theatre on Albert Road. There is on-street parking available.

Star ratings (maximum *****)

FOOD ****