There are some Island institutions, like Hursts, which provide the same products and service year after year. Fashions change, high street names rise and fall yet some places are so deep-rooted that they are more than a shop front; they, by dint of inertia, become part of the Island’s heritage.
And so it is with Hong Kong Express. One of our earliest reviews – way back in this website’s Cretaceous era – was Hong Kong Express, Ryde. It was new on the scene and, in 2005, our senses took in the sparkly terrazzo floor, oriental stone mosaics and Chinese music. We were impressed by the cleanliness, the food and the audacious speed at which it was delivered. Time and again we’ve popped into HKE for our tea, or after the cinema, or before going out for a drink. And every time we’ve had the same decent experience.
You might be fooled into thinking that this is some kind of fast food clone, with its above-eye-level illuminated menu and take away service. It is that, but more. If you choose to eat in you’ll be welcomed personally by a smartly-uniformed member of staff, and seated at a laid table with fresh flowers and wine glasses (which are mysteriously whipped away before drinks orders are taken).
One of the things that always amazes us about Hong Kong Express is the front-of-house staff. Some are very familiar faces to us but even the new ones know the menu inside out. If you order kung-po chicken, you’ll be asked if you want boiled or egg-fried rice. Sometimes the waiting staff will even tell you what number dish you have ordered; having committed to memory around a hundred menu items.
And so, like groundhog day, was our most recent visit to Hong Kong Express. The mosaics have gone, replaced by photos of Hong Kong harbour. On the day we went we were serenaded by the slightly-less-than-Oriental Incredible Bongo Band and its version of that Shadows classic ‘Apache’. Of course, as any Island trivia buff can tell you, Apache was a number one hit for the Shads, and the heavy melodic bass was provided by the late Jet Harris, who – as any fule kno – lived on the Isle of Wight. But we digress.
Having been greeted with a friendly nod by the proprietor, we took our seats at a table with a vase containing a fresh tulip, just on the verge of opening its petals. We usually start with a basket of prawn crackers but this time ordered the mixed hors d’oeuvres, trying our best not to ask for ‘horse’s doofers’. The platter contained barbecue spare rib, with plenty of meat and no gristle, swamped in a pleasant sweet bbq sauce. Alongside was a triangle of prawn toast; sesame seed-coated and deep-fried with a mild shrimpy flavour. We also had a vegetable spring roll and Cat’s favourite – glazed chicken satay with its peanut sauce. We shovelled up the crispy seaweed and waited – briefly – for our mains to arrive.
Mixed hors d’oeuvres £5.80
Chicken, cashew nut, yellow bean sauce £6.50
Crispy shredded beef £6.90
Egg fried rice @ 60p x 2 £1.20
Seasonal vegetables £4.70
In less than a moment, chicken with cashew nuts in yellow bean sauce arrived. A departure from Cat’s usual favourite chicken chow mein, but she’s on a bit of a nut jag these days and this seemed like the perfect way to scratch that itch. The chow mein is normally served with strips of chicken, but the cashew nut dish had big chunks of chicken breast, slices of carrot, onion – white and spring – plus those tasty nuts, piping hot and all smothered in sticky sauce.
Matt’s go-to dish is fried crispy beef, which is a kind of chilli beef toffee. No, really. Thin strips of beef, deep-fried in a potent sweet chilli glaze; making a texture somewhere between chewy and crunchy. He loves this stuff. This time, he paired it with egg-fried rice for a satisfying taste and texture contrast.
We shared a plate of seasonal mixed vegetables, again a standard favourite of ours. We’re not entirely sure about the purported seasonality of this dish, but then these days you can have greengrocer produce all year round. The veg dish is a textured treat, from those weird soft straw mushrooms, through crunchy bean sprouts and water chestnuts, to the woodier bamboo shoots. In between are a few more familiar vegetables; carrots, peppers, broccoli and mangetout, all flash-cooked al dente. Any veg-hating child would be happy to eat this nicely-presented side dish as it is coated with a pleasing garlicky sauce.
We finished our meal with the bill, and broke open our sweet brittle fortune cookies. The cost of the main dishes was about the same as a sit-down sarnie in Newport. As always, the service, quality of food and speed of delivery was exemplary: the same as it was back in 2005. It seems that if the system ain’t broke then don’t fix it.
This is the full-length version of the review that appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Super-quick table service
- Food cooked fresh to order
- Clean and tidy venue