I was recently ‘asked’ by my wonderful copy editor, Mags, if I would like to pop along to Bond Street to meet the man behind Wok To Walk, a restaurant and take-away which opened last December.
After a couple of seconds’ deliberation, I agreed and consulted Google to see what it was all about. The menu looked interesting but my heart sank when I saw that it was a franchise restaurant with over a hundred branches worldwide, thirteen of them being in the UK. My problem with franchises is that they get their homogenous food delivered ready prepared from a distribution centre, so all they have to do is heat it up or fill a machine with ice cream or milkshake and they are good to go. A lot of people like this because it means that whether they go into a branch in Southampton or Inverness, they are sure of being served that familiar dish. I have no problem with that as they have worked hard for their money so don’t want to gamble, but I like the personal touch of an independent.
I also didn’t know how well it would work with fresh stir-fry ingredients which the name implied they would sell. Anyway, the appointed hour arrived so at 1.00pm I wokked up – there are plenty more where that came from – to meet Aasim. He is an utterly charming man with a huge smile and an equally big vision.
My first question was about the franchise, which Aasim said started in Amsterdam, when a group of friends decided to go on a street food tasting trip to the Far East where they toured for three months, sampling the delights of the area. When they came back they realised that there wasn’t one style which stood out above the rest, so they decided to take the best from each and incorporate them in a menu.
I asked about Aasim’s involvement and he said that it was a family business which began in convenience outlets, such as newsagents, in shopping malls. Although their head office is in Manchester, Aasim’s home is Leeds, which meant that he was charged with the opening and running of Wok To Walk, the firm’s first foray into the food business, in addition to being their maiden High Street outlet.
The time came for me to ask the inevitable question about the source of the food. I was taken aback when he said that most of the food is sourced locally and prepped by them. They even have a person who specialises in making the Chicken Katsu as it takes quite some time. He also told me about the home-made lemonade produced fresh every morning. He then left his seat and brought me a sample, complete with mint leaves – delicious. He did say that the sauces are brought in from the franchisor, except for the Hot Asia version which is made in-house and the two curry sauces, which are a 50-50 effort, with the coconut milk being added by the restaurant so as to keep it fresh. The noodles also come from the same source.
Wok To Walk in Leeds is one of the largest in the country, as the others are mainly concerned with purely take-away business and so only have two or three seats. Here, they have several tables, an island and a counter along one wall. The interior was designed by the franchisor’s architect from Amsterdam and the theme is modern but natural with wood and tiles. To keep it intimate, there is no digital signage. They have submitted an application with the authorities to put more seating outside, so it will become larger still, with the added advantage of raising the profile of an otherwise fairly small frontage. Further additions of a new bar over the road next door to Boots the Chemist and plans for the franchise with the Golden Arches to open a 24 hour outlet next door should also boost local food trade.
Aasim walked me through the menu, which he describes as Asian Fusion and is one of those build-your-own jobs which are becoming so popular at the moment. You start with a base for £3.95 which comprises four noodle options, two rice and a quinoa along with a purely vegetable base. The second step is to choose your favourites from a list of sixteen. They are priced at between 90p and £2.15, coming with a recommendation that a maximum of four should be chosen. There are five toppings at 50p each and eight sauces which are complimentary. After a consultation I chose a base of Jasmine Rice, favourites of Chicken Katsu, Shiitake Mushrooms and Cashew Nuts topped with Fried Onions. As it was made on the premises, I opted for the Hot Asia Sauce. The final choice was between fork or chopsticks and I went for the latter, which seemed to impress my host as he said he found it difficult to eat rice with them. One of the favourites listed is called Favourite of the Month and for May was a pulled marinated beef, but I didn’t want to order something which would no longer be available should you choose to go.
The meal arrived in a box with the sauces being served separately in sachets. Well, it is take-away oriented, if you will pardon the pun. (The presentation in a box meant that no photo would do justice to the contents.) There were also two containers on the table, one containing Green Chilli and the other Sambal Oelek, just in case the dish needed a bit more oomph. I poured one each of the Soy Sauce, which had arrived unannounced, and Hot Asian over the food and began to eat. I must say the contents of the box were delicious. The pieces of chicken in their crunchy panko crumbs were quite large and perfectly cooked, as were the mushrooms. The cashews had been toasted during the cooking process in the wok which had given them added flavour and the rice was fragrant and tasty. The fried onions came in small, crispy shards to add even more texture. The advantage of serving the meal in a box is that there is not a lot of surface area, meaning that the rice and favourites at the bottom were still hot by the time I had got down to them.
The contents were so amply packed that halfway through I opened the other two sauce sachets as the original ones had not been able to permeate to the bottom. I added a teaspoonful of each of the extra sauces on the table to see what they were like. Hot was what they were like, and, along with the Hot Asian meant that my handkerchief was soon called into action. There is one thing for certain, you will not be hungry once you have finished your meal. It is amazing value for money, and what’s more, there’s a 20% discount until the end of June – see our note below.
I had noticed that all of the staff were wearing t-shirts bearing the legend ‘We will wok you’ which made even my puns look good. Well, maybe not. Finally, I asked Aasim what plans he had for the future and he said that the family was opening a second Wok To Walk in Manchester next month, so they are looking forward to that.
I wouldn’t mind betting that even a second outlet will not be the end of expansion for this ambitious young man and his family and I wish them all the best in whatever they do. They are totally committed to customer service and doing the right thing. If they decide not to expand any further I would suggest that they might want to consider matching their soon to be next door neighbour’s 24/7 opening policy and swap the present t-shirts for ones saying ‘Wok Around The Clock’. Just saying.
Please note: There is a 20% discount to anyone who quotes “WTWLEEDS20” until the end of June.
Stan writes Let’s Do Lunch for Leeds Living. He also reviews special events for food and drink, which sometimes takes him beyond Leeds. He has also developed an interest in writing on culture, most frequently dramatic and musical theatre.