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A mere child, your older brother invented minimally invasive surgery, which allows surgeons to perform intricate operations through minute incisions. He did this with cake. Admonished by your mom not to eat the cake, he’d tunnel in through an imperceptible hole (which he’d disguise with icing) and hollow out the interior (which he’d eat), leaving behind what looked like a cake but which was actually no more than a husk. Cut in and it collapsed.
He had an unending appetite. If you tried to save a bit of food to eat later on, he would gulp it the moment you turned your back. Your only logical countermeasure was to take any food you wished to save, wave it before him and spit on it. Naturally, you could eat your own spit, but he couldn’t. Even for him, that was too disgusting. One time, you spit on your pizza slice and put it in the refrigerator for later. When you went to get it, it was there, undefiled, except for a note from him: “I spit on it too.”
And he stole all the chicken wings. You were a breastman. Smiling, he’d push breasts your way to divert you, while he, wingman, made off with the wings. Bedazzled by breasts, as are so many lads, you stayed ignorant of where the real flavour was. Your crafty brother knew though.
And so does crafty Wingman with its three branches in Hong Kong. You visited the Central branch in a lumpish building on Cochrane Street. The poky lift is lined in transparent plastic sheeting, optimal for a hose down after an impromptu cage match or SHC (spontaneous human combustion). You’re charmed. This is not seduction by design team. You infer that Wingman places confidence in its food, and on entering the restaurant, your hope for good chow is ascendant.
Like pizzas with different toppings, they offer wings with different rubs, glazes, dustings, flavoured Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Thai and American. There are many sauces (or dips) you can order as well. There are also intriguing sides and salads, and this is where you drop anchor.
So many flavours are beyond the power of simile. Saffron. Truffle. Liquorice. They are suis generis, unto themselves, not like anything else. If you didn’t taste them, you could have no comprehension of their flavour whatsoever. It makes you wonder what other extraordinary flavours may be possible of which we have no inkling.
Passion fruit is an example of this. It’s not called passion fruit for nothing. Its flavour is sexy, sexier than that of any other fruit, including mango, pluot and even the perfect white peach. If passion fruit took human form, middle schools would be well advised to block their pictures online.
You start with a rummy passion fruit caipiroska. No pre-mix for this baby. It is plump with passion fruit pulp, and it slaps you silly with flavour. It verges on a controlled substance. You love it. Why, for goodness sake, don’t more restaurants showcase this luscious, lascivious fruit? You are compelled to drink two of them to be certain they haven’t let quality slip between the beginning and end of the meal. They haven’t.
Aside from an Aperol spritz, you’re told that all the other cocktails are pre-made, which holds no interest.
Your wife, family sommelier, has a glass of Chiaro Pinot Grigio 2017. Noting flavours of hay, lemon and green apple, she deems it a thirst-quenching picnic wine. Later, she has a local craft cider, Auntie Apple from Neonotic! Cidery, and says it’s one of the best she’s ever had – not cloying, just right.
Deep-fried lotus root chips are terrific, somehow managing to be crisp and chewy at the same time, perfect scoops for the pungent aioli.
Their coleslaw is tip-top, crunchy cabbage, scallion, black sesame seeds in a unique kimchi dressing they should bottle and sell.
Truffle fries (i.e., fries with truffle sauce). Unpeeled, crisp, you, critical of most French fries, and your wife, also critical of most French fries, woof with pleasure. You have had double- and triple-fried fries you think were better, such as those at Rubia and Jean May, but your wife says, “They are really perfect, spot on, ideal.” The truffle sauce sparks a predatory gleam in her eyes.
Sweet potato fries. Epic! Crisp, soft, chewy, sweet, flavour intense, with a memorable sriracha dip. Your wife say, “I’d go back just for them.”
Wingman Avo (avocado hit with a torch) sings. The avocado is as perfect as an avocado can be – firm, soft and sweet. There’s smoky chipotle yoghurt. Lime. Happy tongue!
Tomato salad with ricotta and basil in a basil oil dressing. The tomato flavour is radiant, rare for HK tomatoes, which are typically stifled by refrigeration, bane to the tomato. The ricotta is a tasty foil. You only wish there had been more fresh basil. Your wife says, “It is a delight to look at, all the different colours and types.” Summer in a bowl.
You’ve never heard a duck rap. But now you’ve seen one and tasted it, Wingman’s Quack Quack Duck Wrap. They need to take this one down to the bare studs and rebuild it. The duck is pulled from a boiled duck leg and is almost flavourless. They need to triple the duck (at least) and use duck confit, salted, spiced, condensed, with its rich, crisp skin. Rocket would be better than spinach. Ditch the orange, which is a cliché and does nothing. Might rice paper be better for this than a flour wrapper? Also, both you and your wife taste something fishy in the mix. You ask your servers, and they can think of no ingredient that would impart this flavour, but it is unmistakable and makes you uneasy.
Deep-fried, roasted or confited duck wings are delicious. Why not put those on the menu? They’re a great gnaw.
The finest wings you’ve ever had were the fish sauce wings from Pok Pok, a Thai restaurant started by the great Andy Ricker in Portland, Oregon, with branches in Brooklyn and Los Angeles. He said famously that these wings – based on deep-fried wing drumettes, glazed in caramelised fish sauce and sprinkled with deep-fried garlic chips – were so popular that they paid for his condo. These wings were so amazingly delicious that when eating them you’d put your elbows out, like prisoners do in lock-up, to prevent anyone from encroaching.
But now all his restaurants have been sunk by COVID, and his wings are only a memory to hold other wings accountable. Wingman’s wings – they use the second-joint wingette, not the drumette – are perfectly cooked, crisp on the outside, moist within. Personally, you prefer the drumette, but you respect second-joint-wingette folks. May we all peacefully get along (nor should intermarriage be forbidden).
You try many flavours, lip-smackers all. You particularly like the ranch wings, which favourably remind you of Cool Ranch Doritos (is there any chance they could do a Nacho Cheese version?). The Singapore Zing – with tomato sauce, ginger, fresh chilli, crispy garlic – is aptly named. Were it a street dog, the two of you would have adopted it. Drawn to the cheekier flavours, the tandoori and Thai wings stand out for you as well. This restaurant slips the surly bonds of Earth upon these wings. They’re not clucking around.
Their lemon tart does not slip the surly bonds of Earth. The crust-to-filling ratio is off, too little filling. The crust is mushy, uninteresting. This surprises you since an outstanding crust – pâte brisée, for example – is so easy to make. And it needs to be more lemony. Lemon zest grated on top the moment before serving would go a long way toward accomplishing this. You wonder if it stood in the refrigerator for too long.
The service is cordial and fairly responsive. The interior, with its neon graphics, has a punky vibe that’s just right. You like their lift. They keep their washrooms clean. Their soundtrack includes the supreme Curtis Mayfield and two of his greats, “Freddie’s Dead” and “Superfly”. You haven’t heard them in years, and they made your heart happy.
You’d describe Wingman as a cross between fast food and casual dining. Though your meal had two stumbles, their excellence quotient was high. They are inexpensive, value-for-dollar strong. You hope they’ll consider picking up Andy Ricker’s fish sauce wing recipe (with attribution). It would honour Ricker and boost their already strong game.
Unlike so many restaurants that seem to wing it, Wingman, paradoxically, does not. They’ve thoughtfully nailed every detail. An outstanding, welcome alternative to chicken, burgers, Tex-Mex and pizza, you think they’re way above the common lot and highly recommend them. You know your beloved brother would love them too.
Rating (on a scale of 0 to 5)
Overall greatness: 3.5 (so much of the food and drink was so good, you badly wanted to give them a 4, but the duck wrap and lemon tart stymied this)
Restaurants are intuitively rated within their particular realms. So Michelin restaurants, pizza places and stand-up sandwich joints are judged against like restaurants, not each other. A 5 for a high-end restaurant is not meant to be the same as a 5 for street food.
From my website, here’s how I rate food: “I believe the quality of a restaurant’s food is vastly more important than any other factor. Even if I love a restaurant’s food, I’m very conservative about giving out 4s or 5s. I reserve 4s for food that is uniformly excellent. Preponderantly excellent tends to get a lower score. 5s are for food that is uniformly stunning.”
This meal was comped.
6/F, Cheung Hing Commercial Building, 37–43 Cochrane Street, Central, 9607 5500 (there are other Wingman branches in Mongkok and Wanchai)
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