Wok Inn, Chinese and Japanese Restaurant, 7 Mirvarid Dilbazi Street, Baku Tel: (+994 77) 736 0363 NOW CLOSED
In less than 90 days it will be Christmas again. Well before then, the musical question of “Do they know it’s Christmas?” and its refrain which urges us to ‘feed the world’ will arise for the 29th year on the trot. Back in 1985, Live Aid, the iconic dual centre concert at which this now so familiar Christmas song was first conceived, was opened by veteran rock band Status Quo to their (air)guitar classic, ‘Rocking All Over the World’.
I have always loved Status Quo and can quite see myself growing grey and doddery alongside these old rockers (and they are quite a bit older still!), in my black leather jacket and denims, leaping around an imaginary stage with an imaginary guitar and an imaginary microphone, belting out their three chord numbers until I am too geriatric a rock chick to head bang. Ah, but I digress completely. Of course, neither Status Quo nor Live Aid have anything at all to do with Wok Inn. Well, apart from the fact that musicians often like Chinese Take Aways. What is fascinating though, is that there are Wok Inns literally all over the World. They are not actually an International franchise but the name must appeal so much to the various owners, that it has become one of the most popular for a Chinese Restaurant. From Dublin to Homebush, Australia and from Cannes to Arizona, from Florence to Amsterdam and Mexico to Singapore, there seem to be Wok Inns everywhere you look. Who knew?
I have a Chinese mother-in-law and the lovely husband has three Chinese sisters, all high flyers living in the US. Well, strictly speaking, our Chinese relatives are his stepmother and step sisters. His father has lived in Singapore for over half a century where he is married to a lovely lady, originally from Shanghai. We visit once a year or so and, when we are there, we have ample opportunity to eat Chinese. Now this is where I have to admit what a philistine I am; I don’t like ‘real’ Chinese food. Chicken and rice from the food court? Man, you won’t see me for dust! It’s a grease bomb, which, to my mind, tastes of nothing. I’m more of a Friday night western adapted Chinese Take Away kind of woman. Sad but true and I extend my apologies to all those who like a bit of gourmet monkey brain or whatever. Sorry.
Even though it was only Tuesday, we had that once in a while Friday evening urge for Chinese, so off we went to the Baku Wok Inn, just by Fountain Square. The interior is the predictable corner Chinese kind but not too kitschy and pleasant enough, despite the satin tablecloths and the too bright lights. Strange though, to find a sushi menu as well as a Chinese menu, and not a single Asian person in sight. I gather that although this is by no means a fusion restaurant, it specialises in both Chinese and Japanese cuisine. Geographically close, on the culinary front these two countries could not be further apart, so this is quite a feat.
We ordered pretty much what we always order on these occasions: vegetable spring rolls, Peking Duck and Crispy Chilli Beef. The spring rolls were deep fried in a quite thick and very crispy shell and a little on the greasy side and, instead of a sweet chilli sauce, came with a sweet ketchup. Odd. The Crispy Chilli Beef with the accompanying vegetable fried rice wasn’t exactly crispy and rather more saucy than normal but it was nice and spicy and tasted good. The Peking Duck was sliced, not shredded, a bit bland but with crackly skin and lots of lovely hot pancakes, a sweeter than normal plum sauce, and crunchy onion and cucumber strips.
Here’s the thing: It wasn’t Chinese Chinese and it wasn’t quite like Elsewhere Chinese, more of a Bakunese Chinese, perhaps, and it certainly wasn’t sophisticated, healthy or slimline, but it was satisfying and enjoyable, nonetheless, and I can quite understand why it gets such good reviews on Tripadvisor.
Service was very attentive and friendly, plates came preheated which is always a good sign, there was conventional cutlery as well as chop sticks and the portions were plentiful. Unfortunately, prawn crackers did not come free as they so often do.
Wok Inn do various nice sounding puddings: deep fried ice cream, deep fried banana, deep fried apple, all with a honey sauce but I had some heavenly Turkish Bolçi chocolates (with hazelnut crocant brittle!) at home which someone nice had given me, so we went back to ours for coffee and a few of those. Our meal for two plus water, two glasses of French wine and one of beer cost AZN 70.60. Wok Inn also does take aways.