Matt can trace his own love of eating out back to his parents, who bravely managed to take their offspring to enough dining-out venues that some vague idea of how to behave therein was instilled in them – no mean feat in the 1970s and 80s when children in restaurants was not necessarily a social norm. Of course, such luxury was a rare treat, so kind mum and dad would also occasionally treat their kids to a takeaway.
Looking back, this was perhaps not always so much kindness as desperation. What parent has not felt the urge to just get some food in rather than struggle home from work and start cooking? For whatever reason, Matt remembers with fondness the anticipation when one of those exciting hot parcels was brought in. If the smell of warm newsprint rose from it, we knew it would be fish and chips. If we glimpsed the tell-tale foil cartons, then it was Indian or maybe Chinese. Asian food back then was, of course, un-Thai’d in these parts.
It’s worth acknowledging just how long-established some of these takeaways are, and the significance they held at the time. Ryde Tandoori opened in 1962 as the Taj Mahal, and, still trading now, can rightly claim to be one of the Island’s longest-standing restaurants of any genre. Back then, Indian and Chinese cuisine was something exclusive to exotic restaurants and takeaways. The idea of eating a curry in a pub would have been extraordinary – indeed most pubs and bars offered no hot food at all. At home, few would regularly cook with pasta or even rice – except in rice puddings. Outside of big cities the culinary smorgasbord of international foods that we currently enjoy at home or eating out was unknown to households of the mid-twentieth century. Where the oldest Chinese takeaway on the Island is, we don’t know, but if anyone can tell us, we’d be confident in saying that it started off offering something not a million miles from the comfortable and reassuring traditional British Asian fare at Newport’s Chia Wing.
We ordered a takeaway from Chia Wing one damp autumn night. We’re big fans of the set meal – it can be a safe way to get to know a menu you’re not familiar with, and as this was our first visit to Chai Wing, Set Menu D seemed like too good an offer to miss. Cheerful and swift service in the little takeaway made sure we were soon on our way. And indeed, it was a generous meal that we unpacked.
Set meal D for two persons £25.50
The standard prawn crackers went alongside two big slabs of barbecue spare ribs to start. The ribs were perfectly cooked, full of tasty meat, and soon demolished. The advertised barbeque sauce seemed to be more like dilute tomato ketchup, but no matter. There was plenty more to go.
We both agreed the star of the main dishes was king prawn with mushroom. Plenty of crustaceans were immersed in a thick, garlicky sauce, accompanied by halved mushrooms and a few slivers of onion. We also had a kung pao chicken engulfed in a spicy gravy, which featured a lot of chicken slices as well as several cashew nuts. Finally we enjoyed sweet and sour pork ‘Hong Kong Style’ which turned out to be deep-fried fragments of pork in batter with vegetables, swimming in a copious sweet and sour sauce.
We ate almost all of it, but even Matt couldn’t clear his plate, which certainly shows that the quantity of food was commendable. On the other hand, the most obvious characteristic of the Chia Wing dishes is the sauces, and they proved to be a bit much. All the dishes were full to the brim with gloopy sauce, which, whilst tasty enough, didn’t always seem appropriate. Isn’t kung pao chicken supposed to be stir-fried and seared? Chia Wing obviously did fry the meal, but as it was covered in the thick sauce, the delicious browned edges and charred bits that go with a really good hot stir fry were smothered away. Also, maybe we’ve been spoiled by fancy Asian cuisine these days, but we’d have preferred a few more fresh green veg. Perhaps some chopped spring onions, pak choi, mange tout or even broccoli.
But despite this, we enjoyed our Chia Wing set dinner. It was good value and served cheerfully and quickly. The food gave us the warming and filling feeling of a good Chinese meal, and definitely had a retro feel about it that put Matt in mind of the Chinese treats of his childhood, unpacked and served up for the eagerly awaiting family. If you want modern Asian fusion food, go elsewhere. But if you want a classic Chinese takeaway, Chia Wing has got it sorted.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Good value
- Traditional fare
- Generous portions
- A bit gloopy