Anja Madvani keeps coming back for delicious dim sum and delightful anecdotes
IN this social media-fuelled world of ‘look at what I’m eating’, I see people constantly kneeling at the altar of bang average, inauthentic food. I cannot tell you how many times an Instagram post has lured me into heading somewhere for a bowl of seemingly delicious noodles, and how heartily disappointed I have been to be served a lacklustre broth by some white dude who once watched an episode of Munchies.
Why are we sharing this food online? We’re perpetuating the bastardisation of cuisines that people more often than not haven’t taken the time to learn about, and doing our fellow diners a disservice in telling them it’s worth the spend.
I’ve visited nine times since their opening in June and eaten almost everything on the menu
There, I said it. I’ve been holding onto that one for a while. Yes, the subject of authenticity and appropriation is an article in itself (perhaps for another day), but I can no longer bring myself to overlook the flurry of poorly executed ‘concept’ food we see so much of these days. It honestly breaks my heart.
Luckily, Wen’s is here to restore my faith. It’s also two minutes from my home, which is probably why I’ve visited nine times since their opening in June and eaten almost everything on the menu. Though the main reason is that they cook - without a doubt - the best Chinese food in Leeds.
Just when I thought North Street couldn’t get any better, I caught sight of Third Eye Signs at the unit that previously housed the legendary Hansas with yet another fantastic bit of paintwork. Residents and business owners waited with bated breath as rumours of a family owned Chinese restaurant circulated.
And what a family. Chao Wen is a Yorkshire-Chinese lad with a background in bodybuilding. His family had a small restaurant in Beijing where his dad cheffed and his mum ran the front of house. Now they’re sharing their rich food heritage with us lucky folks in Leeds, with Chao front of house and his parents in the kitchen.
We start with Five Spice Beef Tendon (£7.80). Imagine the temperature and texture of a cold Christmas ham. This is tender and moist and the five spice is sweet, warming, a little bitter. The edges of the meat have become gelatinous, like the jelly in a pork pie. This is the best thing I have eaten all year.
I’m not drinking at the moment, but Chinese tea is both complementary and delicious, and this frees up more budget for dumplings. Pork Xiao Long Bao (£4.20) arrive in a bamboo steamer. Wen’s mother learned dim sum cookery from her own mother, and each dumpling is uniform in its meticulous folding. Dough encases a mouthful of delicately seasoned pork in a broth. Bite a little hole in the top to let the steam out, then pour the vinegar dipping sauce in and eat in one go. Heaven. We also have some Shredded Potato Salad with Homemade Chilli Oil (£4.90). This is light and clean; the potato has been boiled for a minute and then chilled in water, so it’s very crunchy. We save this and have it as a side with our main dishes.
Kung Po Chicken (£8.90) is next. Peanuts are fried until crispy and mixed with chicken in a sticky sauce flavoured with fragrant Sichuan pepper, a unique peppercorn which brings a slow rising heat and a touch of bitter citrus. Again, nothing short of delightful.
We shovel heaps of Chinese Style Dry Sausages Fried Rice (£9.60) onto our plates. There is a funky sweetness to the dish, and the veggies mixed in still have a little bite – spot on. Finally a favourite: Dan Dan Noodles (£8.90). Mama Wen prepares these hand-pulled noodles herself. The broth has depth and spice, again with fragrant Sichuan pepper playing a leading role. The pork is minced to a pleasant texture, and spring onions bring a little freshness to the dish.
We have Banana Fritters (£4.20) and Glutinous Rice Balls in Sweet Soup (£3.80) for pudding. The bananas are coated in crispy shredded potatoes which make for a lovely texture and savoury note. Glutinous Rice Balls are served in a viscous soup which tastes a little like Sake, not something I’ve tried before but very satisfying. Both are very tasty but perhaps don’t quite live up to the excitement of the main event.
The restaurant is relaxed with low-level music, it’s ideal for good conversation without feeling exposed. The decor is a little tired, not much has been done to refresh the place yet. But frankly, I don’t care. This is honest home cooking at its finest; you will not find me eating Chinese food anywhere else in the city. The team are friendly and fun, always ready with an anecdote to delight their regulars, and menu recommendations for newcomers.
(I promise you, the noodles are every bit as delicious as the Instagram photos, and then some.)
Wen’s Restaurant, 72-74 North Street, LS2 7PN
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All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Beef Tendon 10, Pork Xiao Long Bao 10, Potato Salad 8, Kung Po Chicken 10, Sausage Rice 9, Dan Dan Noodles 10, Banana Fritters 7, Glutinous Rice balls 7
Friendly and easy-going
Relaxed and comfortable, no frills